July 2012 home page

Amazing Adam
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera


Adam Birnbaum. Photo Art Olson

If you like the character of the Del Mar’s built environment, you might think about thanking Senior Planner, Adam Birnbaum for the effort and expertise that he’s put into the City’s development over the past 23 years. Not only is Adam the institutional memory of our Planning Department, he has drafted more Del Mar land use ordinances than any other City employee. In addition to his work behind scenes, he is a familiar face clearly explaining projects and presenting analyses at the televised Planning Commission, Design Review Board, and City Council meetings, many of which go late into the night. When asked about the long hours, he extols the unique character of Del Mar and its involved citizenry as his motivation and love of his job.

Adam’s background and passions help explain his lifelong activism and devotion to community development and service. He was raised in the Boston area by activist parents who were deeply involved in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. He appears to have been swept up by the women’s liberation movement a decade later, having enrolled in one of Vassar’s first co-ed classes in 1974, majoring in Political Science and Education. Women have surrounded him before and ever since, with his sister, three daughters and two granddaughters, in addition to his bosses in the Planning Department who have been almost exclusively women over the years.

In 1982, after post-college stints working on the East Coast as a furniture mover, carpenter, office worker on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center and at a daycare center in Spanish Harlem, Adam, following a girlfriend, decided to try the warmer climes of California. He took a job in the California Conservation Corps, and was first stationed at Angel’s Camp in the Sierra foothills, helping develop energy efficient facilities in state parks and other state facilities. His work eventually included a solar-powered greenhouse located in Escondido. It was during this time that he visited and fell under the charms of Del Mar. After gaining planning experience, he transitioned to work at the California Coastal Commission, where he became a Coastal Analyst, responsible for many projects, most notably the Aviara Resort where his proudest achievement was the associated restoration of the Batiquitos Lagoon and the creation of the Lagoon Trail, which is enjoyed today by him and innumerable others.

In 1989 Adam was hired by Jim Sandoval for a position in the Del Mar Planning Department. His experience in the Coastal Commission was impetus to develop Del Mar’s own Local Coastal Plan. It was in 2001 that Adam traveled up to Eureka for a Coastal Commission meeting where, on September 11, they were to finally approve Del Mar’s Plan. Of course the events of that day took precedence over Del Mar’s moment in the sun, and stranded Adam in Eureka for almost a week, until air travel was resumed.

In addition to his long hours and responsibilities as Del Mar’s Senior Planner, Adam manages to find time for community service, activism and athletics. He has served on the board of directors for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Solana Beach, as well as on the boards of the Playwright Project, a literacy project, and the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. While a resident of Encinitas he served on its Planning Commission and Community Advisor Board (its equivalent of our DRB), as well as running for Encinitas City Council – finishing 5th in a field of 14. Adam is also an avid athlete, enjoying running, biking and swimming and competing in a number of triathlons. He can often be seen running or swimming the Del Mar beach during his lunch break. He also enjoys long bike rides trying to keep up with his wife, Barbara Wald, a hard-core cyclist. Staying in top shape is particularly important to Adam since his successful battle with colon cancer in the mid 1990’s.
Adam acknowledges that there are always challenges in his job when differing opinions arise from involved and committed citizens, whose intentions are based on their love of the community and their vision for its future. But he would have it no other way and is thankful for his long and productive involvement with our City. As we should be, as well.


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