What’s missing in Del Mar? Young families. New generations of university professors and students. Diversity on many fronts: economic, racial, age and more. It wasn’t always so.
In key respects, we are less diverse today than we were when our Community Plan was adopted: 500+ UCSD students lived here; university faculty could afford to buy a home here (and bring welcome expertise to our civic endeavors). There were housing opportunities for the middle-class and for families with children.
Today, successful young professionals with children are lucky to find a vaguely affordable rental, and those seeking to buy a home find the Del Mar housing market largely priced out of reach. With an estimated 200+ housing units (almost 10% of our housing stock) now used for short-term rentals, the possibilities for all but the uber-wealthy are further reduced, as would-be full-time residents compete with all-cash buyers and investors for the limited pool of properties. So off they go.
What’s left? A retired population, rich new arrivals likely to be part-time residents, leaving their houses empty for much of the year, and visitors whose short stays effectively convert our residential housing stock into commercial mini-hotels, even as our Community Plan mandates clear separation of residential neighborhoods and commercial activity. What is missing? A regenerative population of civically engaged full-time residents.
Since its inception as a city in 1959 Del Mar has relied on a robustly engaged community to create and implement our Community Plan, to protect our residential neighborhoods’ special character, and to preserve our open spaces. Protecting Seagrove Park, Powerhouse Park and Crest Canyon from development; implementing design, trees and scenic views, and other ordinances that make our neighborhoods special; adopting a Climate Action Plan; signing on to the Dark Sky program – these and many other decisions have made Del Mar better.
Of course, times change. We face big challenges: sharing our space with visitors in ways that protect our quality of life, meeting state-mandated affordable housing requirements, relocating the train off our bluffs. Threats loom: climate change, drought, bluff erosion, sea level rise, to name but a few. In the critical next few years, will we work to address these issues and find real solutions—including affordable housing for young families? Or will Del Mar’s future be defined by tourists and wealthy owners who are seldom here, losing our critical mass of highly-engaged full-time residents?
What if all (or at least a healthy majority of) the new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in town were rented to young couples or students at an affordable rate? What if we proactively created affordable housing that would allow teachers, university faculty, and young families to live here, bringing back the vibrant, civically-active community that is the very reason we have our Community Plan, and our distinctive Del Mar identity? Affordable housing is not just a state mandate; it is a way to protect so much of what we value about Del Mar.