By Kristina Houck
After more than two years of heated debate between Solana Beach residents who want to rent Fletcher Cove Community Center for private events and community members who fear adverse impacts from parties, the City Council on Aug. 28 adopted a use policy for the facility.
The unanimous decision came one day after a community group filed a petition with the city clerk to allow Solana Beach voters to decide the center’s use policy, which will likely prompt a special election that could cost the city more than $200,000.
Introduced during a special meeting Aug. 7, the policy permits use of the center for $50 per hour with a two-hour minimum for a maximum of 50 people, including service providers. The facility will be available for residents or resident-sponsored one-time events once per weekend and twice a month on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.
A security guard is required at all events at the center, which overlooks the ocean at 133 Pacific Ave. Live acoustic music is allowed inside the facility, but amplified music, microphones, DJs, drums and horns are prohibited. Beer and wine can be served, but guests are limited to two drinks, which must be served by city-trained servers.
The City Council can alter the policy if there are issues during the trial period, which ends Dec. 28, 2014.
“When it looked like the council could not agree on an ordinance, I was in favor of the voter initiative. But you all worked hard to come up with a compromise as a council, and now we have an ordinance and the ability to move forward,” said Cindi Clemons, a member of the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, which meets at the Fletcher Cove Community Center. “The trial period let’s us take a look at what works and what doesn’t, or what isn’t necessary. The ordinance can easily be amended by the city. The voter initiative, if it passed and became law, could only be changed or amended by another citywide vote, which could take a long time.”
After council members debated to a stalemate and tabled the matter at the June 12 meeting, the Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community Center announced plans at a July council meeting to gather signatures for a voter initiative that would allow residents to use the center for private events like they did in the 1980s and ’90s before the building fell into disrepair.
The group said residents raised about 60 percent of the more than $350,000 renovation project, but since then, the facility has been limited to community groups for meetings, classes and city programs.
The initiative calls for private use of the center for nominal fees on up to two weekend days per week for as many as 100 people. There would be no limit on alcohol consumption, but all events would be governed by state Alcoholic Beverage Control rules and regulations. Noise and occupancy levels would be governed by regulations in the city’s municipal code.
“The citizens find it difficult to believe that the City Council has put forth so much effort to try to stop the residents of Solana Beach from using the only coastal venue we have in the city,” said Mary Jane Boyd, a Solana Beach resident and member of the Friends of Fletcher Cove Community Center. “The initiative is very simple. It sets forth the use of Fletcher Cove Community Center in accordance with already established municipal codes. We are not asking for any special treatment. We are not asking for any special conditions. We are not asking for any special rules.”
The group had to collect 1,311 valid signatures from Solana Beach voters, which represents 15 percent of registered voters in the city, within 180 days to prompt a special election on the measure. In about a month, roughly 60 volunteers and several paid workers collected more than 2,000 signatures, 70 percent of which volunteers collected, Boyd said.
Councilman David Zito said he discovered the Friends of Fletcher Cove Community had not filed paperwork with the city after some community members inquired about the origin of the organization. For a political action committee to operate within the city and spend more than $200, Zito said, the group is required to file paperwork and pay fees.
Still, Boyd and other supporters of the voter initiative urged council members to consider the petition because it received more signatures than needed.
“I really think that enough is enough,” Former Mayor Celine Olson said. “You’re not doing your duty as council members. I voted for everyone and I’m really disappointed, not that anybody cares about that.”
The city has considered the issue since the renovation of the 1,100-square-foot center was completed in 2011. The city spent nearly $32,000 on environmental studies regarding a proposal to rent the center for private functions.
While city officials and residents tried to develop a use policy, neighborhood residents and other community members expressed concerns about alcohol being served at events, impacts on traffic and parking, and noise disturbances.
Solana Beach resident Kelly Harless said the Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community Center “continues to essentially blackmail the city.”
“First they threaten a voter initiative unless a use policy was established,” said Harless, a member of the Friends of Fletcher Cove, a community group she said formed out of concern about the misinformation being spread to the community. The group filed the required paperwork and paid fees to the city, she added.
“When we once again agreed to compromise and City Council drafted a use policy allowing alcohol and addressing the parking issues, this group refused to budge an inch unless they got their exact use policy — not the one City Council feels is best suited for the community as a whole.”
The petition was filed with the city clerk Aug. 27, and is currently in a 30-day review for content certification and signature verification, said City Clerk Angela Ivey. A special election would cost about $200,000, not including the $7,000-$9,000 it costs to verify the signatures, Ivey said.
“I think we came up with a really good compromise,” Mayor Mike Nichols said. “It’s reasonable and affordable, and it’s just unfortunate that it’s being criticized before it’s even put into place.”