By Joe Tash
The Solana Beach City Council debated to a stalemate at its meeting on Wednesday, June 12, over a controversial proposal to rent out the city’s refurbished Fletcher Cove Community Center for private parties.
“The item is officially not happening,” Mayor Mike Nichols declared after the council was unable to agree on a set of rules for renting out the center on weekends for a one-year trial period. The city has been considering the issue since 2011 and, on Wednesday, public testimony and council debate lasted three hours.
Since no decision was made, for now, the center won’t be rented out for private parties. The debate pitted people who live near the community center and feared adverse impacts from the parties, against other Solana Beach residents who want the community center to be made available for weddings and other private functions.
Neighborhood residents were concerned primarily about alcohol being served at the events, which they said could endanger children who ride their bikes and play in the area. Other concerns included impacts on parking, and noise from live bands that would be allowed to play at the events.
Mayor Mike Nichols and Councilmen Tom Campbell and David Zito opposed allowing any alcohol being served at the facility, while Council members Lesa Heebner and Peter Zahn were willing to allow beer and wine to be served at events during the one-year trial.
“All we’re talking about here is a trial period for something,” said Heebner, and that the trial would show whether there is enough parking in the area to support the private events. She said many people have approached her in the community, asking if the center could be made available for their events.
“Alcohol is legal, we’re not going to make it illegal in Solana Beach,” Heebner said.
But Campbell sided with people who live closest to the center, which overlooks the ocean at 133 Pacific Ave.
“I think we are throwing that neighborhood under the bus if we go forward with this,” Campbell said. “This is a really dangerous thing to do, in my opinion.”
Campbell said alcohol is prohibited at other city facilities, including parks and beaches, except for certain community events such as the annual Fiesta del Sol street fair.
The city does rent out the La Colonia Community Center, 715 Valley Ave., for private events, but smoking and alcohol are prohibited.
Heebner said a proposal by Nichols to allow private events at the Fletcher Cove center for $300 per hour — without alcohol — didn’t make sense.
“Nobody’s going to rent a place for $1,500 to $1,800 a day for what will turn out to be children’s parties,” she said. “I don’t think this is worth wasting our staff time on any longer.”
A $350,000 renovation of the Fletcher Cove Community Center was completed in 2011. Currently, the center is used on the weekdays for activities ranging from service club meetings to adult education classes, as well as training sessions for city employees. The city spent nearly $32,000 on environmental studies regarding the proposal to rent the center out for private events, according to a staff report.
More than a dozen people spoke at Wednesday’s meeting for and against the proposal.
Richard Jacobs, who lives near the center, said the environmental study, particularly involving the parking impacts, was “deeply flawed.”
“We are a neighborhood in need of your help,” Jacobs told the council, urging them to vote against the proposal.
Another nearby resident, Kim Burnett, said she was worried whether cars from party guests would crowd out residents and beach visitors, and about allowing alcohol to be served at the center.
“It’s a very threatening situation for us,” Burnett said. “I think we’ll lose the quality of life we have there.”
Under the proposal, the facility would have been available for private use on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The council debated how many events would be allowed each month before the discussion ended. Also debated was the size of events; proposals ranged from a maximum of 50 to 100 guests.
A parking consultant hired by the city told the council it was determined that 62 parking spaces would be needed for an event with 100 guests, and that public lots and on-street parking in the area could accommodate the cars without encroaching on neighborhood spots. The proposal crafted by city staff called for valet parking or a shuttle for events with more than 50 guests, and a requirement for security guards to ensure that noise, parking and alcohol regulations were followed.
Supporters argued that the city-owned facility should be available for use by residents across the city for special events. Among the supporters were members of the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, along with several former City Council members.
“Let’s give it a shot, let’s see what happens. Let’s let the public have a chance to make use of this public facility and see how it goes,” said Eric Lodge.
Former mayor Margaret Schlesinger said, “Many people contributed to the upgrade of the building with the expectation that it would be used for more than flower-arranging classes.”