Referendum Rolls Dice: Del Mar Housing Element Gamble

North Commercial rezone suspended until 2022 election, opening a game of chicken with the State over affordable housing in Del Mar.


Last October, City Council voted to rezone North Commercial — the area near the roundabout at Jimmy Durante and San Dieguito Road. The 3-2 majority and city staff argued this was necessary for Del Mar to stay compliant with state affordable housing law, to avoid fines and lawsuits. The long-delayed rezone was voted on 7 years after extensive public discussion and certification by the state. The controversial rezone resulted in an immediate citizen petition to overturn the vote. Spearheaded by local resident Arnie Wiesel, it obtained enough signatures to suspend the rezone — forcing the current City Council to choose between reversing it outright or putting it up for a future voter referendum.


On January 11, City Council committed to letting the voters decide the fate of North Commercial’s zoning with two of the five council members (Quirk, Martinez) recused because they live within 500 feet of North Commercial. Gaasterland, Worden, and Druker agreed that short of a resolution with the proponents of the referendum that results in its withdrawal, the citizens of Del Mar should have the final say in the matter by putting it on the ballot. The three council members diverged only on when the referendum should happen.


Only Worden favored putting the issue to Del Mar voters this June, saying he hopes to avoid stiff penalties and a lawsuit with the state over our housing element which requires Del Mar to rezone North Commercial. Worden said the cost of a special June election is “trivial compared to the cost of going out of compliance and being decertified.” Worden noted: “[I] have a real problem with putting it on in November 2022. That in effect repeals the ordinance because it is stayed for almost two years. We’d be better off as a city to repeal it tonight and then the one year ban would be over a year from now, and we would be able to revisit zoning options. By putting it on the ballot in November 2022, we can’t consider options for almost two years. If we put it on the ballot, we should put it on the ballot in June.”


Gaasterland and Druker favored November 2022, giving the city time to negotiate with the proponents to reach a solution that would hopefully avoid any need for a vote. Gaasterland said: “[T]he referendum by going on the November 2022 ballot empowers the people and the people have certainty and the people of Del Mar will be able to vote on this important zone change in November 2022. The other power it has given the people is it has pushed our council to come up with an alternative that’s acceptable to the de facto representatives of the people, the proponents of the referendum.” Neither Gaasterland nor Druker addressed that waiting until 2022 will push the City past the State-imposed April 2021 rezone deadline by a year and a half, triggering potential penalties and lawsuits during that time.


Since the Council did not come to a consensus on when to place the issue on the ballot it will automatically be placed on the November 2022 ballot by default, absent further Council action.