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July/August 2009 home page

Unintended Consequences

Those of us lucky enough to live in Del Mar are beneficiaries of the unintended consequences of Del Mar’s incorporation 50 years ago. Much of the contentious election for independent cityhood pivoted around arguments relating to the cost of public services. However, that independence gave the residents a sense of ownership and control over the way land-use policy was set. This has had, by far, the greatest impact on how our small city has evolved. Active citizen involvement produced the Community Plan in the 1970s, which enunciated Del Mar’s vision and the guidelines to sustain it.

Today our attention is again drawn to the economic aspects of our public services and shared environment. The City Council justified its decision to shortcut the standard stringent and public design review process for the sidewalk cafés now lining 15th Street on the basis of the city’s economic viability. The impacts on public space received little attention. While DRB review and public input may have slowed the process, “The Del Mar Way” would certainly have resulted in a more community-oriented design for the cafés. If this is typical of a streamlined planning process, let us hope that the unintended consequence is to re-invigorate broad community effort in retaining Del Mar’s unique charm and character. Unless that happens, we may see the less beneficial unintended consequences of revitalization, form-based planning, and city staff streamlining measures. Retaining a sense of community ownership of our public space requires strong and committed citizen involvement.


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