Unexplored Solutions? Do They Really Exist?

In any campaign season, we can expect to see wild claims about opposing candidates, factually unsupported claims, and simplistic solutions to complex problems. This year is no exception.

We all know that Del Mar is out of compliance with State housing law, and the potential consequences include loss of local control over our zoning and development.

Councilmember Dwight Worden has written a careful analysis of the claims we are hearing that there are alternative ways to meet our housing obligations without rezoning. I think this is one of the most significant challenges we face, and hope you will find Dwight’s analysis helpful.

Best regards,


Housing law is complicated. Some candidates for Council are proposing superficial options to lure your vote hoping you won’t look beneath the surface. These proposals are dangerous.

Druker and Martinez (with Gaasterland’s support) are telling the community that Del Mar can meet state housing law requirements without amending our zoning. That’s not accurate. These same folks want you to believe there are viable options the City has not considered. That’s not accurate either. These folks imply that we have the time to work all this out with HCD and avoid rezoning. They are wrong.

The path they advocate is most likely to bring Del Mar severe penalties under state law, and exposure to developer lawsuits and demands. This has happened in Huntington Beach and in Encinitas. Del Mar could be next. We are already losing local control as to Watermark. Del Mar is duty bound to follow state housing law and to implement our Community Plan. The Druker/Gaasterland/Martinez “alternatives” do neither. Here are some of the superficial options they want you to rely on in casting your vote. These are taken from one of their recent mailers (original mailer quoted verbatim in blue, my response in red):Work with Fairgrounds to renovate Barracks (up to 600 affordable units; this alone meets our State mandated housing requirement).

1. Work with Fairgrounds to renovate Barracks (up to 600 affordable units; this alone meets our State mandated housing requirement).

There are no “barracks” at the fairgrounds, and certainly not one of 600 units. There are substandard backtrack rooms for grooms and the like to use on a temporary basis during the race season. These have been evaluated. They do not have bathrooms, kitchens, or appropriate public or ADA access. They do not meet state requirements to qualify as “housing.” They cannot be counted toward Del Mar’s housing obligations. The fairgrounds has rejected rehabilitating or rebuilding them to meet state standards. The fairgrounds concluded, with good reason, that housing the public in the barn area is inappropriate. There are real options at the fairgrounds, but a 600 unit barracks is not one of them. Nor is rehabilitating backtrack rooms. This is a false option.

2. Housing for seniors (e.g., by hotel conversion).

Del Mar’s Housing Plan already includes viable programs for senior housing. There are no hotels for sale for conversion, and no money to buy and convert them if there were. This is a false option.

3. New affordable Accessory Dwelling Unit incentives (with restrictions on setbacks And with view preservation together with square footage and financing incentives).

State law governs ADUs. Del Mar has no ability to vary from state law requirements, no ability to impose DRB or view requirements, and no ability to reduce square footage requirements. Del Mar already has an incentive program for ADUs. ADUs are already in the Del Mar Housing Plan. Del Mar already regulates ADUs to the maximum extent allowed by state law. This “alternative” adds nothing.

4. Up to 3 condos on existing commercial properties without high-density rezoning.

Nobody, including the City, is proposing “high density” rezoning on commercial
properties. Twenty units per acre mixed use as proposed by the Del Mar Plan is the lowest, not the highest, density the state will accept. City calculations are that adding a mixed use option at 20 units/acre in the downtown commercial area would translate to a handful of small projects, in the 2-4 unit range per lot, as most lots are small and already built out. The Community Housing Survey identified this city plan as a preferred option to meet our housing goals. A cap of three condos per property would not meet state law. It would not assure any rental units at affordable rates. It is inconsistent with the Community Housing Survey. It would not meet our state housing requirements. It is not allowed by our Community Plan. It is a false option.

5. Grandfather the non-conforming 3-story 1970’s apartments in south Del Mar
(to incentivize renovation and affordable units; many are in decay).

