Editorial: Magical Thinking

We live in a time when key decisions affecting our quality of life in Del Mar are increasingly made not by our City Council, but by more distant state or regional entities:  the State Legislature, State agencies (Housing and Community Development; CPUC, California Coastal Commission, 22nd DAA), or regional agencies (SANDAG, NCTD). Council members who want to work for the best outcomes for Del Mar often can’t achieve those outcomes by persuading a Council majority to support them. Instead, they have to succeed in affecting decisions in these state or regional entities where they either have no vote, or just one vote among many.


Alas for Del Mar, our clout in these larger forums is often forfeited by the propensity of too many of our Councilmembers to indulge in magical thinking – for example, a belief that an 11th hour, unsubstantiated claim will result in a decision that benefits Del Mar.


We’ve seen this approach too many times in recent years. Just a few examples:


  • In an 11th hour pitch Councilmember Gaasterland made at the meeting where SANDAG voted, after more than a years’ worth of work, to assign “RHNA” housing numbers to each jurisdiction, including Del Mar – as if it were realistic to ask, minutes before the final vote, for an agency to throw out its work and start over, with a totally different methodology. No surprise that this effort failed.


  • In political campaigns by current Councilmembers asserting that they alone could be trusted to protect North Bluff from intensive housing development – and then, once in office, North Bluff is designated as the contingency site for intensive housing development. Similarly, candidates or councilmembers who opposed upzoning of North Commercial during the election season, then voted for the upzoning after the election.


  • In Councilmember Quirk’s magical belief that we can get the tracks off Del Mar’s eroding bluffs by simply stopping train service through Del Mar – and his apparent belief that his continuous hammer-and-tongs attacks on NCTD and SANDAG will advance this quixotic cause. Quirk continues to move Del Mar squarely into laughingstock territory by his advocacy of this “solution” without a scintilla of evidence that Amtrak, BNSF, DOD, NCTD, FRA, or other controlling parties would agree to it.


  • After SANDAG spent 5+ years publicly conducting preliminary reviews of numerous potential tunnel alignments to allow the tracks to be moved off the bluffs, Councilmember Gaasterland tosses a back-of-the-napkin alternative into the mix, with the tracks relocated to run through the heart of the Fairgrounds, adjacent to the racetrack – without even the most nominal engineering and environmental work to show that this proposal is even feasible – which it almost certainly is not. Gaasterland apparently did not even consult with the 22nd DAA, which controls the property, before publicizing this not-even-half-baked proposal. That’s the same 22nd DAA whose collaboration is key to Del Mar’s goal to place 50+ affordable housing units on the fairgrounds property – which, in turn, is the only way we can protect the North Bluff.


Grandstanding is not leadership. Magical thinking generally does not produce desired outcomes. Real governing is building regional relationships based on earned trust, and forming effective alliances throughout the region and state.Perhaps the Council’s goal is not to actually affect outcomes, but simply to be able to say, “Hey, we fought for you, Del Mar residents.”  Yes, North Bluff is at greater risk now than ever before for intensive development. Yes, we’ll have 50 rental units at Watermark (with 4-story elements) instead of 38 townhouses in a 2-story design. “But hey, we fought for you.”  Del Mar deserves better.