The Del Mar City Council wants to be marketable: more distinguishable from its coastal sister cities. They want a brand name and to have their own catchy slogan. In local government lingo, they want to create a tourist marketing district (TMD) through an assessment on hotel guests — a transient occupancy tax, with the funds going into an account for Del Mar hoteliers to launch a concerted marketing campaign.
The council, however, picked a funny way of implementing the assessment, causing objections from many in the community and drawing criticism from former Del Mar councilmembers for their tactics.
It started in late July, when the Del Mar City Council voted in favor of putting a transient occupancy tax hike on November’s ballot. The increase would give the council the authority to increase the 10.5 percent tax on hotel guests to as high as 13 percent, potentially generating more than $400,000 for the city’s general fund.
At the next meeting, on August 4, after the ballot was introduced for discussion, a local hotelier had a proposition: wait on the transient occupancy tax until a proper tourist marketing district is created; that way, some of the monies from the assessment could go toward the city’s marketing campaign.
A few councilmembers liked the idea, particularly, councilmembers Carl Hilliard and Richard Earnest. They liked it so much, they decided to just do it without any further delay. So, Earnest and Hilliard amended the ordinance, including a subsection in the ordinance that stated some of the monies garnered from the transient occupancy tax could be used toward a marketing district when (and if) it was created.
On August 11, the rest of the councilmembers, except for councilmember Henry Arbarbanel, concurred with the hoteliers and adopted the ordinance, placing language for a potential marketing district on the November ballot. And then the backlash from the community began.
Shortly after the mid-August meeting, five former Del Mar councilmembers joined in writing an opposing argument for November’s ballot, while many other residents were upset that the city council did not discuss the marketing district at more length, without any feedback from the public.
In response, apologies were abundant at the September 8 meeting of the Del Mar City Council. “We made this unnecessarily confusing,” said Earnest. “It was rushed and not procedurally done very well, but nothing was done in secret, either.”
Earnest, though, was not apologetic in his support for the tourist marketing district, and he was not impressed with the handful of people who spoke out against the marketing district at the meeting.
“It should be the desire of this council to move the revitalization forward. There’s no active marketing of Del Mar, and we are struggling in retail and a number of other places. I heard many people in the community were upset about this; well, tonight I heard four.”
Further discussion about Del Mar’s hopes for a tourist marketing district and whether it should be included in the proposition on November’s ballot will be discussed during the September 22 meeting.
To see the Del Mar City Council in person, drive west of the huge “World Famous Del Mar” billboard, past the fairgrounds and racetrack until you get to city hall, or go on their website for more information, delmar.ca.us.