All non-conforming buildings at the south end of town already enjoy grandfather rights. This proposal would add nothing. None of these buildings offers rentals that currently qualify as “affordable” under state standards. Renovation, while desirable, is expensive. Rents would go up to cover costs, not down. This is a false option.

We trust the voters to take these issues seriously. A lot is at stake. Losing our zoning control, decertification of our current Housing Element, fines and litigation, await us if we stay out of compliance. Compliance requires real options that meet the law, not shallow and superficial concepts.

Following is a summary of key state housing law requirements that control the real options available to Del Mar.

  • State Law Requires Del Mar to Accommodate 175 units, including 113 “affordable.“ State law requires Del Mar to accommodate, including by rezoning, 175 new housing units in our town over the next eight years. Of these, at least 113 need to be “affordable.” These are state requirements that bring severe penalties if we don’t meet them. Options that don’t get us to this finish line are not serious and not helpful.
  • Del Mar Has Already Studied All Viable Alternatives. Del Mar has identified and studied every conceivable option and evaluated every site that is legally available to meet our housing requirements. As a city we have to choose how we will comply with the law. “Alternatives” outside the law and not called for by our Community Plan are not options we can pursue. If we do, severe fines, penalties, and court action follow. Our Plan must identify programs that are legal. We must show how our programs work together. We must prove why they are feasible and can be realistically achieved. The state, through the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), is charged by law to assure we meet these requirements and to penalize us if we don’t.
  • Del Mar is required to designate vacant land at 20 units per acre. A separate part of state law (AB 1397) requires, yes, requires, that Del Mar zone a certain amount of vacant property between ½ and 10 acres in size at a minimum of 20 units per acre. These properties must be able to accommodate ½ or more of our affordable unit requirement. Allowing 20 units per acre in the PC zone is in the works with support of the Council, but affects only a few small parcels. For North Commercial (including the Watermark property), the Council, by a 3-2 margin, voted to rezone to 20 units/acre, but the required Community Plan amendment was blocked by Druker and Gaasterland. We have no other zoning anywhere in town at 20 units per acre. Our new Plan proposes designating the CC zone to allow mixed use at up to 20 per acre, but that will not generate anywhere near the number of needed units. We are in default of this AB 1397 requirement and have aggravated our situation by denying the NC amendment.
  • The North Bluff and South Stratford properties are at risk of rezoning to achieve AB 1397 compliance. The only options under city zoning control that meet the requirements of AB 1397 that aren’t blocked are the North Bluff and South Stratford properties. All other potential sites in Del Mar were studied and do not qualify because they are either too small, are not “vacant,” or have environmental or other constraints that render them non-compliant under the law.
  • The Fairgrounds option. To avoid being forced to implement 20 units/acre zoning on the North Bluff/South Stratford properties, the City has identified a program to place 51 or more affordable units on the Fairgrounds at the equivalent of 20 units per acre. We are asking HCD to accept this option as our compliance with AB 1397 and to allow us to not change zoning on the North Bluff and South Stratford properties, keeping this option only as a last resort backup in case we fail at the fairgrounds.
  • Del Mar doesn’t own or control the Fairgrounds. Del Mar does not own or have zoning control over the fairgrounds. HCD will give “credit” only for binding commitments. Accordingly, Del Mar’s Plan asks that Del Mar have three years to reach a binding agreement with the Fairgrounds for a housing project. We have worked on fairgrounds housing for several years already, in depth, and have made significant progress. We are hopeful HCD will accept our proposal, but HCD approval is not guaranteed.
  • Druker and Gaasterland’s recent rejection of our Community Plan amendment to redesignate the NC (including Watermark) at 20 units per acre prevented Del Mar from coming into compliance with prior city housing commitments and was not helpful in persuading HCD to trust and work with us on a fairgrounds option. If we do succeed with HCD, the fairgrounds, and the rest of our Plan, we will not need to rezone the North Bluff or South Stratford properties. If we fail, we will. If HCD rejects our Plan, we will.

Much is at stake. It is time to be serious.

Dwight Worden
City Councilmember

Paid for by Bob Gans for Council 2020, Joel Holliday, Treasurer.

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