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   Fear-Based Planning
    Sam Borgese, 10th Street
    Photos Art Olson, Primavera

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Fear generated by the current economic downturn is uglifying Del Mar’s downtown. Fear is feeding a frenzy for building permits for construction projects that in tranquil times would not be approved by the city. The bulky new sidewalk cafés on 15th Street are egregious examples of such fear-based planning.

Del Mar’s character is suited to village-themed sidewalk cafés and small shops that complement its spectacular Pacific Coast environment. And Del Mar has remained a special enclave of preserved natural beauty and attractive buildings through the work of dedicated citizen custodians for over 50 years and careful planning. However, every so often the advocates of intensified commercialism rise up in times of financial fear to threaten that good work. The new projects along 15th Street show that we are now living in one of those times.

The previous wide sidewalk on the south side of 15th Street presented itself as a strolling promenade to Seagrove Park with soul inspiring ocean views. That promenade is now a five-foot wide obstacle course with views of concrete walls and gas fired space heaters. Soft and light material like wood rails and benches have been replaced with heavy masonry and concrete. The natural beauty of the street has not been complimented; it has been assaulted. The “sidewalk café” projects physically overwhelm the buildings they front. The crass commercialism that these structures represent conflicts with the natural elements that make Del Mar so unique.

In the neighborhoods of New York City the restaurants come alive in the summer with sidewalk cafés. Restauranteurs take down the temporary winter vestibules that sheltered people and set up stored folding tables and chairs creating inviting areas to sit in and absorb the seasonal warm weather and colorful quilt of pedestrians. Even in the harsh reality of New York’s economy and aggressive small business efforts to financially thrive, rules of scale and intimacy of these sidewalk cafés prevail in plan approval.

By contrast, Del Mar’s planning approval of the 15th Street sidewalk cafés ignores all sense of scale and intimacy and visually screams unchecked commercialism. City management is driven by the fear of lost revenues and by short-term thinking. Business owners see an opening for gaining approval for projects that would never gain approval under a more responsible city government.
Over the past fifty years there have been periods of struggle between residents who thought long term and acted often stubbornly to protect Del Mar as a unique, small scale Village. These stalwarts of “green” thinking sometimes conflicted with others who saw the “gray” of development in concrete as a better, more prosperous alternative. At the moment the fragile balance between these groups that had maintained thoughtful development has been erased and replaced with the gray of concrete development. Is this what circumventing the DRB process will produce? How can the project sponsors point proudly to these bulky cafés that have commandeered public space and vistas?

If you regard Del Mar as an attractive village that stirs the imagination and comforts the soul, don’t fear losing Del Mar to financial ruin but to commercial greed. Love our charming village? Be afraid, very afraid!



The material presented below did not appear in the Sandpiper print edition.


Video of June 8, 2009 City Council Meeting


Numerous Del Mar residents addressed the City Council Meeting on this topic during the "oral communications" portion of the meeting, and the City Council acted to place this item on the agenda for its special meeting on Monday, June 15, 2009.



Sidewalk Cafes to Bloom
Permit process eased to aid revitalization
Tanya Mannes. April 25, 2009

San Diego Union-Tribune article on the City of Del Mar's adoption of the streamlined sidewalk cafe ordinance:



city municipal code regarding sidewalk cafes


City Adopted Ordinance, Sidewalk Cafes in the Downtown Area, Chapter 23.30
Ordinance requirements of interest:

  • All ADA requirements must be met.
  • The café must be located so as to provide a 5 foot unobstructed sidewalk along the perimeter and that the width might be increased if required to meet State and Federal accessibility requirements.
  • All seating areas in the sidewalk café shall be available for the reasonable use and enjoyment of the public, including persons who are not patrons or employees of the main restaurant.
  • The issuance of the Sidewalk Café Permit will not have an adverse impact on the welfare of the community or on the community’s appearance or aesthetics and will not cause an unnecessary change in the character of the community.
  • No design Review Permit shall be required for the installation of such improvements or amenities (23.30.090).
  • A permit can be revoked for violation of the conditions of the permit or the ordinance, or upon a finding by the Planning director that the sidewalk cafe is operated in a manner that constitutes a nuisance or unduly restricts the movement of pedestrians.


Reader Comments   How to submit a letter to the Editor


11)  A Virtual Give Away
Maneck S. Wadia, Ph.D, Luneta Drive | July 7, 2009

Dear Editor:

Whether one approves or disapproves of the sidewalk cafes, (in a city where even a wheelchair bound citizen has to jump through hoops to modify his residence), there is little doubt that the Del Mar City Council was snookered into practically giving away public land for private use, without appropriate hearings. The main beneficiaries of this encroachment will not be the citizens, but the business owners, and especially the landlord.

I congratulate Mr. Watkins and his associates on a significant victory; and I castigate the City Council for not conducting due diligence necessary for such a significant, and permanent change, in the ambiance of our city.


