Solana Beach council disbands safety commission

Despite protest from commissioners, the Solana Beach City Council decommissioned the city’s Public Safety Commission during its Aug. 25 meeting.

Established in 1998, the commission has acted in an advisory capacity to the council and city manager on matters pertaining to the creation, operation, maintenance, use management and control of crime and traffic safety programs. Although initially formed with 11 members, in 2008, the commission was cut to seven members serving in an advisory role regarding public safety.

When the council selected its annual appointments to citizen commissions in January, council members decided to appoint only commissioners who reapplied to the Public Safety Commission, resulting in two reappointments and three vacant positions. Since then, there have been four people on the commission: Thomas Alexander, Kristi Day, Bernhard Geierstanger and Lynn Salsberg.

At that time, the council also asked city staff to review the status of the commission and recommend whether to continue its operation.

According to staff’s review of past commission agendas, minutes and actions, the commission has focused primarily on statistical reports from the fire department, marine safety department and sheriff’s department, as well as updates from the city’s Traffic Technical Advisory Committee.

The majority of the items discussed by the commission have been informational, with some issues referred to staff or various public safety agencies as determined by the city manager. According to the staff report, in the past three years, the commission’s only action that resulted in a recommendation to the council was regarding the Santa Helena traffic calming project, which was reviewed by the commission in September 2013 and recommended for approval by the council.

Although two commissioners publicly urged the council to continue the commission, council members said that while they are appreciative of their services, the city’s resources are stretched. Another commissioner submitted a letter to the city also requesting the commission continue its operations.

As a member of the commission for the past five years, Day noted that the commission’s role is to advise the council, not take action.

“It seems like we don’t do anything, but really, we are more as a liaison between the community and (the city).”

Staff noted, however, that the role and activities of the commission are being met or could be met by other committees and planned public safety outreach efforts.

For example, the city’s Traffic Technical Advisory Committee — which includes representatives from city engineering, public works, code compliance and the sheriff’s department — discusses traffic safety and traffic calming projects and provides input and recommendations on these projects to the council.

In addition, the sheriff’s department has expressed interest in holding a “Coffee with the Captain” community meeting, where members of the public could discuss public safety issues.

Furthermore, although limited, staff resources have been dedicated to the commission.

Besides the commissioners, monthly commission meetings are consistently attended by the city’s directors of engineering and public works, a fire battalion chief, a sheriff lieutenant and the city manager’s executive assistant. Costs associated with staffing the commission were not calculated; however, staffing would be the only ongoing costs or savings to the city, according to the report.

Staff time could be better used elsewhere, council members agreed.

“I appreciate the service of the commission members and obvious dedication to public safety,” said Councilman Peter Zahn. “To me, I think the issue is where there is a use of resources on the part of the city that can be saved — that’s something that we have a duty to look at.”

“Thank you for serving — we appreciate it very, very much,” added Mayor Lesa Heebner, who encouraged community members to come to council meetings and speak during the oral communications portion of the meetings or email council members to share their comments or concerns.

“We did ask for this review a while ago because of resource issues,” she said. “One of the things that stood out the most in this report are the number of high-level staff department heads who are taken away from the rest of their work to come in to inform the commission. What I’m looking at is that you guys are actually being advised and the public is not being advised.”