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New signs will guide visitors around downtown Del Mar

DEL MAR — Visitors to Del Mar will soon have an easier time finding restaurants, retail shops and other businesses in the downtown area. City Council accepted a donation of five pedestrian directional signs from the Del Mar Village Association, or DMVA, at the March 16 meeting.
The DMVA will install the signs — hopefully by summer — and be tasked with periodically updating them as businesses change. The city will be responsible for maintenance, which is expected to be minimal.
Jen Grove, DMVA executive director, said the signs will be graffiti-resistant, constructed with materials and paint that allow for easy cleanup and removal of graffiti and stickers.
The signs, which will be 5 feet 6 inches tall and 3 feet 3 inches wide, will feature maps of the village. Proposed locations are near Powerhouse Park, at the southeast corner of 15th Street and Camino del Mar, in front of the plaza, on Camino del Mar near the Bully’s parking lot and by City Hall.
“These aren’t fixed locations at this stage,” interim Planning Director Brian Mooney said. “This is conceptual.”
Mooney said the city is working with a consultant who specializes in sign placement as it relates to the pedestrian community.
“We see this as a critical part of the overall revitalization program,” Mooney said. “We’ve got a wonderfully strong block at 15th (Street) … to 13th (Street),” he said. “We’re trying to really improve connectivity to other parts” of downtown.
Grove said merchants are “anxiously awaiting” installation of the signs, especially new store owners in the south end of town. Councilman Carl Hilliard said several merchants told him “people get to the Bully’s parking lot and they stop.”
“They don’t know that there’s anything beyond,” Hilliard said. “That’s what these signs are designed in part to correct — to direct foot traffic.”
Resident Jan McMillan said she opposed the signs, especially any located in or near a city park. “For a very small town we are adding a large number of new signs that fill up walking space and interrupt views of a gorgeous coast,” McMillan said.
“I know my neighbors and I are very happy to give directions when asked, whether we are outside our homes, on the road or in the park. A pleasant conversation with strangers — a simple human interaction — can be a healthy and enjoyable experience as well as a substitute for more signage,” she said.
The signs were approved by the Design Review Board following what Hilliard described as a “very extensive and robust hearing.”
“I think that the design is acceptable,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “Beautiful is not a word that comes to mind when describing signage, but I would like it to be effective.” Mosier called the program an “experiment in improving pedestrian traffic downtown.”
“If it doesn’t work, I’m fully prepared to say it was the wrong idea and … we should reverse the plan after a reasonable period of time.”
According to the second quarter financial report, which was presented just prior to the sign program, retail sales tax in Del Mar was down 11 percent, compared to about 3 percent countywide.
“That’s a rather startling number, and if this helps at all in getting that number where it needs to be, I think we have an obligation … and a responsibility to do something,” Councilman Richard Earnest said. “This is one of those steps that we need to try.”
Mayor Crystal Crawford agreed. “It is an experiment, but we need to experiment,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, we can change it.”
Council members asked the DMVA to monitor the effectiveness of the signs during the next three years. To avoid excess clutter, they also directed the Public Works Department to consolidate or remove any existing signage when possible.
When first presented, the program included pedestrian and vehicular signs, however, the size of the latter raised several concerns so they are currently undergoing a design review and revision.