10) Cracks in the Del Mar Way
John Kerridge, Editor Emeritus  of the  Sandpiper | June 18, 2009

After four-plus hours of public testimony and city council discussion, spread over two meetings on consecutive weeks, the debate about outdoor restaurant extensions has been exhaustive, but still incomplete. Three major issues evaded direct confrontation, despite abundant rhetoric ostensibly addressing them.

continued in pdf format


9) Out of Control
by Sam Borgese, author of the opinion piece, "Fear-based Planning, | June 16         

The most succinct statement I can make pertinent to the sidewalk café project is that they are out of control.  They are out of the control of the planning department, the city council and the residents.  They are however squarely in the control of the DMVA and the business and property owners who are self served by their implementation.

continued in pdf format


8) Our Little Slice of Paradise
Submitted by Jen Grove, DMVA, for Carlo Coppo, Zuni Drive | June 14, 2009

I cannot recall the last time I, or anyone else for that matter, returned from Europe complaining that the village sidewalks were to narrow or the sidewalk cafes interfered with either my ability to move freely about the town or my visual appreciation of the scenery.

To state the proposition is to refute it. I have lived in Del Mar for 32 years and have enjoyed what this village was when I arrived, what it has become, and what it will be through the vision and selfless energy of those responsible for its present imprint on and appeal to all, young, old, and in between. It is with pride that I live here and it is with pride that I experience the delight that sweeps across the faces of those I meet when I tell them I live in Del Mar. With that being said, permit me to provide
some hopefully ennobling commentary from a t
rue "old timer" Del Martian.

continued in pdf format


7) Orchids to Onions
from Milton Karafilis, 9th Street | June 13, 2009

ORCHIDS go to the Americana and Jimmy O's sidewalk cafes for their excellent design and artful articulation. The design follows through with the attractive brick work of the existing Americana sidewalk cafe on Camino del Mar and is a significant upgrade to the previous unattractive fence railing and long time metal news racks. Additionally, both have been held well back to provide a wide pathway for pedestrians and have plans to attractively landscape the area.

ONIONS to the two sidewalk cafes at Del Mar Pizza and Sbicca's. Where was the Del Mar Planning department to allow or recommend to the city council sidewalk cafes that make the walkway so tight as to crowd the pedestrians and lose the openness? Not only do they destroy the openness of passage, but they are unsightly conrete block construction and provide no landscape. What was the Del Mar planning department thinking? Where was the city council on this one?

The same article in pdf format.


6) A Pedestrian-oriented Downtown.
submitted by Jen Grove, DMVA, for Linda Rock & Richard Levak | June 11, 2009

Del Mar’s Community Plan calls for an economically viable, pedestrian‐oriented
downtown. It is increasingly challenging, however, for businesses to be viable amid
the current economic downturn and growing competition from neighboring
communities. Our arduous planning process has resulted in lovely outcomes, like
the Plaza and the L’Auberge, but also lost opportunities like the Gardens Project,
which was ultimately buried under the weight of our laborious, uncertain planning process.

continuation in pdf format


5)   Open Letter to the City Council
by Brooke Eisenberg-Pike, Design Review Board member | June 9, 2009

In your publicly stated goal to hasten and streamline the approval process for outdoor dining and ensure that private property owners would not have to pay for plans you circumvented the design review process that this community has come to rely on for decades.  As far as I know you are the first Council since the community plan that has ever allowed private developers to encroach on the public right of way without the review of the Design Review Board. I would also like to remind you and the public that in 2008 the zone code amendment that allowed for this irresponsible process was not approved unanimously for various reasons. Only three council members approved it, both Mayor Druker and Councilmember Abarbanel voted no.

continued in pdf format



4) Sidewalk Cafes: Construction Details
by James Watkins, owner of Stratford Square | June 8, 2009

The adopted Del Mar Community Plan, the Del Mar Streetscape Plan, the recent Kennedy Smith Report, and virtually every study done in Del Mar over the past 43 years that I have lived in Del Mar - all recommended and encouraged sidewalk cafes as a means to enhance the pedestrian orientation, the character, and vitality of our village.

continuation in pdf format


3) Response to “Fear-Based Planning”
from Don Mosier, member of Del Mar City Council | June 8, 2009

A few months ago, I was heartened that a new day in national politics had arrived when President Obama said in his inaugural address, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.” 

continuation in pdf format


2) So-Called “Sidewalk cafes"
from Anne Farrell, former Chair of the Design Review Board | May 31, 2009

Dear Editor,

Over the last few weeks, I have watched with astonishment as hefty structures have been erected along 15th Street – concrete and brick barriers (so-called “sidewalk cafes”) that will forever block some of the beautiful public views in the center of Del Mar.

What I have since learned is that the City Council allowed these businesses to construct these massive extensions to their properties – on public land – without any design review process whatsoever. Why in the world would the Council have approved such a major change to our town based only on concept drawings? No public input was truly possible based on concept drawings only – clearly, not even the Councilmembers could know what these things would look like until they were built, since no architectural drawings were ever presented to them or to the public.

continuation in pdf format


1)  Del Mar Sidewalk Cafes
by Dwight Worden, former City Attorney | May 29, 2009

I was surprised to see the new bulky, and to me unattractive, sidewalk structures on the south side of 15th street. So, I looked into the situation, and was concerned at what I found.  Sure, beat me up–I didn’t attend the City Council meeting on the new sidewalk café ordinance. Perhaps naively I thought the DRB and the City Council would see that things were done in the usual and thorough “Del Mar Way” involving lots of community discussion and input. And even if I had been at the council hearing on the new sidewalk café ordinance I would have read that “planter boxes” and “railings” were contemplated by the new ordinance as the demarcation measures to be allowed on the public sidewalk and would have had little inkling of the massive concrete and brick walls to be constructed.  

continuation in pdf format



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