Solana Beach deliberates use of renovated community center

By Claire Harlin

With sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and a pristine, newly renovated interior, the Fletcher Cove Community Center has residents excited about using the space for more than just the community meetings that have been held there for years. But being situated in a residential area, where noise is an issue and parking is scarce, city officials and residents are at odds on how much diversion to allow there.

“Unfortunately, we’ve created this beautiful asset and we’ve got an administrative nightmare here in terms of trying to deal with this on a fair basis that’s equitable to the folks who want to use it but also respecting the concerns of the neighbors,” said Solana Beach City Councilman Tom Campbell in a March 14 council discussion about use of the center.

The city presented proposed terms of use of the center, which underwent a $350,000 renovation last year. The once-decrepit building now has new floors, a kitchen, upgraded bathrooms and wheelchair accessibility. Upgrades to the outside of the center, including picnic tables, benches, widened sidewalks and possibly barbecues, are also in the works.

Expanding the use of the facility first came before the council in October in response to a growing number of requests from the public to use the blufftop venue. The facility is currently only being used for educational, city-sponsored and non-profit programs and meetings that were occurring prior to the renovation.

The city’s proposal, which will come before the council again before a formal policy is voted on, includes a $500 security deposit, a non-refundable cleaning fee of $105, a security guard fee of $25 and insurance of $83 to $125, depending on whether there will be alcohol at the event. Council opinions were mixed regarding the rental fee. Mayor Joe Kellejian said he would like to see use of the building cost as low as $200 per hour in order to encourage use for family gatherings like kids’ birthday parties. Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said she would support an hourly fee of $250 or more, and Councilman Mike Nichols said $350 per hour would be appropriate for the oceanfront facility.

The city proposal includes restricting the community center to ceremonial, non-recurring events and leisure activities that are noncommercial in nature. They must also take place on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and be reserved by a resident of Solana Beach.

Also in the proposal is a maximum occupancy of 50 people. Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the community center or in nearby public lots, but parking in nearby residential neighborhoods is “strongly discouraged and will be monitored by security guards,” according to the proposal.

Both parking and noise were a major concern for some residents at the meeting. The proposal stated that music may be provided by a disk jockey or limited to no more than a three-piece amplified band, however, some residents countered that the number of people in a band is not relative to sound level.

The city is proposing that alcohol be allowed upon request and with approval, however, no alcohol can be sold and no alcohol can leave the building.

The city is recommending that there be a six-month trial period, although Heebner suggested extending the trial to Dec. 31.

A prominent point of contention regarding the center is whether to allow more than one event per weekend. Community member Mary Jane Boyd, speaking on behalf of the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, said she would like to see one event allowed per day — meaning there could be up to three events in one weekend. She also recommended banning parking on residential streets altogether, stating that it is “not something that could be easily enforced.” She said that noise level should be subject only to the existing ordinance, as opposed to regulating the number of or type of musical performers. She also suggested keeping alcohol sales open as an option, as long as organizers have the proper permits, and allowing alcohol outdoors.

“People will naturally — with their wine in their hand — go out to the west area to enjoy the view,” said Boyd. “We think the restrictions should be compliant with the way people will use the facility.”

City Manager David Ott said an outdoor area would have to be fenced off, as outlined in the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, in order for alcohol to be allowed there.

Ott also said that in the case of a complaint relating to alcohol or noise, a Sheriff’s official will come out and observe, give direction, and if not followed, the event will be shut it down.

Longtime resident and former City Councilwoman Celine Olson pointed out that the center has historically been supported by volunteers, and the building has “established a historical precedent” over the neighbors and should be treated like any other person in the neighborhood having a party.

Olson said city officials are “dealing with this little community center as if it was the ballroom at the Hotel Del.”

Resident Gerri Retman-Opper said she used to live by the community center in the 1990s when it was being used for events, namely weddings, and the noise and music had a significant negative impact on neighboring residents. She also expressed concern about parking problems and limiting public access during events.

Vicki Cypherd said she lives very close to the community center and she would rather there not be events at the center every weekend.

“It’s kind of impacting,” Cypherd said, asking the council if the immediate neighbors to the center have been informed.

The council agreed to make contact with the neighborhood with fliers in order to inform them of the proposal and any upcoming discussions.

Cypherd also raised the question: “Why is it that we are allowing alcohol here but not at La Colonia Park?”

Campbell said, “If I lived down in that area, I wouldn’t want to deal with this.” He added that he will have a hard time supporting the proposed usage terms unless there are limitations on use every single weekend.

“No good deed comes unpunished,” he said. “We built this thing and now we have to deal with it.”