Skirmish Lines Form in Del Mar Over Initiative

Times Staff Writer

There is a battle shaping up in this seaside city over who is going to have the last word on major new commercial developments--the City Council or the citizens.

Two groups, which differ on whether proposed new commercial projects here are going to help or hurt the town, clashed Monday over an initiative petition designed to put all such projects to a citywide vote.

Proponents of the initiative held a belated news conference announcing circulation of their petitions, which started Saturday. Opponents countered with a news conference across the street to announce that they would lobby their fellow residents not to sign the petitions.

Chuck Newton, spokesman for an unnamed group of residents circulating the petitions, denied that the public-vote initi


ative was designed to supersede City Council decisions. The effort is aimed at “letting everyone participate in important decisions” for downtown development.

The proponents fear increased traffic, loss of sea views and open space, and excessive office construction, Newton said.

But Sam Borgese, president of the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce, marshaled 30 business leaders and citizens who oppose the initiative, which he said “polarizes the community needlessly” and treats two development groups unfairly by “changing the rules” for gaining development approval.

The targets of both groups are the Del Mar Hotel and the Del Mar Plaza developments planned for the main business intersection of Camino Del Mar and 15th Street.


One developer plans a 160,000-square-foot shopping center, offices and hotel complex on the 5.5-acre site where the Hotel Del Mar once stood. A second firm plans to redevelop the present shopping center on the northeast corner and to develop a former service station site on the southeast corner.

Both projects would have to win voter approval if the petition circulators are successful in gathering signatures of 10%--about 400--of Del Mar’s registered voters. In addition, the developers would have to win approval of the Village Committee, Planning Committee, City Council, and California Coastal Commission.

“I’ve been here 13 years and I’ve waited for responsible developers to come to this town,” Borgese said. “Now we have them, in the (Del Mar) Plaza project (and) . . . these people want to do something that violates the trust of the people who already have put their money into their project.”

The initiative petition was drafted by former City Atty. Dwight Worden in the form of an ordinance. It would require that any downtown commercial development or redevelopment of more than 11,500 square feet that requires a zoning change, special use permit or other discretionary action by the city, be put to a public vote. A project that failed to win majority approval would not be allowed to develop until it was redesigned and had won voter approval.