Community honors outgoing Solana Beach Mayor Thomas Campbell


When Solana Beach was incorporated in 1986, Thomas Campbell was there. So when Campbell decided to step down from the City Council after two decades of service to the city, the community was there for him.

“When you think of the wonderful city of Solana Beach, it’s almost our 30th anniversary,” said San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, a Solana Beach resident who served on the council for two terms.

“For 20 of those 30 years, you served on the City Council. Like any new city, it has trials and tribulations, and it takes people that understand how to manage, how to watch the public dollar, how to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. I know for the eight years that I served on this council, I truly enjoyed serving with Tom.”

Roberts presented Campbell with a signed proclamation and declared Dec. 10, Campbell’s last council meeting, as “Tom Campbell Day” throughout the county.

Former and current city officials, staff, family, friends, neighbors and community members lined the walls at City Hall, where there was standing room only. About a dozen members of the public addressed the council to thank Campbell for his service and contributions.

“You always put the neighborhoods first,” said resident Gary Martin. “You always want to know what’s going on in the neighborhood. You always look to what the people in the neighborhood are concerned about. That one difference is so instrumental in a lot of things that have been done in the community. A lot of major projects have been better because of your involvement and your laser-like focus on the issues.”

During Campbell’s time on the council, the city has celebrated the grand opening of its library and train station, completed its portion of the Coastal Rail Trail and completely revitalized Highway 101, among a variety of other projects.

During the Nov. 19 council meeting, one of Campbell’s last, he got to take part in a unanimous vote to accept the Gateway property as a conservation easement from the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, forever protecting the parcel as open space.

Located east of Coast Highway 101 across from Cardiff State Beach, the 3.44-acre parcel was long sought by real estate developers and potential property owners. The people who pushed for the city’s incorporation in 1986 did so in part because they were outraged when the county approved plans for a hotel development on the site, which is the “gateway” or north entrance to the city.

“A lot has happened during your 20 years on the council,” said Gerri Retman-Opper, a 30-year Solana Beach resident, who spearheaded the preservation effort. “For all good reasons, Solana Beach is definitely on the map now. You’ll forever be a part of the city’s legacy. Thank you for taking the time out of your life to serve the residents of Solana Beach.”

A Solana Beach resident since 1979, Campbell served on the city’s original Budget and Finance Committee before joining the council. He was first elected to the council in 1994. Since then, he has served five terms as mayor, a mostly ceremonial position that is rotated among council members each year.

When Campbell first joined the dais he often cast the lone vote, standing for the community and standing against developers, according to several speakers.

“He was all by himself for years, 4-1 votes, every vote,” recalled former Mayor Douglas Sheres, who was elected in 2000, six years after Campbell was first elected. “That’s pretty hard to do … but he did it and stuck through it. Here, 20 years later, it’s 5-0 votes in one direction that says something about what Tom was thinking back then. Obviously he knew something that maybe other people didn’t recognize, but the community certainly did because people brought you back here, year after year, and eventually started bringing other people up here who shared your views. That really says a lot.”

Although former Mayor Margaret Schelsinger admitted she and Campbell often had opposing views, she, too, thanked him for his service and shared one of his very first campaign brochures, which promised he would form a financially secure city with a general plan to preserve resources.

Campbell, a longtime certified public accountant, remained committed to his promise through the years, Schelsinger said.

“I’ve not always agreed with Tom; he knows that,” Schelsinger said. “But when I read his early objectives for the city … I can only say, ‘Well done, and mission accomplished.’”

When Campbell was first elected to the council, his oldest son was an 8-year-old Solana Vista student. Now a 28-year-old attorney, Michael Campbell closed the public comments as his mother, Ann, watched him speak from the second row.

“Over the past 20 years, you have consistently taught Robby, Chris and I an incredibly powerful lesson,” said Michael, in reference to his 26-year-old twin brothers, Christopher and Robert.

“You taught us that rather than sit back and complain about what we perceive to be problems in our community, we had to get up and have a tangible, positive influence where it mattered most. Over the past 20 years, I think you’ve done just that, and the amount of people that are here, I think, are a testament to that.”

Before the gavel changed hands, Campbell, 66, addressed the public from the podium one last time.

“There’s so many great things that have happened in Solana Beach, and there’s just way too many to mention,” Campbell said. “Accomplishing these things is not (due to) one single council member. It’s council members working together with the community; it’s prior councils working with the community. And, ultimately, you’re going to come up with something that everybody can be proud of.

“So this isn’t really about me, it’s about you folks out there, working with your council and coming up with good solutions. I’m just happy I was here and could play a part in that role.”

After a standing ovation and a brief break with cake, Councilman Mike Nichols was sworn in for his third term and Councilwoman Ginger Marshall was sworn in for her first. Council members then appointed Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner as mayor and Councilman David Zito as deputy mayor.