Editorial: Whose Town Hall?

What qualifies as a Del Mar non-profit organization and why does it matter? This question came before the City Council at its January 22nd meeting, but resolution was deferred for further review by a council subcommittee (Gaasterland and Worden). A key issue: the staff recommendation that the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy (SDRVC) not be considered a Del Mar non-profit and thus not be allowed to use Town Hall for any of their events, a reversal of the current policy.  SDRVC uses Town Hall infrequently, but for important purposes. Four community events this winter/spring at Town Hall feature speakers on environmental topics important to Del Mar.


When Town Hall was completed in 2018, the City Council approved a use policy distinctly different from the policy for the Powerhouse Community Center. Private events paying appropriate fees were welcomed at the Powerhouse, but events at the new Civic Center were restricted to designated Del Mar non-profits. Town Hall has proven to be a popular venue for concerts and lectures due to its excellent acoustics, comfortable seating, and larger capacity. Its low energy consumption is supported by a solar and battery storage system that powers evening events. In short, it is a venue to be proud of, and one that our citizens have enthusiastically embraced for non-profit events that educate, entertain, and most importantly, build community.


Some history of the SDRVC is necessary to put this issue in context. SDRVC’s founding over 35 years ago was led by Del Mar residents and Lagoon Committee members. Del Mar residents continue to serve in SDRVC leadership. SDRVC raised significant funds for phase 2 of River Path Del Mar, extending the trail to the Grand Ave. Overlook, and has raised even more funds for the City of Del Mar for phase 3, to extend the Path to Crest Canyon. Indeed, SDRVC is holding more than $700,000 in donations it secured specifically for the construction of phase 3, and spent $156,800 to purchase two Lagoon-adjacent properties for the benefit of the City of Del Mar and River Path Del Mar. The SDRVC Conservation Manager regularly oversees maintenance and restoration work along the River Path. All of this is within the City of Del Mar.


Given this history, it is easy to see why many in Del Mar consider the proposed refusal to let SDRVC use the Town Hall a short-sighted insult to an organization that contributes so much – financial and otherwise – to the City of Del Mar and its environment. The staff report seeks to “fix” something that is not broken. Using Town Hall for events that inform, educate, and bring our community together is not a “problem” – it is exactly what was intended when the City Council elected to build a Town Hall so beautifully and specifically designed to host lectures, concerts, art exhibits, and so much more than Council meetings. The City Council should reject the staff’s recommendation and welcome the robust use of Town Hall by our community, and by SDRVC and other non-profits that enrich our community.