By Kristina Houck
Solana Beach residents could soon be allowed to rent Fletcher Cove Community Center for private parties.
Council members agreed on a tentative use policy for the city’s facility during a special meeting Aug. 7. At its next meeting on Aug. 28, the City Council is expected to approve a resolution that details the terms for use of the center during a trial period.
The city has considered the issue since the $350,000 renovation of the 1,100-square-foot center was completed in 2011. The city spent nearly $32,000 on environmental studies regarding a proposal to rent the center for private functions.
The controversial issue has pitted people who live near the center against other residents who want the facility to be made available for private events. The council unanimously agreed on a tentative use policy after a local group launched a voter initiative in July to rent the center for private events.
“I think it’s important tonight that we need to find balance for the fair use of a valuable public asset and also find balance of protecting the residential neighborhood,” said Mayor Mike Nichols at the start of the special meeting.
Members of the Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community Center launched a voter initiative after the matter was tabled indefinitely when the council debated to a stalemate at its June 12 meeting.
The group has noted that residents raised about 60 percent of the funds required for the renovation project, and that the center was rented for private events for more than 50 years before the building began deteriorating. Since then, the facility has been limited to community groups for meetings, classes and city programs.
The initiative calls for private use of the center on up to two weekend days per week that must end by 10 p.m., including cleanup. The initiative also limits the city to charging “nominal fees” for special event permits and rentals. The group has to collect 1,301 valid signatures from registered Solana Beach voters, or 15 percent of the total, within 180 days to prompt a special election on the measure.
Tom Golich, former Solana Beach mayor and spokesperson for the Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community Center, read a statement on behalf of the group during the special meeting.
“We have moved past the point of discussing what the council will permit,” said Golich, who added more than six-dozen volunteers have collected about 1,000 signatures. “Given the two-year history of gridlock on this issue, we want a decision made by the voters of Solana Beach. We encourage the council to adopt the provisions of the initiative rather than the measures under discussion. Short of that, the Friends will continue with the petition drive.”
Several neighborhood residents addressed the council during the meeting and expressed concerns about alcohol being served at events, impacts on parking and noise disturbances.
“The voter initiative is a strong-arm tactic, and its policies will create parking and safety problems in the area around the community center,” said resident Victoria Cypherd.
“It’s not true that the only opponents for the facility’s use are a few of the community center’s immediate neighbors,” said resident Kelly Harless. “Residents from all areas of Solana Beach are concerned about the negative impacts an unreasonable policy might have, including parking problems, traffic, safety hazards, etc.”
After listening to public comments, council members discussed the issue and agreed to make the center available for private events during a trial period beginning Aug. 29, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2014.
The center will be available for $50 an hour with a two-hour minimum for noncommercial, one-time events sponsored by a Solana Beach resident who will not be required to attend the event.
Applicants can rent the center from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Only one event will be allowed per weekend, but not on consecutive weekends, and not during holidays and scheduled special events.
Including party staff, no more than 50 guests will be allowed at events. Guests will be provided with maps to recommended public parking areas.
A security guard will be required for all events. Beer and wine can be served, but there will be a two-drink limit per guest. A trained host will also be required if alcohol is served.
“We don’t want to do any harm to anyone,” Nichols said. “Collectively, we came up with a balance to use the asset and try to protect the neighborhood.”
Following the meeting, Mary Jane Boyd, a Solana Beach resident and member of the Friends of Fletcher Cove Community Center, said the group would continue to collect signatures. Boyd said she believed the council only conceded on rental fees, which were previously proposed at $300 per hour.
“They’re still talking about a trial period,” Boyd said. “We are past that point. We’re no longer interested in a trial period because six months from now, or a year from now, we can be back where we started.
“If we don’t continue, then where do we end up? Right where we were before we started the initiative.”