The Editorial Board
Del Mar is a self-governing City? “Of course — ho-hum,” you might say, but only if you are oblivious to our history. The decision to incorporate was not a given — it was made by a razor-thin margin after a hard-fought campaign. If 38 people had voted “no” instead of “yes” on the May 26, 1959 ballot, Del Mar would have remained under the governance of the County Board of Supervisors, and we would not be celebrating 60 years of self-rule on July 15, the date incorporation became official.
The voices opposing incorporation included the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce, the Del Mar Property Owners Committee, and the Citizens Committee to Vote No on Del Mar Incorporation. Their position: “Del Mar simply cannot afford to incorporate, from the water, tax and higher cost viewpoints, every resident would regret it.” Nancy Ewing’s history records that the campaign was marked by rampant charges, counter-charges, denials, newspaper ads, flyers and meetings. In the end, 555 Del Marians voted to incorporate; 479 voted no.
Just two years later, the anti-incorporation forces regrouped, headed by the president of the Chamber, and began a campaign to have Del Mar consolidated with (annexed to) the City of San Diego. But public sentiment had consolidated. A robust Committee for Del Mar defended incorporation. Its 10-page campaign piece stated, “if you are considering marking your ballot “For Consolidation,” be sure you are willing to give up the home rule and opportunity for orderly and consistent growth that Del Mar offers. Consolidation is an irrevocable step, and it could mean the end of the Del Mar we know.” On election day in April 1962, Del Mar strongly rejected consolidation by a 999-383 vote.
We don’t take self-governance or good governance for granted. In Del Mar, key decisions have often reflected an extraordinary level of citizen activism. The incorporation vote itself came shortly after an arduous 10-year citizens’ campaign to defeat the proposal to locate I-5 along Camino del Mar (or alternately, on the beach!). Our Community Plan was crafted and shepherded to adoption by a citizen Task Force of over 100 volunteers led by Charles Keeling. Hard-fought elections ending in close votes have brought us key projects, or defined the values of our Council. The City’s acquisition of the Powerhouse property in the face of an effort to turn it into a Restaurant Row is a good example. Almost 200 residents, including the first six mayors of Del Mar, signed a 1983 newspaper ad opposing the Powerhouse acquisition proposal, urging voters to “STOP TAX WASTE – Vote NO Feb. 15th!” But a vigorous campaign by citizen activists produced a vote of 1029 in favor, and 791 opposed. Del Mar thus acquired what is now universally seen as a crown jewel. (Read more here: bit.ly/PowerhouseVote)
As the Committee for Del Mar wrote back in 1962, “If Del Mar shall continue to exist in its present character [rather than consolidate with San Diego], each citizen will have both the opportunity and the obligation to help Del Mar become an even better place in which to live.” On this 60th Anniversary of Del Mar’s incorporation, we celebrate the many Del Marians who have accepted that obligation and taken advantage of key opportunities to make Del Mar an even better place. From our inception, citizen activism has powered our civic life. May it always be so!