Heebner enters new term as Solana Beach mayor
Four years ago, longtime Solana Beach City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner declined to seek reelection. She said at the time that she was “ready to move on to a new chapter in my life” after three terms.
But the call to serve remained. In 2018, Heebner returned to the council to serve eight months after the sudden resignation of Mike Nichols. And then she ran unopposed for Solana Beach mayor in last November’s election.
Heebner said in an interview that she wanted to return to City Hall because there was “too much to do.”
“There’s a lot to do in the city that would benefit from my experience,” she said.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which will continue to strain city budgets for the foreseeable future, remains one of the biggest challenges. In Solana Beach, council members have tried to assist residents with rental relief programs, and have helped businesses by launching a grant program and connecting them to county and state resources.
“There’s help needed on every level,” Heebner said. “I’m happy to hear any ideas, and given whatever resources we have, whether it’s staff time and-or money, allocate what we can to make sure that we can come out of this with a vibrant community just on the other side instead of a bunch of vacancies and sad situations.”
She added that “this is that year that we’re just really holding down the fort and protecting what it is that we have.”
Housing presents another key issue that cities throughout the region will address in the coming months as part of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which assigns housing units that each region must accommodate over the next eight years. San Diego County was assigned approximately 171,000 units for the new RHNA cycle, which covers 2021 to 2029.
Regional governments, including SANDAG, are responsible for dividing those units by city and throughout unincorporated county territory. Solana Beach received a RHNA assignment of 875 units.
A number of small, coastal cities thought their RHNA assignments were unreasonably high. A SANDAG-approved methodology to apportion units based on proximity to jobs and transit resulted in more units for coastal cities, compared to what they’ve received in previous RHNA cycles.
Solana Beach unsuccessfully appealed to the SANDAG board earlier this year for a lower RHNA number. The city also joined Coronado, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove in a lawsuit filed in September against SANDAG over the RHNA process.
“Each of our cities throughout the state has a different situation and I think the one size fits all approach that the state has been taking is troubling and it actually can be harmful to our communities,” Heebner said.
Solana Beach recently submitted a draft housing element to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which includes plans to allow most of those 875 units in the city’s southwestern quadrant. That area, located west of Interstate 5 and south of Lomas Santa Fe, is Solana Beach’s most densely populated section.
Heebner also said she thinks her longstanding relationships with other local leaders, including new San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, will be helpful in dealing with housing and other regional issues.
Heebner, who has served three one-year terms as mayor during her 12 years as a council member, is also the first separately elected mayor in Solana Beach history. In response to a lawsuit that affected many California cities, Solana Beach now has four council districts with a mayor, instead of five at-large council members who rotate the mayoral position each year.
Given how small Solana Beach is, and how small each council district is, Heebner said she doesn’t anticipate any changes in the city’s governance.
“My intention is to keep the council unified on the whole city,” she said.
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