The Marisol Initiative (Measure G on the March ballot) is a big decision for Del Mar, worthy of your close study and careful, fact-based analysis. One thing is clear: this Initiative proves that reasonable people can disagree about what is good for Del Mar. The Sandpiper editors do not share a common opinion on Measure G, but we do share the view that much of the discussion on both sides of this important issue has been factually inaccurate. This issue is too important to have the vote based on “alternative facts” and superficial analysis. We are calling on everyone to dig deep and study hard before making your decision. In that spirit, here is our take on a few examples of misleading claims and arguments we’ve been hearing or seeing in our mailboxes:
Bluff Access: The developers say “a Yes vote = bluff access for all,” while opponents say “we already have access to bluff-top trails.” The facts are more nuanced than either claim. The public already has access to the North Bluff (Scripps) Preserve, via a fairly steep trail that not everyone can navigate and is not ADA-compliant or car-accessible. This public trail is limited to the Preserve, with no access to the rest of the bluff. There is also a short dirt path at the end of Border Ave. to an ocean overlook area that does not include a trail along the bluff. It is also true that if private residences are built on the property instead of Marisol, our LCP calls for a trail to connect Border Ave. to the Preserve along the bluff – and that will certainly be achieved by conditions attached to the subdivision, for all except one lot (the old Woodward estate) that has a view easement through Feb. 2049 “uninterrupted by public pedestrian/vehicular ingress,” so long as the estate is not subdivided into more than 3 separate lots. So the creation of a complete, continuous trail might not occur until after Feb. 2049. Also, the trail may be constructed in a piecemeal fashion, only as individual houses are approved and built; and significantly, the Land Use Plan (LUP) portion of our Local Coastal Program provides that the bluff setback can (“shall”) be reduced to a minimum of 10 ft. to allow for above-grade improvements such as fencing. [LUP section C, Goal III-9(a)]. The Marisol project would provide for a trail that is constructed all at once, and is ADA-compliant, car-accessible with public parking, and would go around the property in a loop, in addition to the full length of the bluff to the Preserve. It would have designated amenities such as benches, overlooks, and other improvements that might not occur in the private residence scenario, and the Marisol setback from the bluff is a minimum of 40-feet.
Traffic: Impact on traffic is a major concern. A recent mailer claimed that Marisol would create “significant and unavoidable traffic impacts throughout Del Mar,” while a maximum single-family development under current zoning would have “no significant impacts.” This is a 4 or 5-Pinocchio claim, in our view. As the EIR and the staff presentation at the recent Planning Commission meeting on the EIR make clear, the background (existing) traffic on peak Fair and racing days are the most significant problem, and while it is true that with Marisol traffic, the Level of Service on those days would be a poor, it is also poor without Marisol traffic. A close study of th. EIR’s detailed, data-rich analysis of traffi. (EIR section 4.11, especially the charts on pages 4-11-19 through 4-11-49, and the Conclusion on page 4-11-18) shows that virtually all of the Marisol traffic impacts can be mitigated to a level of insignificance, if the most effective mitigation measures are implemented, except for three sections along Via de la Valle during certain Fair days –when we will have poor service with or without Marisol because of the Fair.
DRB and other reviews: For most Del Marians, having a strong review process in place, including DRB, Planning Commission, Council, and Coastal Commission, is critical. Some opponents have claimed that the Initiative would “reduce local design review control of the project to a rubber-stamp.” This is factually inaccurate; however, to the extent that supporters claim that “nothing changes” with respect to DRB review, that is not accurate, either, because the DRB will be required to evaluate the project based on the design guidelines in the Specific Plan, which were drafted by the developer rather than through the normal City process. It is significant, though, that it is not mandatory for DRB to accept or follow those guidelines. The Initiative does not limit or compromise the DRB’s discretion, and the Design Review Ordinance (DROs) would still apply to the DRB’s review, its fact findings, and its regulatory conclusions with respect to Marisol. While the Initiative does change the zoning and Plan designations for the property, and thus changes the maximum “envelope” for a project. the “envelope” is not a guarantee – and DRB retains discretion, as it does with any “envelope” set by zoning, to make changes to meet specific concerns (bulk and mass, height that blocks views, negative impact on the Preserve, etc.), and to effectuate the DROs. By the Initiative’s explicit terms, the DRB must evaluate the development based on the Specific Plan’s design guidelines, but those guidelines are not “mandatory or required,” based on the Initiative’s definition of “should,” which is how the design guidelines are framed. Bottom line: all design guidelines are advisory and not mandatory, and the DRB retains full discretion to require project changes if needed to comply with the DROs. This analysis, however, is not intended to minimize the importance of the zone and Community Plan changes that the Initiative would put in place.
CEQA: Thorough environmental review is also important to most Del Marians. Even though citizen-sponsored initiatives are not subject to CEQA compliance, the developers elected to go through CEQA anyway, and the draft EIR has been available since mid-December. The Marisol Specific Plan contains only legislative approvals, so if passed, it does not authorize project implementation, and full CEQA review and certification will be required for the project and discretionary approvals including tentative map approval, Design Review Permit, Land Conservation Permit, Tree Removal Permit, and Coastal Development Permit. CEQA requires the adoption of mitigation measures to reduce significant impacts to a level of insignificance, where doing so is feasible.
Story Poles are a big issue for many Del Marians. Story poles are not legally required until later in the process. per the DRB’s Story Pole Guidelines, but nothing precludes the developer from putting up story poles before the vote, and story poles would definitely help people better visualize bulk and mass.