DEL MAR — A grassroots group in Del Mar is collecting signatures to call a referendum, hoping to reverse the Del Mar City Council’s recent decision to allow denser residential development in the North Commercial zone.
To comply with its current state-certified affordable housing plan, the council on Oct. 5 “up-zoned” certain parcels in the northern part of the city, near the San Dieguito Lagoon, by a 3-to-2 vote. Councilmembers Dave Druker and Terry Gaasterland dissented.
If residents gather signatures from at least 10% of local voters — roughly 350 people — by Nov. 18, the council must then reverse its decision or put it to a public vote, according to state law.
The decision, which featured prominently in campaigns leading up to the recent city council election, has proved widely unpopular. Two of the three candidates elected Nov. 3 openly opposed the decision, while all three defeated candidates favored it. Opponents say increased population density would exacerbate fire, environmental and flooding risks.
Arnie Wiesel, a referendum organizer, says his group has gathered “a couple hundred” signatures so far, though he didn’t have a precise tally.
The up-zone would allow multifamily residential development — including lower-income units to meet state-mandated targets — on land currently vacant or occupied by commercial buildings. The city previously identified these parcels for rezoning in the Housing Element, or chapter, of its General Plan.
The Housing Element attained state certification partly on the basis that the city would rezone those properties no later than 2015, a deadline long passed.
The three councilmembers who approved the up-zoning, along with the planning commission and city staff, fear further delay might lead to the state to impose penalties — for instance, rescindment of local land use control and eligibility for state grant funding.
Councilman Dwight Worden worries the latter could jeopardize the city’s proposed Housing Element update, to take effect April pending state review. The proposed update includes negotiating with the Del Mar Fairgrounds to put some of Del Mar’s affordable housing quota on Fairgrounds property. But even if the city and Fairgrounds strike such a deal (not guaranteed), they’d need to obtain financing to build anything, probably requiring state money.
“Del Mar is planning to rely on grants to fund this program,” Worden said. “The referendum increases the likelihood for decertification of our Housing Element, which leads to loss of grant funds, that leads to failure of the Fairgrounds option.”
Others think that worry overblown. Wiesel believes the council majority “discounted” alternatives proposed in a report co-authored by Councilwoman-elect Tracy Martinez and residents Jas Grewal and Karen Lare. He believes the state would accept alternatives and that a successful referendum would buy time for reconsideration.
City staff rejected Martinez, Grewal and Lare’s alternatives for various reasons, outlined in an Oct. 5 report, including that city-owned sites proposed for redevelopment provide necessary municipal functions. Though the coauthors maintain their proposals have merit, telling the Coast News: “the staff and city council need to look harder at other more creative options.”
North Commercial opponents also question the council majority’s urgency in up-zoning, given the deadline is far past due and the current Housing Element’s timeframe ends this year.
“Anything that we do now will not help the [current] Housing Element,” Lare said. “Why would we up-zone [North Commercial], other than to check off a box to a commitment made in 2012?”
The Coast News asked the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers affordable housing policies, whether it considers the North Commercial matter water under the bridge or would pursue retroactive enforcement actions. A spokeswoman replied only to say: “The Department is currently reviewing [Del Mar’s housing plan documents]. We look forward to providing clarity on these requirements in the near future.”
INTERACTIVE VERSION OF MAP BELOW: