From the Coastal Rail Trail to Fletcher Cove Park, Solana Beach Councilman Mike Nichols has played a large part in some of the city’s most iconic landmarks. His background as a landscape architect and vision for the community helped launch him into his first two terms on the council and is now leading him into his third.
“I love being able to give back to the city,” said Nichols, just days after being sworn into office again Dec. 10. “I’m honored to have this opportunity.”
A Solana Beach resident since 2000, Nichols was first elected to the council in 2006. He served as mayor in 2009 and 2013, a position that rotates among council members.
Reflecting on his first eight years on the council, Nichols said he is proud that Solana Beach completed projects such as the renovation of Coast Highway 101, in which his effort and expertise played an instrumental role.
The $7 million project revitalized about a one-mile stretch of road from Cliff Street to Dahlia Drive. Completed last year, the project features narrowed lanes, continuous sidewalks, curb extensions and mid-block crosswalks.
But Nichols is proudest that Solana Beach remains Solana Beach.
“It still has this cool character, this coastal community town,” he said. “To me, we want to maintain that, and I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve been able to maintain that.
“There are cool projects, like the 101, that have come along and improved upon it, but I don’t think they’ve taken away the essence of what Solana Beach is.”
With a desire to maintain Solana Beach for future generations, Nichols decided to seek re-election.
When only two candidates ran for two open seats, the council canceled the election and appointed Nichols to his third term and newcomer Ginger Marshall to her first.
“I enjoy being able to participate in the public process,” Nichols said. “When you do things to make a change for the better, it just feels good, and I really enjoy being a part of that.”
Born in West Virginia, Nichols grew up in North Carolina, where he studied recreational planning and site development at North Carolina State University. After deciding he wanted to pursue a career in landscape architecture, Nichols went on to study the field and earn a second bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia.
Nichols got his first taste of government while working on one of his first landscape architecture projects during his senior year. After realizing there was no place for children to skateboard in Athens, Ga., Nichols designed and petitioned to build a skate park — even holding a presentation for the mayor and city leaders.
“It gave me a feeling that I could actually do something to make a difference,” recalled Nichols, who noted the city later built a skate park in a different spot. “That kind of gave me the bug.”
After graduating that year in 1997, he relocated to the West Coast. He first lived in La Jolla and started his career at landscape architecture firm KTU+A, then later moved to and began working in Solana Beach at MW Peltz & Associates. After 15 years in the business, he started his own firm three years ago.
When Nichols was first hired at MW Peltz, he was tasked with transforming the parking lot that once stood at Fletcher Cove into the park that is there now. Doing so is his most memorable design, he said. After all, he met his wife, Heather, at the city’s annual Beach Blanket Movie Night at Fletcher Cove Park.
After about five years on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Nichols opted to run for office. Since then, his goal has been to enhance the city while maintaining the community’s character.
In the next four years, Nichols would like to see other phased improvements at La Colonia Park and Community Center — after the completion of the Veterans Honor Courtyard. One of his suggestions is the addition of a skate park.
“We don’t provide a place for kids to skateboard and recreate, so I thought that would be fun for kids to do,” he said. “Maybe that’s one of the next things we look at.”
Nichols is also interested in creating a pedestrian and bicycle corridor up Lomas Santa Fe Drive to Highland Drive, so the city has an east-west connection.
“Something like that would be an amazing enhancement and bring everything together,” he said.
Most of all, Nichols would like to look back one day and see that he played a part in helping Solana Beach maintain its character.
“I’d like to be able to sit in this chair 10 years, 20 years from now and say, ‘It remains largely the same,’” he said. “Most people that live here want that.”