Solana Beach council debate brews up a variety of issues

By Claire Harlin

Whereas debates are common election season affairs to test candidates’ prowess and demonstrate their differences in the issues, there wasn’t much opposing going on at an Oct. 8 Solana Beach City Council debate co-hosted by the city’s Clean and Green Committee and Solana Homeowners Association Group (SHAG). Perhaps that’s because the three of the six candidates who might have brought differing opinions to the table didn’t show up, stating concerns that the format of the event — which organizers actually referred to as a forum, not a debate — was “not conducive to an informative and broad discussion of the issues.”

Still, nearly 200 residents packed the Boys and Girls Club to listen and submit questions in an open format on a variety of topics — from seawalls, to medical marijuana, to affordable housing. The League of Women Voters moderated, and candidates Lesa Heebner, David Zito and Peter Zahn answered each question, often sounding more like teammates than opponents — and with three seats open on the council, that consistency could mean a less divided council if they all win. Candidates Vickie Driver, Paul Frankel and Daniel Powell said in a statement that they hope to participate in a public discussion with all six candidates before Nov. 6.

Environmental issues were a hot topic at the debate, but didn’t dominate.

When asked about views on a controversial proposed affordable housing development on South Sierra Avenue, Heebner, a current council member and former mayor, brought up a new perspective — that both the city and developer are open to exploring other locations for the project, which seeks to bring the city into state compliance by providing 14 affordable housing units.

Zito said he lives on North Cedros Avenue near Solana Beach’s other five affordable units, and he’s seen no issue with that property. He also said he is OK with the proposed location, and understands the concern about heightened traffic during the large annual junior lifeguard camp nearby, but he thinks the city will be able to handle that issue as it comes.

Zahn said concerns about scale “may be valid,” but the project must move forward with the council making the best decisions regarding scale and appearance as possible.

“We have an obligation by law to provide 14 units,” he said. “We also have a moral obligation.”

Like the issue of affordable housing, the candidates agreed that the city has no choice when it comes to many aspects of the proposed I-5 expansion. Heebner reminded the audience that voters in 2004 already approved the TransNet tax that will fund the project. All candidates agreed that now it should be a priority of the council to make sure the project has the smallest footprint possible, especially taking into consideration the protection of nearby lagoons.

Zahn said a concern of his would be maintenance and what the city will be responsible for.

“We must keep an eye on Caltrans to address these issues,” he said.

The three candidates also agreed on the need to protect homeowners when it comes to the current battle with the California Coastal Commission in its changes regarding sea walls in the city’s local land use plan. Zito and Zahn supported the Solana Beach Council’s Sept. 26 decision to continue working with the commission.

“We’ve already spent a million on this,” said Zahn. “We don’t want to throw it all away and spend millions more starting from scratch.”

All three candidates agreed that both the plastic bag ban implemented this year and the Highway 101 revitalization that began this summer were good moves for the city, despite concerns that both hurt business.

Zahn said, however, the 10-cent deposit that’s part of the bag ban could have been phased in better to allow for a better transition.

Zito said he sees the Highway 101 project as something that will attract and help business in the long run. He also likes the idea of using the extra parking from the project to help businesses meeting their parking requirements.

Public use of the Fletcher Cove Community Center has also been on residents’ radar since its recent $400,000 renovation. The council ordered an environmental study to be done last month to examine impacts such as noise and traffic on the neighborhood, and all said they will not form a definitive opinion until getting those results.

Heebner has shown great consideration of the concerned residents who live near the center, but also stands by the great majority of local residents who want activity there. She said she supports a trial period that will be heavily monitored and she’d “be the first to shut it down” if it interferes with the neighbors’ peace.

Zahn said, “I sympathize with the concerned residents nearby but this is too good of an asset not to use.”

Zito said he may not support events at the center “all weekend, every weekend,” but he wants to implement restrictions and make it “more available that it is now, as long as it’s in care of the residents and makes financial sense to the city.”

In their closing remarks, both Heebner and Zahn made comments about participation and said they were glad to have been there — Heebner quoted the Woody Allen saying, ”Eightly percent of success is showing up,” and Zahn said, “It’s really crucial that those who represent us do show up.”

Zito invited the community to contact him directly with questions and concerns, and Heebner welcomed people to host coffee talks that she would be happy to attend and answer questions.

For more information on the candidates, visit their websites: