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North County Report: A War Over Homes, Words and Turds in Del Mar

The Palomar Faculty Federation alleges community college board members violated state law, Diane Harkey and Mike Levin sparred over President Donald Trump in a debate and more in our biweekly roundup of news from North County.

Powerhouse Park in Del Mar / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Several weeks ago, an anonymous advertisement in a local newspaper ruffled the sensibilities of Del Mar’s political class. Titled “Where The Surf Meets The Turd In Old Del Mar,” the ad urged the residents to vote against a November ballot measure that would effectively limit the size of some beachfront properties.

Pictured was a partly collapsed home below the warning: “Is this our future view from the Del Mar shoreline?”

Mayor Dwight Worden is opposed to the ballot measure — Measure R — but he objected to the ad’s tone and choice of words. He and other candidates in this year’s election have signed voluntary pledges to abide by a municipal code that encourages clean campaigns.

Worden also questioned whether the creator should reveal his identity and interests. State law requires the disclosure of political ads totaling $1,000 in a single year.

“Even if he didn’t trigger the threshold,” Worden told me, “I’d look him in the eye and say, ‘Use your First Amendment rights, but drop the turd language and address the issues.’ If he doesn’t do that, he erodes the process, and other people see that and say, ‘There’s a turd ad. Maybe I need to do a turd ad, too.’”

The anonymous man who placed the ad told the Coast News that the political campaign he was waging wasn’t politically motivated.

It did little to combat the perception that the November initiative at its core is a dispute among wealthy people who own property on the beach. But the dispute points potentially to a bigger problem.

So What’s the Problem?

The maximum allowable size of a beach home depends on the size of the lot, and the Del Mar Planning Commission recently determined that beachfront property owners could include the Shoreline Protection Area, which is reserved for the public, in the overall calculation.

That hasn’t always been the case, said Rick Thompson, an investor who lives in a large beach home. He told the City Council over the summer that he was motivated to introduce Measure R to bring consistency to the planning process.

In analyzing the ballot measure, the city attorney appears to have rejected the claim that beachfront properties are being treated unequally because the lots are technically located within different zones and the average size of the lots can differ substantially.

But if it’s true that some homes are calculated one way and other homes are calculated another way, Worden said, officials should hash it out with public input at City Hall, not through the ballot box.

The city attorney has also noted that Measure R could open the city up to litigation. An estimated 28 lots could lose up to 50 percent of “development potential.” The initiative could also mean that current homes destroyed by fire or natural disaster would need to be rebuilt to the smaller size — a point the Coast News ad amplified.

The timing of the initiative has been called into questioned. Opponents note that Thompson’s neighbor, Sandra Naftzger, wants to build a large home on the lot next to his. But city officials, according to the Del Mar Times, have said the initiative would not affect Naftzger’s project because it’s already going through the planning process.

In any case, Thompson has suspended his campaign. Instead, he’s been quietly urging his allies to vote against the ballot measure and press the city to reform its land use review process.

Tom Shepard, a political consultant, said he’s still running ads on Facebook for the No on Measure R campaign because its backers feel an “obligation to help voters understand what the real impacts of it would have been.”

The Other Ballot Measures in Del Mar

There are two, and they’ve gotten significantly less attention. Measure T would allow for the mixed-use redevelopment of a former gas station site at the southwestern corner of Camino Del Mar and 10th Street.

The more interesting of the two, Measure P, would allow the city to assert more of its local powers over land use decisions. As the Del Mar Times has reported, the city did not lay claim to the full range of its abilities under the California Constitution when it incorporated in 1959.

There’s no opposition to Measure P, as far as I can see.

Like other North County cities, Del Mar has an awkward relationship with the state. The official argument in favor of Measure P complains that California gradually removed local control by imposing “one size fits all” requirements.

Residents and officials clearly resent being told how to govern. For instance, Del Mar is challenging the authority of the California Coastal Commission in court over short-term vacation rental rules.

Palomar Faculty Going to Court

In non-Del Mar news (I know, North County is a big place), the Palomar Faculty Federation alleges that a majority of community college board members violated state law by deliberating over the terms of the superintendent’s contract without properly notifying the public.

The new contract, approved in July without any discussion, according to a lawsuit, increased Joi Lin Blake’s base salary by 27 percent — from $252,782 to $292,027 — and guaranteed her lifetime health and dental benefits and an annuity worth $15,000 a year. The community college district hired her in 2016.

The board president did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

  • A similar complaint has been raised in Poway, where a City Council candidate alleges that the mayor and two Council members held an illegal meeting in the parking lot of a pub. Poway’s city attorney responded that state rules allow those members to attend social or ceremonial events provided they don’t talk city business. (Union-Tribune)

Stuff I’m Working on

  • The Democratic Party is splitting on Proposition 10, which would loosen statewide restrictions on local rent control policies. In the Politics Report, I asked the 76th Assembly District candidates, both Democrats, for their positions. Tasha Boerner Horvath is skeptical that the initiative will do what its proponents say it’ll do, but she didn’t come out and oppose it. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, said she supports it.
  • Proposition 64 was supposed to bring transparency to the marijuana industry, but a silent investor in San Diego has revealed how easily the system can be subverted. As North County’s marijuana industry grows, it’s possible that ownership disputes are on the horizon unless local officials start demanding greater disclosure from businesses upfront.

In Other News

Programming Note

I’m leaving town for a few days, so the next North County Report will be Oct. 24.

But mark your calendars! I’m moderating a Carlsbad mayoral forum on Oct. 23 at Pacific Ridge School between Matt Hall and Cori Schumacher. Questions will come from the students. There are 130 seats available and it’s first come, first served.

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