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Appetite Control:
Making Sausage
Dwight Worden | Del Mar Deputy Mayor

If you’ve been watching, your city council is going through a lengthy and challenging process of identifying priorities. Here’s a quick rundown on how we set priorities and why we do it.

Del Mar has an appetite for taking on important issues ranging from Climate Action Plan implementation, to Sea Level Rise Planning, to repaving streets, building a great Shores Park, finishing a new civic center, updating the DRB process, managing short term rentals, adopting a Local Coastal Program to govern the Fairgrounds, getting safe and legal rail crossings, removing the rails from the bluff, meeting our state mandated affordable housing goals, upgrading the Powerhouse, rehabbing the library, implementing streetscape to improve downtown, and more. Sixty projects in total, all important, all with constituencies in support, and all with the potential to improve our town and quality of life.

Del Mar’s key resources to take on these projects include our system of volunteer advisory committees, 5 city councilmembers, a limited budget, volunteer citizens, and a small professional staff. Our appetite for projects outpaces our resources, so we need to prioritize. Here’s how we do that:

• We break the 60 some projects into categories.

o Capital Improvement Projects. These are things we want to build, like new sidewalks, and a new city hall.

o Committed Projects. These are projects the city has already committed to that need to be finished. They have deadlines and financial consequences. Committed projects include things like meeting our state mandated affordable housing goals.

o Discretionary Projects. The city is not legally obligated to do these projects, but has deemed them important. Often they arise from the community and may be among the most important to us as a city, so we want to make sure we have time and resources for them. This category includes things like safe rail crossings, streetscape improvements, a public art policy, and deciding whether to do our own Police Department.

o Long Term Versus Short Term Projects. Some projects can be completed in the current fiscal year (ends June 30, 2018). Others will be multi-year. For the longer ones we allocate a portion of the total commitment to each fiscal year. So, we might expect to get 20% of a 5 year project done per year.

• Recognizing that 80% of our staff time is spent on operational items running the city day to day, staff presents its best estimate of how much staff time is needed for each of the 60 special projects and how far down the prioritized list staff’s remaining resources will take us. That, in turn, allows us to determine if there is anything below that line that needs to move up or whether we need to add staff or consultant support to make sure key projects get done.

• Finally, our priorities are integrated with our budget to ensure we have money to pay for them.

In the end, the system is not perfect, but it works. The list of priorities guides where and when we allocate resources, recognizing that the list is a living list, updated as needed. We know that every year will bring surprises and new challenges we didn’t anticipate that need to be integrated. The Council is completing its prioritization process, and once the priorities are set, I’ll write a follow-up highlighting the key priorities.



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