After more than 30 years in Solana Beach, Mayor Lesa Heebner still fondly recalls the “era of the Roller Rink,” the “days of incorporation” and “the arrival of our train station.” She’s now using that longtime knowledge of the neighborhood, and her seven years on the city council, to lead Solana Beach into the future as its new mayor. Here she talks about what inspired her to serve in the first place, some of the lessons she’s learned along the way, and some of the goals she has as mayor.
- What inspired you to serve on council?
In 2002, I got involved in a local issue that was meaningful to me: the design of the Coastal Rail Trail. I’d been using that trail since I moved to Solana Beach in 1976, and the design the Council was considering was, in my opinion, out of character with our coastal community. Despite the fact that the council voted 3:2 to adopt that plan, something inside me told me not to give up the fight for a better design. Long story very short, I gathered together some like-minded residents for a brainstorming session. Landscape architect and now-Council member Mike Nichols was one of those residents. Using the team’s input, Mike came up with a conceptual design that was more flowing and natural and, most importantly, was a better fit for our city. Along with this new conceptual plan we presented to the Council a few hundred signatures from residents in support of this more natural design. After some compromises on all sides, the Council voted unanimously to go forward with the design we all now enjoy. The experience was extremely rewarding, and I learned a number of lessons, including how to be effective working with local and regional governmental bodies, and how to use compromise effectively.
Most importantly, I got a sense of what it was like to work toward and see positive change in the town I love. It was a good feeling. I wanted to stay involved. I was appointed to a seat on the City’s View Assessment Committee and later approached to run for a City Council seat. I gave it a lot of thought before I agreed to do so. I saw it as a challenge and the opportunity to do more for my city.
- How has Solana Beach changed in the time you've been here?
Having been a Solana Beach resident for 34 years now I’ve seen a lot of change, so where do I start? The Mayfair Market days? The era of the Roller Rink, People’s Food Co-op, Walker Scott, Rustler’s Roost, The Distillery and Cask ‘n’ Cleaver? Or the days of incorporation, Prop T, the arrival of our train station, the undergrounding of the train tracks, our View Ordinance, development of the Cedros Design Center, our new City Hall, fire station and joint-use library? Since I’ve been on Council, we’ve seen a number of projects come to fruition such as the Rail Trail, the two pedestrian bridges, the freeway interchange, the renovation of Fletcher Cove park, our Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, the improvements at Plaza St. and, quite importantly, being the first city in our region and perhaps all of the state of California, to institute full pension reform. What’s important to me is what’s stayed the same, and that is we have retained our small beach town feeling in Solana Beach, our sense of community is still strong, and despite the many outside pressures to over-develop inappropriately, we continue to work together to protect and preserve what we have while we update and improve our city. In the final analysis, I’d have to say the biggest change was surely our incorporation, which allowed those of us living in Solana Beach to shape our city’s destiny.
- What do you enjoy most about serving in Solana Beach?
I most enjoy the ability to bring about positive change through listening to community concerns and then working with community members, staff and my fellow council members to solve them. I also find an important part of my job is to represent Solana Beach on the SANDAG Board of Directors which makes decisions that impact the entire region. We are not the majority viewpoint, let me tell you, but I enjoy the challenge of being effective on this board, and to have our viewpoint heard and respected. If anyone has been following what’s occurred at SANDAG regarding the proposed I-5 expansion, you will know what I mean. Small steps still get you to your goal, and I do need to remind myself of that often!
- What lessons have you learned so far while serving?
So very much! I’ve learned a lot about municipal and environmental law, land use practices, streetscape design principles, traffic flow concepts, how to read an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and on and on! On the more philosophical level, one thing I have learned is that there is a key to effective compromise: before you can compromise on an issue, you must first have a well-reasoned position and know what your values are that you won’t compromise on, and what the features of that issue are that you will compromise on. I’m constantly learning, which is one of the reasons I enjoy being on the Council!
- What are some of the goals you'd like to work toward as mayor?
The entire Council will be working together toward accomplishing our goals. We have a big year ahead of us with both the ground breaking and ribbon cutting of the new Community Center, and the ground breaking of the first phase of the Highway 101 renovation. This June begins a month-long celebration of our City’s 25th anniversary, which I’ve been working on with Deputy Mayor Joe Kellejian. We have the prospect of an approved Local Coastal Plan, and a “community-appropriate” development plan for the NCTD site, which, as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee with Mike Nichols, is our hope and intention. We have the I-5 project to deal with.
As a business-friendly city, we will continue to attract and work with businesses that will serve our residents and make others want to visit our city. We’ll all be working to obtain funds for completion of the Highway 101 renovation and to build the La Colonia Park redesign. Of course right in front of us is the prospect of regional ownership of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which I’ll be working toward with Council member Dave Roberts as co-committee members. And last, but not least, with Council member Tom Campbell and Mike Nichols as committee members advising the full council, we are looking forward to the start of our General Plan update. Phew! What a year we have ahead of us!