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Exceptional Public Benefits Debated
March 2008 | Art Olson

On February 11, the Gas Station Site Specific Plan Steering Committee (GSSPSC) devoted its entire meeting to the issue of Exceptional Public Benefit (EPB) to be provided with the Garden Del Mar project proposed for the site. Because the proposed plan exceeds the underlying development standards, Measure B requires compensatory benefits to the community that go beyond any ordinary benefits of the project itself. Over the past year and a half, over 60 different ideas for such EPBs have been suggested. Many people anticipated that the meeting would turn into a battle among community groups vying for their favorite project, but in fact only a few new suggestions were put forward, and the discussion was quite congenial. While it is not the role of the Committee to decide which EPBs should be part of the Specific Plan that go to the ballot for citizen approval, they are expected to recommend a list of candidate benefits to the City Council to help move the process along.

Of the new ideas put forward at the meeting, one by Joe Sullivan generated the most discussion and seemed to have the greatest appeal with the committee. He suggested a fund for maintenance and improvements of the public park at the Shores Property that the City is in the process of acquiring from the School District. Once the land becomes City property, he argued, there would be a continuing need for upkeep and improvement, which is not covered in projected city budgets. The fact that the Shores property is close to the proposed Garden Del Mar development, would be an extra benefit for the neighbors that are most impacted by the project. Committee member Brooke Eisenberg-Pike questioned the notion of recommending an EPB for a property that is not yet in City hands, and whose fate may not be firmly established by the proposed November ballot date.

Chuck Newton recommended using funds from the EPB to acquire additional land for parking spaces in the Downtown area as a way of aiding commercial revitalization. Rick Ehrenfeld argued that whatever the EPB is, it should primarily mitigate the impact of the project for the immediate neighbors. Committee members assured those present that such mitigation was part of the project and not considered an "extraordinary" benefit. Art Olson, a committee member, speaking as a private citizen, recommended that the EPB be used to endow an Urban Forest and Fire Safety Fund to "address the needs of the community for active improvement of Del Mar's urban forest environment with a focus on fire safety." He argued that a strategic plan to accomplish this was written and approved in 1999, but due to costs and other city priorities, has not been implemented.

After public input, the committee went down the list of all of the ideas that have been collected to date. While a set of recommendations did not emerge, several of the suggestions appeared to rise to the top. Among those favorably discussed were: the Shores Park maintenance fund; Streetscape planning and implementation; and funds for Del Mar's affordable-housing program. The critical issue of the scale of the exceptional public benefit was discussed briefly, but a more in-depth discussion was postponed until the next committee meeting.


Art Olson is a member of The Gas Station Site Specific Plan Steering Committee.



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