There was once a time, before COVID, when City Advisory Committees met monthly, set their own agendas, had robust discussions that sometimes veered off topic, and often ran overtime. It was fun and productive, and the City Council often took their advice. Somewhat messy, but a real contribution from engaged and knowledgeable citizens.
During the first year of the COVID pandemic, most committee meetings were ended due to financial constraints and staff shortages. As the committees started to meet again last year, everything had changed. Meetings were quarterly, agendas were set by staff, each committee had to adhere to a work plan dictated by the City Council and rigidly enforced by staff, and meetings had to start and end on time. Discussions were limited to “action items” often dictated by staff, and any documents produced by the committees were reviewed and edited by staff before release. The “Advisory Committee” role really doesn’t apply to the current model where Council and staff dictate what gets discussed. In practice, if there is any pushback from committee members, they are ignored, replaced, or choose to resign.
The Sandpiper has already documented problems with the Council ignoring the advice of the Undergrounding Committee and the Arts Advisory Committee, actions that led to the resignation of several committee members. The longstanding Housing Committee was just discontinued. If the current Council continues to ignore or minimize the input of other Committees, more resignations are likely to occur and recruitment of qualified new members will be more difficult. A messy but productive process has been replaced with a clean but unproductive process.
Citizen engagement has been critical to the development of the unique character of Del Mar ever since our Community Plan was adopted. The current policies threaten these historical contributions, and already are isolating our elected council members from their community. They were elected to represent the entire population of Del Mar, not just those who voted for them.