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Commentary: Process Hampers Electorate

Claire and Tom McGreal | Stratford Court

On November 4th the City Council decided to place Marisol’s Citizens’ Initiative on the Mar. 3 California Primary Election ballot. Council concluded the community would have sufficient time to consider all the facts and make an informed vote. It appears now that the electorate is up against 1) a time crunch for analyzing the Initiative, and 2) a virtual gag order placed on City Advisory Committees who would normally help inform the electorate through their analyses and findings.
There are a number of actions taken by the City that hamper the electorate’s ability to get informed and educated on Marisol on a timely basis:

1) Time is short. Mail ballots will be distributed on February 3. The vast majority of Del Mar voters vote by mail, and tend to vote early.

2) Marisol’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) may not be completed until year-end. The EIR goes to the Planning Commission for an informational hearing presumably on Jan. 14 at 6 PM, but that doesn’t leave much time for questions and analysis. Public comment on the EIR would normally close 45 days after issuance (mid-Feb.).

3) The City’s Consultant is expected to release its “Economic Impact Analysis Report” on Marisol also at year-end, which leaves precious little time for analysis and review of that document.

4) City Attorney Devaney recently rendered a legal opinion, and the City Manager, in reliance on that opinion, issued a directive to the City Advisory Committees that no further discussion regarding Marisol is permissible at advisory committee meetings. That directive is based upon concerns about the appearance of advocacy or campaigning by City “officials.

(Two comments on this opinion: Advisory Committees are not employees or officials and they have NO AUTHORITY to act for the City and, according to Guidelines posted by the City Attorney, the City IS allowed to conduct informational and educational activities to provide context and facts about a ballot measure.) This extreme interpretation effectively precludes these City committees from any further review of reports, discussion with consultants and normal fact finding. Specifically, it prevents the Finance Committee from receiving, reviewing and commenting on the upcoming Economic Impact Analysis Report on Marisol. Also, it prevents the Planning Commission from reviewing and providing commentary on Marisol’s EIR. (Although the public will be allowed to ask questions, it seems the PC cannot provide answers.)

5) At the November 4th Council meeting a number of residents asked that story poles be erected for the revised Marisol Plan to give the public a chance to see the intended project before the vote. The DRB process doesn’t require story poles to be erected until after the vote. When questioned, Zephyr rejected the request to erect story poles before the vote.

The City now faces the challenge of how to ensure that the voters have the information needed to make an informed vote. The City can’t compel the developer to erect story poles, the advisory committees can’t participate in further review and the voters will be faced with a decision starting Feb. 3rd.

The City has imposed this draconian timetable via an extremely cautious (some would argue overly cautious and strained) legal interpretation leaving very limited options to inform the public. According to the City Manager, there will be public forums conducted by the League of Women Voters on the Marisol issue and the City is contemplating running a FAQ section on Marisol on the City’s website. To date very little has been done to effectuate those proposed measures. This is a major project for the electorate to consider, so it’s a shame the City has made the process so very difficult for us.

As to the developer, Zephyr should understand the importance to the electorate of seeing story poles before the vote. Without story poles we’re left wondering what are they hiding from us and why? A decision to erect story poles before the vote would demonstrate a willingness to be transparent and forthcoming about the project. Zephyr must realize that many folks will simply vote NO if they don’t get a chance to see the story poles before voting.



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