Ann Gardner | Via Latina
|Mayor Lee Haydu.
Photo Nancy Fisher. Click on photo to enlarge.
We met with Mayor Lee Haydu to discuss results of the City Hall/Civic Center Survey:
1. The City Hall Survey results are in. Are you pleased with the number of responses? We are very pleased with the number of responses. 425 people responded. Of those, 84% were residents, representing 17% of households. The remaining respondents owned a business in Del Mar or conducted business at City Hall. Were you surprised by the results? The results closely mirrored the responses we received at last December’s community workshop. A clear majority (75%) indicated that a new City Hall/City Administrative Offices should be the first priority and should be located on the existing City Hall site. Only 5% commented there was no need for a new City Hall. There were more varied responses when it came to questions about financing the project.
2. How did Council determine there was a need for a new facility in the first place? A new City Hall has been considered for many years. When the City first moved into its existing facility, an old schoolhouse, the Council spoke of it as “temporary” due to its age and condition. In 1990, there was a facility study that identified deficiencies and considered a replacement. The City Council addressed this again in 2007. Over those 26 years, the City was not in the financial position to move forward.
3. What are the specific deficiencies of the current City Hall? The existing City Hall consists of two buildings built in 1921 and expanded in 1956. The southern building is uninhabitable for safety reasons and the City can no longer use it, even for storage. There is little room for the public, impacting service at the busy front counter, and believe it or not no indoor bathrooms for employees. Substantial maintenance has been deferred, requiring considerable investment to bring the building up to code and meet current needs more expensive than a long term investment in an adequate, safe City Hall. It is embarrassing and unacceptable that our town does not have decent facilities for our hard-working employees.
4. What is the current financial condition of the city now? Would there be a new tax? The Finnell Plan wisely put into place a method of correcting the City’s finances in order to prepare the City to meet capital improvement projects. It became a framework for budgetary discipline and it is doing its job. Now the City regularly puts money away and has a budget surplus that is used for capital improvements. Because of this, Del Mar has been able to stabilize its budget and has an AAA bond rating. Also, this is one of the best periods in years for public financing, with low interest rates. There is no need for a new tax.
5. What are the options for financing? Please explain how a public-private partnership to help pay for a City Hall/Civic Center would work. Did the survey respondents favor one option over the others?
There are several options for financing a new City Hall/Civic Center that would NOT require additional taxes for this project. One option is a Lease Revenue Bond similar to a loan or mortgage structured for a government agency, where the City would make payments over 30 years. The payments would come from City operations, not new taxes.
Another option is to sell a non-essential asset to help raise cash for the project. We used this financing method when the City sold the Balboa Lot to fund the Shores acquisition.
In a public-private partnership a developer invests upfront for a long-term return. For example, a developer would be given rights to develop a portion of land that is not used for the City Hall. While the City may not be required to borrow money for the project, the rights given to the developer would be similar to selling or leasing all or part of the property.
The survey results indicated that close to 40% of respondents disagreed with the City entering in to a public-private partnership, 30% neither agreed nor disagreed, and close to 30% agreed. 66% agreed with selling a non-essential asset and 63% supported a Lease Revenue Bond. The community has a right to expect the Council to show how private sector partnering helps us achieve our goals without undermining our financial health.
6. The survey provides specific numbers for an appropriate size for our City Hall. How did the City come up with those numbers? Can the scale and design reflect our small town values? The numbers provided for the size of City Hall were based upon 1990 services and updated to include Information Technology, the Park Ranger and the Sheriff which were not included at that time. Most of the current staff space remains the same; however there is more room for the public counter and front desk, which are often crowded and indoor restrooms for the employees. The design should most definitely reflect our small town values, a place we can all enjoy, make good use of for civic purposes, and make a statement we can be proud of.
7. Keeping or remodeling any of the older buildings was not listed as an option. Does this mean the current TV building and Annex would be torn down? As part of the programming exercise coming up, the feasibility of maintaining, remodeling or replacing those buildings will also be discussed.
8. What about the claim that an earlier advisory vote determined that there was NO need for a new City Hall. Was there such a vote? There was a vote in 1992 (Proposition A) which asked if the City should borrow money for a large Civic Center complex that included a new City Hall and Library. That vote did not carry. We need to scale it down--we believe the community wants a civic center but not something too ambitious.
9. Reflecting on lessons learned by previous City Councils, including the fact that half a dozen plans for a new facility have either been abandoned or defeated, what steps will the Council take now to solicit feedback and community support? We started with a community workshop and then immediately expanded that input with this survey. This is only the first of many workshops and surveys. The Council will be discussing this often so the process will be transparent and offer many opportunities for the community to participate. My hope is that this new civic space will achieve community unity.