Demure almost to a fault, Mike Nichols tried to hurry past the oral communications portion of the Solana Beach City Council’s Dec. 13 meeting, but City Manager Greg Wade would have none of it.
“Oh boy,” Nichols said as Wade led him to the dais for a presentation recognizing his year as Solana Beach’s mayor — during which he led council meetings and represented the city through a 12-month stretch that brought several milestones that will be felt for decades to come.
“It’s been a pleasure sitting next to you for the past year,” Wade said. “I appreciate your attention to detail and keeping me on the straight and narrow — sometimes with an elbow or two.”
Wade then handed Nichols a framed collage capturing some of 2017’s highlights, making sure to mention the photo of Nichols — a former pro skaterboarder — riding a board at a fundraiser for the long-awaited skatepark at La Colonia. His skateboarding days (long) behind him, the council’s gift catered to one of Nichols’ more recent interests: two free rounds of golf at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club.
“Tee it high and let ‘em fly,” said incoming Mayor Ginger Marshall.
With his wife Heather — whom he met at Fletcher Cove Park, which he designed before becoming a councilman in 2006 — at his side, Nichols spread the attention everywhere but on himself.
“It’s a real special thing to be able to do, to be able to give back to the community. It means a lot to me. I appreciate everyone who’s here to support me, my crew over here,” he said, gesturing toward a group of longtime residents in the audience. “I’m usually pretty short on words. Thank you is about the most genuine words I can say, and I truly mean it.”
Occupying the mayor’s seat for the third time, Nichols steered the council through a bevy of major projects in 2017, including: getting the ball rolling on the La Colonia skatepark; enacting the city’s fifth consecutive budget with a surplus; roadway improvements along Lomas Santa Fe and Stevens roads; and the decision to demolish and replace (rather than rehabilitate) the historic Marine Safety Center at Fletcher Cove.
Keeping with Solana Beach’s standing as an environmental leader, 2017 also brought the two most significant environmental milestones in city history. In July, the city enacted its Climate Action Plan (CAP) to halve emissions and move the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. In May and October, the council took decisive steps to make Solana Beach the first city in San Diego County to establish Community Choice Energy (CCE) — also known as Community Choice Aggregation — in which the city would buy its energy on the open market in the hopes of finding better prices and a higher percentage of renewable energy for Solana Beach’s 7,800 energy customers.
The year was not without its controversies. In June, the city filed suit —and quickly reached a settlement — against the Del Mar Fairgrounds over its plan to build a 1,900-seat concert venue inside its offtrack betting center. Environmental advocates cheered the passage of the Climate Action Plan, but lamented the council’s decision not to make it legally binding. When event promoter Lawrence Bame — a longtime Solana Beach resident — inked a deal to throw San Diego’s largest-ever cannabis festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the Solana Beach council joined the campaign that helped snuff the festival out. When a Solana Beach developer unveiled plans to build a 16-acre luxury resort on Del Mar’s northern bluffs — which neighbors decry for fattening Del Mar’s coffers while wreaking havoc on Solana Beach streets — city officials set up a task force with their counterparts in Del Mar to try to ensure those concerns do not go unheeded. And when President Donald Trump announced the end of protections for people brought illegally to the United States as children, the council became the first city in San Diego County to pass a resolution demanding a legislative solution that will allow them to stay in the country.
Throughout the year’s various efforts, Nichols steered the council “with integrity and fairness and smarts,” said Peter Zahn, a former councilman and current chairman of the city’s environmental committee.
“You really dig into issues. You don’t accept incomplete answers. You hold people to account. You strive for the best possible results for this city. Those are really exemplary attributes,” Zahn said. “You care about the city and its residents, and that shines through. Thanks for all you’ve done this past year, and all prior years, and all the great impact you’ve had on our city.”
After enjoying refreshments and carrot cake — Nichols’s favorite — the city’s five councilmembers reconvened in the seats they will hold for the next 12 months, with Marshall taking her spot beside Wade.
Marshall — whose conservative bent has set her apart throughout the first three years of her four-year term on the council — takes the mayoral reins for her first time in a year that will bring a final decision on launching the CCE and the first steps in implementing the Climate Action Plan, both of which she stood in sole opposition against.
As dictated by Solana Beach’s rotating appointments, Dave Zito became deputy mayor, putting him on course to be mayor in 2019.