Southern California has it good. In addition to Disneyland, there appears to be a second “happiest place on earth.”

City Manager Karen Brust, in office since October 2007, said, “Del Mar is a happy place where residents enjoy fine shops, restaurants, beautiful beaches and a City Council that truly cares for its residents.

“Tourism is big here, it comes in sections; horse racing in the summer, and the fair, and people come to our beaches from all over. Our residents are active in our village and utilize what is available to them; it is a good balance. Fifty-two percent of our total sales tax revenues come from our restaurants and they are holding their own, we recently approved more outdoor cafes, which help to stabilize the businesses.”

Brust spends her days juggling a variety of different things all in the effort to keep Del Mar moving forward. But she doesn’t take all the credit; in fact, she says, “it’s the people of the community who are responsible for making Del Mar such a grand place to reside.”

Dealing With Challenges

However, there are some challenges that even a gem of a place like the City of Del Mar is facing. Presently, it is coping with operating with a smaller staff due to cuts, raising funds to keep the city going, and focusing on a big neighborhood project to bury electric poles.

“Del Mar is one of the most incredible places, it’s a gem of a village that has all of the things we love the most; the ocean, charm, ambience and beautiful tree lined streets,” she says. “It also has warm, warm people who love to get together and interact, it truly is a village.

“We have five nonprofits in the City and many of the residents are on all five they do so much for the people of Del Mar, and the surrounding community. Mainly, these groups are the arms of the City and they are supporting us in things that we are otherwise economically strapped to do on our own.

“We have little revenue that supports all of the services that we provide because we are so small,” she continues. “Ultimately, that means that we aren’t as eligible for some of the grants and things that a larger population assigned city is.”

Help From The People

For instance, a group called the Friends of the Powerhouse; a committee of citizens is currently fundraising to build a new lifeguard station. Another, Friends of the Parks, is working with a local school to buy 5.3 acres, the last open space in Del Mar. To date, Brust says they fundraised $5 million toward the $8.5 sales price.

“We actually own it now, we took a loan for the rest of the amount,” she says. “They are still fundraising to pay it off. It’s that kind of activity that goes on in this community. There is heart of the community here and it is the people that drive and keep the City going.”

In fact, the City just had its 50th anniversary since incorporating; it celebrated with the entire community.

“It is a different community than people perceive, we are very community oriented,” she added.

It helps that in a tough economy, too, that the City has always been financially prudent in managing its resources of the City and “recognizing the limited resources they have, and trying ways to leverage the resources in a way to keep things going for the residents.

“It is all about the quality of life in Del Mar,” she continues. “Our first focus is community and residents, and what their needs are — not what we think they are– and how we can meet them.”

City Council Always Steps Ahead

She attributes the City Council and its expertise in knowing what it takes to run Del Mar for continued success.

“They understand what it takes to run an organization and how we need to be fluid to work through the economic recession and the State’s impact on us and the things that are not within our control,” she says. “They focus on what is in their control and they try to make things better based on what they can actually affect. That’s why I think we are completely different.”

In addition to coping with traffic congestion, and fire issues, Brust says the City also decided not to participate in the sand replenishment program to save about $200,000.

“Public Works says we still make house calls here. And we do, sometimes, I go to a home and talk to residents about issues, we are small enough to do that, but our issues aren’t insignificant.”

Del Mar is also working toward broadening its banning of smoking in public areas; no smoking is allowed currently on the beach, but the City Council is discussing the broadening of law to City sidewalks. There is also an alcohol ban in place from March to September.

“We have to be careful about protecting the rights of our citizens,” she stresses. “I mean when we try to address issues that arise, we want to make sure we are also protecting the interest of our residents. If you ban something, we ask what does that really mean and we are careful that we address the problem and that we’re not just broad brushing things.”

The writer, Debbie L. Sklar is a 20-plus year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. She is a regular contributor to and may be reached via e-mail at