Grandma used to say, “Right begun is half done.” She might have been referring to all the hours of hard work put in by City Staff, several previous councils, and citizen advisory committees to arrive at this point with our Village Specific Plan (VSP). Yet, the plan may not be ready for prime time.
Why not? The other half of the equation involves widespread citizen involvement and understanding. The Council and staff have done truly heroic work reaching out to the community and making numerous suggested changes in the plan. Yet the circle of citizens who have taken the time and effort to review and understand the specifics of the plan revisions is narrow, perhaps a few hundred at best.
We continue to encounter Delmarians whose opinions are based on early drafts, or in some cases on simple emotional reactions. Sometimes the opinions are based on fear of change, sometimes on uncritical acceptance of generalizations, sometimes on getting drips of information from a neighbor or a merchant, or sometimes on making up one’s mind without taking a good look at details of the actual plan. It worries us that a plan that has the potential to significantly transform our downtown over the next thirty years has provoked so little informed citizen involvement.
Starting with Del Mar 2000 in the ‘80s through this year, Del Mar has spent well over a million dollars on revitalization, not counting considerable staff time. We are close to the payoff point for that considerable long-term investment. Because we are so close, it is tempting to rush to the finish line before a strong community consensus has jelled.
Our own history tells us that good projects go down to defeat if we don’t build a strong constituency before voting: city hall renovation, utility pole under grounding, real estate tax, visitor tax. In contrast, the Garden Project took the time to build a consensus and received an 80% approval.
A citywide survey this month to gauge public opinion on elements of the draft plan will inform the Council’s decision about scheduling this for a public vote in November.
What is the reality if there is a NO vote on the VSP? Or even a narrow YES vote? - a divided community.
With a NO vote, what would happen to the momentum gathered to tackle this very important, real issue to spruce up the downtown? Wasted money and staff time but, most important, nothing happens downtown! Del Mar slips slowly behind and fundamental problems, recognized through the years, are never solved.
The Council will have to make a tough decision on August 6. But we residents cannot sit back and leave it to the Council. We residents have exactly one month to get our act together, getting up to speed on the final draft and letting Council members know what we want, in specific terms. We need to take the time to write down our concerns, talk to staff and Council members, and help the Council to “get it right the Del Mar Way.” Some folks in town want a perfect plan or none, one that won’t impact them in any way. But there are many who try to see the big picture, imagine the general good, and are willing to compromise, and open to “giving something new a try.” The Council needs to ensure that they capture these voters before they put the VSP on the ballot.
If the community consensus has not jelled by August 6, we should ask the Council to consider placing this before the voters on a special ballot in April so we can take the time to digest the traffic and zoning changes and help ripen the plan. We should be shooting for 80% approval, a truly united outcome that Grandma would call “fully done.”