Solana Beach City Council establishes an ad hoc committee to explore community center options

By Kristina Houck

To explore the city’s options and potentially craft a competing initiative for a Fletcher Cove Community Center use policy, the Solana Beach City Council on Oct. 23 established an ad hoc committee.

With a 4-0 vote, council members appointed Councilman David Zito and Councilwoman Lesa Heebner to the committee. Deputy Mayor Thomas Campbell was on vacation and absent from the meeting.

For more than two years, city officials and residents have attempted to develop a policy that would satisfy Solana Beach residents who want to rent the center for private events and community members who fear adverse impacts from parties.

After months of debate and negotiations, the City Council on Aug. 28 adopted a use policy for the facility that limited the number of attendees, days and hours of use, and the amount of beer and wine that could be consumed per person.

Members of the Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community Center, however, believe the policy still has too many regulations. The group filed a voter initiative with the city on Aug. 27 to establish less restrictive rules for the site. The petition was certified on Sept. 25, after the Registrar of Voters verified a sufficient number of signatures.

The petition was presented to the council along with the council’s options at the Oct. 9 meeting. Council members discussed forming an ad hoc committee and voted to order a report rather than adopt the group’s policy or spend about $200,000 on a special election.

At that time, Zito volunteered to sit on the committee and be the contact person for public comment on the matter.

“The intention of this, at least in my mind, is to try to make sure we keep as many options open as possible,” Zito said. “But for us to craft an initiative or craft a path forward that is different than what’s laid in front of us is going to be very challenging. It will be a very difficult thing to do. We don’t have much time.”

Solana Beach City Attorney Johanna Canlas agreed, saying, “timing is essential.” She noted that the last time a measure could be added to the ballot is 88 days from the time an election is called. Hypothetically, should the council call an election on Nov. 6, based on the report, she explained, Nov. 15 would be the last date the council could add a competing ballot measure.

The next council meeting is set for Nov. 13, but a special meeting could be called earlier with at least 24 hours notice given to the public.

Only two council members could serve on the committee. Since the last meeting, Mayor Mike Nichols said he called Zito and offered to help. During the meeting, Heebner said she was interested in serving as well.

Heebner said Nichols is fair and open-minded, but she didn’t want the public to perceive the committee as unbalanced.

“I don’t think any of us have made up our mind completely, but I think it’s well-known there was a split on this council before it got to this point, where some of us were for protecting the neighborhood in different ways, in different pathways, than others were,” she said. “So I’m open to being available for community members to speak to me as well, if that might make the ad hoc committee feel perhaps a little bit more balanced. But if that’s not the will of the rest of the council, that’s fine with me.”

Noting all council members would be able to provide input during the process, Nichols eventually withdrew and Heebner joined Zito on the committee.

“I don’t think there’s a question of balance,” Nichols said. “I think we’re all moving forward with the best intentions that we can in trying to get something together.”

Councilman Peter Zahn said he could provide input, but he wasn’t available to be on the committee.

“As it’s been said by many people — residents and members of this council — this issue is about a lot more than just the community center,” Zahn said. “There’s going to be a sort of filtering that’s going to have to occur to really separate out the issues and present the proposals that you receive or make in a way that is as clean and clear as possible, without a lot of the rhetoric and the back and forth. I think it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”

The ad hoc committee will likely meet within the next week, Zito said.

In the meantime, staff is compiling a report that will include any effect the proposed initiative could have on the city’s general and specific plans, housing element, planning, zoning and land use. It will also include impacts on funding for infrastructure, traffic congestion, existing business districts and any other issues council members request.

The report must be presented within 30 days of the time the report was ordered, which is when council members can adopt the ordinance as it is written, call for a special election or wait another 10 days to make a decision.