Editorial: 300 Days – Campaigning vs. Governing

The machinery of government is intricate and complicated. In today’s political climate, successful election campaigns are too often driven by simplistic, sharp-line-in-the sand messaging, but governing is different. City Council members are responsible for a plateful of complex issues that are immune to simple solutions. Historically our best governance has occurred when council members and experienced city staff chart a path together to identify what is actually possible and how best to make it happen. Even better is when council members facilitate citizen input and, importantly, communicate clearly what is and is not realistically achievable.

We urge the council majority to shift from campaign mode to an effective governance model. Their first 300 days have been rocky, marked by poor process and decision-making that have placed undue burdens on staff and have failed to serve the interests of our residents. To focus on a few:

City Manager: Literally within days of when the Council was allowed to do so under City Manager CJ Johnson’s contract, and with new Council members having worked with her for just 3 months, the Council terminated Johnson, triggering a $120,000 payment to her, plus 6 months of health insurance and payment of certain unused leave, along with a new obligation for an interim city manager salary. The City effectively paid for two City Managers for 6 months as the price of terminating Johnson early. Worse, because Johnson’s attorney asserted that council members breached her contract by interfering with her authority, the City paid Johnson an additional $31,880. Meanwhile, our Interim City Manager Ashley Jones remains interim, while council members’ conduct (and agenda items) suggest that the new Council has difficulty complying with the respective roles of Manager and Council. This is a big deal, because it affects our ability to attract and retain a City Manager.

Advisory Committees and Undergrounding: 18 months after the Council suspended the majority of citizen advisory committees, they remain on hiatus. When the Council restarted the undergrounding program, it did so without reactivating UPAC, the undergrounding advisory committee. Worse, the Council restarted the program with an immediate change that contravened the Council-adopted UPAC recommendation as to the order in which neighborhoods would be undergrounded. This cavalier treatment of UPAC and an appearance of favoring of a political ally’s neighborhood triggered UPAC resignations and intentionally flouted the historic role of advisory committees in Del Mar’s governance.

Zoning and Housing – NC and North Bluff: Pre-2020 election, councilmembers Druker and Gaasterland voted against rezoning North Commercial to allow residential at 20 units/acre, and Druker, Martinez, and Quirk campaigned against it, even though it was required by our Housing Element. The candidates who acknowledged the legal requirement of the NC zoning change were hammered mercilessly during the campaign. After the election, Druker and Gaasterland voted for the NC zoning change (Martinez and Quirk recused), and Martinez joined them in voting for the Community Plan amendment for this rezoning.

As candidates, Druker, Martinez, and Quirk claimed that only they would protect North Bluff, and said they had alternative housing solutions. Post-election, they proposed no alternatives that would comply with State housing law, and significant portions of North Bluff (with an interesting name change to “the Border Ave. properties”) were selected by the Council as the designated site for up-zoning to meet State housing law, for up to 250 total units, should the City fail to get an agreement within 3 years for affordable housing at the Fairgrounds.

Watermark, bigger and no discretionary DRB review: The Sandpiper has previously detailed how Druker and Gaasterland torpedoed the Watermark specific plan process, which included significant public input and full DRB review of the proposed 38 units (7 affordable, several to be donated to the City). This resulted in the developer’s abandonment of the specific plan process in favor of a “by right” application to build 50 units, with no discretionary DRB review. Though this was a result of the Druker-Gaasterland vote against NC rezoning shortly before the election, Martinez and Quirk “helped” by campaigning vigorously against the NC rezoning. Del Mar’s opportunity for the smaller-scale 38-unit development appears to be permanently lost, along with the exceptional public benefits the specific plan would have brought to the City, courtesy of Druker, Gaasterland, Martinez, and Quirk.

The above are but a few examples of a rough transition from campaign mode to governance. Residents deserve better.