Nichols holds mayoral gavel for first time

Surfers are not novel in the Solana Beach City Council. But Mike Nichols, who is manning the council’s gavel for 2009, is the city’s first surfing and skateboarding mayor.

Appropriately, it was skateboarding that ignited Nichols’ passion for civic involvement.

As a landscape architecture student in Athens, Ga., Nichols designed a skate area for a youth group that had no place to legally practice their sport. He presented his drawings to city officials, along with a demonstration by the skaters, and the skate park was built a few years later.

“I was excited about what happened in Athens, it left an impression on me,” Nichols said.

“You can really make a difference in people’s lives by looking around and identifying people who need help, need a little bit of a voice.”

When Nichols, 38, moved to Solana Beach in 2000, he immediately looked for a way to volunteer. He landed on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, where he served four years before running for city council in 2006.

“It’s not one of those things people envision themselves doing,” Nichols said of city council. “You get involved and see an ability to continue your involvement.”

For the last two years, Nichols, who holds a masters degree in city planning, has devoted his time and expertise to many city projects and initiatives; but none more so than Cedros Crossing and the Plaza Street clean-up project.

While Cedros Crossing is now defunct, Nichols said he hopes the hundreds of ad hoc committee hours spent trying to craft a community-embraced vision for a mixed-use project at the train station site will not go to waste in the future.

“To have nothing happen was disappointing because we want something to happen there,” he said.

Nichols volunteered his professional training to help re-landscape Plaza Street last year, completing the first piece of the Highway 101 revitalization plan.

“To be able to take a little bite out of the bigger project showed the community and businesses we’re serious about redeveloping the 101,” Nichols said. His employer, MW Peltz and Associates, designed the Highway 101 streetscape master plan and Fletcher Cove Park before Nichols was elected.

The North Carolina transplant said making the critical commercial corridor more vibrant and pedestrian friendly is one of his top priorities. In fact, the city is close to selecting an engineering firm for the project, however, no physical improvements will likely be seen this year, he said.

Nichols said he is also excited to continue working with his fellow council members and encourages other citizens to voice their opinions about how to improve the quality of life in Solana Beach.

“There is a misperception you have to be involved with the city to give input,” Nichols said. “You don’t have to be involved to this level to give input that’s valued.”

Nichols, who skated competitively for nine years, also said he would like to use his public position to talk with youngsters about exploring their interests and his experience turning his passion for designing parks into a career.

“Some adults say ‘kids these days don’t have focus,’” Nichols said. “When I was 20, I didn’t either. But it happens, you find your calling.”