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New state housing laws taking effect this year will allow for higher density housing projects in the city of Del Mar’s commercial zones. Photo by Laura Place
New state housing laws taking effect this year will allow for higher density housing projects in the city of Del Mar’s commercial zones. Photo by Laura Place
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Housing, infrastructure and rail among Del Mar’s top priorities

DEL MAR — Meeting state housing regulations, moving the rail off the bluffs and finally getting around to a building electrification ordinance were all discussed as priorities for Del Mar during a recent goal-setting workshop.

City officials discussed dozens of items, some long overdue, currently awaiting attention from overworked city staff. They provided direction on which to prioritize in the coming two fiscal years — 2023-24, which begins June 30, and 2024-25 — and which to push further down the road.

The railway and housing, two matters that made the city’s Tier 1 list, dominated much of the five-hour meeting on Feb. 13. City leaders will remain heavily involved in the San Diego Association of Government’s plan to relocate the tracks off the bluffs altogether and to tunnel the rail through Del Mar, a goal they hope to see realized by 2035.

In the meantime, city staff said the results of the city’s safe and legal crossings study, which identifies potential locations for additional pedestrian crossings on the railroad tracks along the Del Mar bluffs, will be shared with the council in March.

“This is a SANDAG-led effort, but Del Mar is the key stakeholder moving forward … we’re gonna want to shape that process as much as we can,” Assistant City Manager Clem Brown said. “This is gonna be a significant work item to have this project move through the process with SANDAG to get funding and ultimately implement it over the next two fiscal years.”

Staff said they also remain committed to bringing the city’s 6th Cycle Housing Element into compliance with state law, which involves the continued development of housing plans for identified potential sites and implementing a series of new programs, each of which can result in new ordinances.

“As you’ll hear throughout this meeting today, the heavy reliance on much of our special programs is related to the housing element. We are very lean regarding that staff resource — we have one principal planner, which pretty much takes up the bulk of her work,” said Planning and Community Development Director Karen Brindley.

There are also two costly projects which may require the city to issue debt in the coming years, Jones said. These include constructing units at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, to which the city may need to contribute around $8 million, and the subsequent phases of the city’s utility undergrounding project.

Del Mar completed the first phase of its undergrounding project at Tewa/10th Street earlier this month, removing over 1,000 feet of overhead wiring and 10 utility poles. Public Works Director Joe Bride said at the workshop that the city aims to start the second phase at Stratford South in early 2024 and the third phase at Crest Canyon in late 2024.

Other priorities

Del Mar residents can also expect the city to begin discussing a building electrification ordinance in the next two fiscal years. Such an ordinance, already adopted in surrounding cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, would set development standards prohibiting gas power in new buildings.

City staff presented a building electrification ordinance as a Tier 3 item, which is generally not mandated and subject to most council discretion. Worden pushed back on this categorization, saying it should be at least in Tier 2, especially compared to other Tier 2 items like tree management and street repairs.

“We haven’t declared a tree crisis, we haven’t declared a crisis in the maintenance of our streets — we as a council have adopted a resolution declaring a climate crisis,” Worden said. “Our Climate Action Plan calls for us to reduce our emissions. About 30%, according to our [plan], come from residential and commercial buildings in our town. To put this into Tier 3 as ‘can be eliminated’ … is frankly kind of offensive to me.”

The city agreed to move the building electrification ordinance onto the Tier 2 list, and staff said they would begin working on it later in 2023.

At council members’ request, city staff will also bring forward an informational item regarding short-term rentals in the coming months as the city starts creating a new short-term rental ordinance.

The city in January extended regulations allowing vacation rentals established before 2016 to operate without restrictions and banning all other new rentals. Jones said planning staff is expected to continue gathering data on these local rentals through June but that they can discuss an ordinance’s direction before that time “as soon as the agenda schedule allows.”

“I think that would be good to set some policy direction,” Councilmember Dwight Worden said. “I think we should address that part of it sooner rather than later.”

Another item on the city’s checklist, which officials said they likely wouldn’t get around to in the next two fiscal years, is a potential ordinance permitting the sales of CBD and cannabis in the city.

Councilmembers recognized that local legalization could serve as a substantial revenue boost, but the topic would likely garner strong opinions from the public.

“It would generate a lot of discussion and debate. It’s a huge can of worms, notwithstanding that it would be a huge financial benefit,” said Councilmember Dan Quirk.

The council agreed to discuss the topic again at next year’s goal-setting workshop.

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