Solana Beach council candidates discuss city issues during forum

All six candidates for three open seats on the Solana Beach City Council participated in an Oct. 5 forum at the Solana Beach branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito.

About 200 community members attended the event to hear Mayor David Zito, along with challengers Jewel Edson, Judy Hegenauer, Chris Hohn, Edward Siegel and Cynthia Walsh, speak about a variety of issues facing Solana Beach. Council members Lesa Heebner and Peter Zahn have decided not to seek re-election.

Moderated by the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego, the forum started off with candidates sharing information about their backgrounds before answering questions submitted by the audience.

From preserving the community character and protecting the coastline, to supporting arts and supporting local business, council candidates agreed on many issues brought forward by the public.

Many of the candidates also agreed on their top priorities for the city.

Most listed protecting the quality of life and unique community character of Solana Beach as a top priority. This includes preserving the community character while permitting growth in the city.

“I would ensure that development that is certain to occur is done in a manner which benefits residents and the city, and not just developers,” Edson said.

“I think the most important task that council members have is to keep a good eye on the proposals and projects, the developments that come along,” Hegenauer said. “They have to make sure that they don’t impact the city negatively but also add to the community and to the feel of the community.”

Most of the candidates agreed that supporting the local business community, ensuring safe streets and maintaining the city’s fiscal health are other key issues.

Speaking about specific projects, Zito said he would like to secure funding for the Army Corps of Engineers sand replacement project. Additionally, he would like to see the construction of a “resident-serving, compatible” train station project and approval of the city’s local coastal plan.

“Today, every single project in Solana Beach — every single one, no matter how small it is — must go to the Coastal Commission,” he said. “You end up, usually, paying permit fees and having to take additional time to get approvals because of that step. If we have an approved local coastal plan, all of that goes away.”

Walsh, a parent and community volunteer, said one of her top priorities would be to create a “strong working relationship” between council members and the citizens of Solana Beach.

“I think that we can always do better in communicating between the city and the citizens,” said Walsh, who previously ran her own business.

Siegel, a psychiatrist and concert pianist who heads the weekly Solana Beach Sing-Along at Fletcher Cove Community Center, said his top priority is to build a stronger sense of community in Solana Beach. It’s the reason he started the weekly sing-along and helped write the city’s official song, he said.

Candidates were divided, however, on a proposal that could be decided under the new council.

The city is currently moving toward forming the county’s first local power program and has been searching for a service provider to make that possible.

The city recently received proposals from three companies interested in helping Solana Beach create a Community Choice Aggregation program. Governed by state laws, CCAs allow cities, counties and other authorized entities to purchase or generate alternative energy supplies for residents and businesses within their jurisdiction while maintaining the existing power provider for transmission and distribution services.

Solana Beach has discussed the issue for several years, with the concept initially brought to the council by residents about five years ago. Earlier this year a company conducted a technical study at no cost that indicated a CCA is a viable option for the city.

The community seems to be divided on the issue, however, with some calling for a public vote. Council candidates had differing views on whether voters should decide if the city should proceed with a plan to form a local power program.

Hegenauer, who currently serves on the city’s Climate Action Commission, said the item does not need to go to a vote, just to the council.

“It’s a good deal for the community,” she said. “I hope that we can work it out.”

Edson also questioned the need for a vote.

“There’s no requirement to participate, so why would it require a vote?” she asked.

Zito said the program is “worth looking into.”

“We definitely need to do our due diligence in exploring all the various ramifications and very complex issues around this particular item,” he said. Because the issue is so complicated, he said he would be “nervous about putting it to a public vote.”

The complexity of the issue, however, is the very reason Walsh said it should go to a vote.

“I do think that this should go to a vote of the people because of the complex issue,” said Walsh, though agreeing that everyone wants “clean, sustainable energy.”

“I don’t think that there’s been enough information given to us from both sides,” she said. “I think that we do need to do community outreach and get the public’s opinion. Is there a rush to do this?”

Hohn agreed that the public needs more information about the issue.

“Clearly, there is no consensus in town on this today,” he said.

Candidates were also divided over whether the city should reinstate the Public Safety Commission, which the council decommissioned in 2015.

At the time, council members said that while they were appreciative of the commissioners, the city’s resources were stretched. Staff also said that the role and activities of the commission were being met or could be met by other committees and planned public safety outreach efforts.

“I really do value the community input and the community members but in my first three years, I didn’t notice feedback coming to the City Council from the commission,” said Zito, who is seeking his second council term. “If we were going to reinstate it, I’d want clear metrics as to what that commission was going to do and how they were going to be measured.”

Hohn, Walsh and Siegel all said they would like to see the city re-establish the commission, while restricting it to ensure it is effective and efficient.

“If the commission wasn’t effective, I’d like to know why and fix why it wasn’t effective,” said Hoth, who has chaired the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission for two years.

Edson and Hegenauer said the commission was disbanded because it was redundant.

“I think that the council made the right vote,” Hegenauer said.

“I don’t really have an opinion about bringing it back,” said Edson, who has served on the city’s View Assessment Commission for 11 years. “I don’t know that its necessary to use staff time and money to do that.”