November 2009 home page


We Get What We Train For
Guest Editorial by Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue

Del Mar is a great city, with wonderful residential areas and an attractive downtown. This didn’t happen by accident or by luck. It was Del Mar’s strong history of careful development review by knowledgeable Planning Commission and Design Review Board members who have assured that Del Mar retains its quality and uniqueness.

But, as the saying goes, the quality of what comes out is only as good as the quality that goes in. Volunteers serve on the Planning Commission and DRB and the quality of their work depends in large part on the quality of the training and support they receive to do a good job. So, let’s take a quick look at what kind of training they should receive and why it is important. PC and DRB members need training on at least the following:

Community Plan, Design Review Ordinance, and City Code: Basic familiarity with these governing documents is essential, as is an understanding of the limits these documents impose on PC and DRB members. Service on the PC and DRB is not an opportunity for anyone to impose their personal aesthetic standards, rather it is an opportunity to faithfully enforce the requirements of the Community Plan, Design Review Ordinance and other Code requirements, such as zoning, subdivision, land conservation, etc.

How to Read and Understand Plans: Plans, diagrams, schematics, grading plans, elevations, aerials, view analyses, working drawings, etc. are key documents that are prepared by applicants to the Planning Commission and DRB. Basic training in how to read and interpret these documents is essential.

When and How to do a good Site Visit: Although site visits are less frequent for Planning Commissioners than for DRB members, all should be trained as to when they are appropriate (sometimes they are precluded by rules of evidence). Training should include how to do a site visit and how to report back to the PC or DRB after a site visit.

Brown Act and Conflict of Interest Laws: A basic knowledge of the sometimes complex rules governing open meetings and conflict of interest is important to assure that the review process is fair and complies with the law so that neither the individual nor the City finds itself in a legal predicament, and so that all applicants and opponents get a fair hearing.

Roberts Rules and Meeting Procedures: A general understanding of the rules governing the conduct of meetings is important so that PC and DRB members know how to run a good meeting that is fair to all concerned parties.

Familiarity with Del Mar: All who serve on the PC and DRB should get an orientation as to the various neighborhoods and areas of Del Mar, complete with a description of major projects in the works.

We are fortunate to have so many intelligent and dedicated volunteers willing to serve on the Planning Commission and Design Review. It would cost a fortune to hire the kind of talent that Del Mar is routinely able to recruit in volunteers. Let’s be sure that, as a City, we give them the support and training they need to do the very best job that Del Mar has come to expect.

*Dwight Worden served as City Attorney for Del Mar from 1977-83, and was co-author of a booklet published by the League of California Cites used for training Planning Commissioners and others involved in the development review process.


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