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Council members are focusing on building a new City Hall, something their predecessors have been talking about for more than 50 years. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Council members are focusing on building a new City Hall, something their predecessors have been talking about for more than 50 years. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Plans for City Hall inching ahead

DEL MAR — Following a July 15 presentation on the space needs for all city departments, council members opted to focus on building a new City Hall, a 50-year topic of discussion. 

Through the years, several studies have been conducted to address the city’s governmental office facilities. When Del Mar was incorporated in 1959, city offices were in the Del Mar Hotel.

When that went out of business, City Hall and its three employees relocated to 1224 Maiden Lane and then to the old jail at the corner of 15th Street and Stratford Court.

In 1973, after Planning and Finance departments and a city clerk were added, the search began for a new facility that would include a City Hall, county library and fire station.

Rather than construct a new building, the council at the time opted to renovate the old St. James Academy at 1050 Camino del Mar for City Hall offices. The north building was refurbished, but the south building was seismically unsuitable for occupancy. The library was housed in trailers.

The TV studio and City Council chambers were expanded in 1984. Two years later, City Council looked into developing a public-private project on the existing site.

A master plan was created, and in 1991 an architect was commissioned to conceptually design a community center for city government offices, a county library, 108 parking stalls and council chambers.

Proposed financing was a $4.5 million bond issuance, which failed at a special election on Jan. 28, 1992.

Fast forward to June 2007 when council authorized funding for a consultant to analyze the feasibility of redeveloping the City Hall site.

At a December workshop later that year, four scenarios were presented. They ranged from exclusive use of the site for city offices with community use areas to a mixed-use development that also included restaurants, retail shops and residential units.

In three of the four options, commercial and residential development subsidized the project costs.

The area where City Council meetings would be held has long been envisioned as a town meeting hall — a multipurpose facility with meeting rooms and space for event gatherings that could accommodate up to 200 people.

Planning Director Kathy Garcia outlined a similar history for other city departments at the July 15 meeting.

“While public works and the fire station are things we need to pay attention to, I think we need to stay focused on City Hall as the highest priority and our first priority,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

Speaking as someone “who got burned 20 years ago,” resident Jacqueline Winterer agreed and encouraged council members “not to make the mistakes we made.”

“We were defeated because our plan was too complicated,” she said, adding that while Garcia provided “a comprehensive analysis that is very valid … please don’t try a comprehensive solution. Just do the City Hall.”

“You have a long-suffering staff now that puts up with very bad facilities,” she said. As the county’s smallest city, she said Del Mar can’t attract new employees with competitive wages, “so you have to think of building up psychic rewards.”

“The psychic reward for the new staff would be to have decent offices,” Winterer said.

“Let’s focus on City Hall and giving employees a place where they have indoor plumbing,” Councilwoman Lee Haydu said.

“We want to avoid getting too complicated or too big or too grandiose,” Councilman Al Corti added. “We have certain needs and I’d like us to stay focused on that. I think that we can live within the space requirements that we have and that’s what we should try to accomplish. … I’m just concerned about mixed use and planning more than we need.”

“The City Hall should be a source of pride,” Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said. “It should be an invitation for those of us to use this place. And it should have a community focus.”

Parks said she liked that the facility would be called a town meeting hall rather than council chambers and suggested getting residents involved in the process as soon as possible.

“To see the history written down on a piece of paper is somewhat embarrassing,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said following Garcia’s presentation. “It shows that the community has wanted something, has wanted to make improvements, and for various reasons has not been able to get over that hurdle and make it happen.

“We should always remember that we’re a service organization, primarily, so that the way you put functions together … should always be thinking about how best to provide whatever that service is,” he added.

Sinnott suggested designing “the minimum we need to provide effective service.”

“If the community tells us we need more for various reasons, then we can react to that,” he said. “I would like to keep it simple and focused on what we have to do to provide services to the community.”

Sinnott said he supports taking a phased approach to the project without comparing it to what other jurisdictions have done.

“Please don’t compare our City Hall needs with other city halls,” he said. “Let’s keep it Del Mar scale.”

Garcia said she will present a preliminary discussion of sites and how to translate the new facility into a physical reality at the Sept. 3 meeting.