SOLANA BEACH — Only three of six candidates vying for three seats on the Solana Beach City Council participated in an Oct. 8 forum at the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito.
The result was a 90-minute discussion during which incumbent Lesa Heebner, Peter Zahn and Dave Zito generally agreed with one another in their responses to nearly two dozen questions submitted by audience members.
In a press release sent about three hours before the event, candidates Vickie Driver, Paul Frankel and Daniel Powell stated they opted not to participate because the “format was likely to ignore the most important issues facing the city.”
The original focus was environmental topics but the scope was broadened to include all issues affecting the city. About half of the questions submitted were related to the environment.
Addressing other issues, Heebner, Zahn and Zito said they support expanded use of Fletcher Cove Community Center for receptions and parties but with a trial period and limitations.
“This resource is just too fine to exclude a good part of the city from,” said Zahn, who recommends increased law enforcement when events are taking place.
“We need to make sure that it also makes sense financially,” Zito said. “I do think we should make it more available than it is now but we do need to make sure that it’s done with care of the residents … and doesn’t cost us a ton of money.”
All three candidates said they are open to medical marijuana use but don’t support Proposition W, an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that would allow dispensaries in the city.
“It’s unclear whether this particular ordinance would be pre-empted by federal law,” Zahn said. “I’ve had cancer in my family and I know the benefits that marijuana can bring to those who are suffering.
“However, I really don’t favor this initiative in Solana Beach,” he said. “I don’t really like the way dispensaries are run. I think they are too loose.”
“I have intimate personal experience with my mother having cancer and so I understand the use and value of medical marijuana as it helped her tremendously through her chemo treatments,” Zito said, adding that he has concerns about public safety and the fact that if adopted, the initiative couldn’t be changed without another costly public vote.
He said his mother was in California during her treatments and getting the drug was not a problem.
“This a conflicting issue for me,” he said. “I do think we want to have safe access but I also know that through her experience there was access to what she needed.”
Heebner described the initiative as flawed in many ways. “I would prefer to see any medicines come from a pharmacy,” she said.
The candidates all took issue with a question that said the current council’s anti-development stance is not serving the city well.
Heebner said if she were against development she wouldn’t have sought a $5.5 million grant for the current renovation project along Coast Highway 101.
“Our economy is not in the best shape but Solana Beach property values have held up pretty well,” Zahn said, adding that he would like to revise and reconstruct the development review process to make it easier for low-impact projects to receive permits faster and easier.
“I don’t think our city is anti-development,” Zito said. “I think our city has a particular vision in mind for what the development should look like and that doesn’t always attract the same types of builders.
“We do want to encourage development in our town,” he said. “We want it to be of the right type.”
Zito and Zahn said they support a proposed affordable housing development on South Sierra Avenue but have concerns it may be too big for the site.
Heebner agrees the original design was “too bulky and ugly.” She said it has since been redesigned and the developer and city are looking for other locations for the development.
Solana Beach is obligated by a decades-old lawsuit to replace 14 affordable units.
The three candidates said they support a mixed-use project at the train station, adding roundabouts if traffic studies deem them appropriate, continuing the city’s path of environmental sustainability and seeking private/public partnerships for development.
They also all agree with a recent council decision to continue working with the California Coastal Commission to secure a local coastal plan and find a compromise that will allow bluff-top homeowners to protect their property with sea walls.
As part of a unanimous council decision to ban the use of plastic bags, Heebner said the new law is meant to change people’s behavior and not hurt businesses. She said when the city banned smoking others said it would hurt businesses but just the opposite occurred.
Zahn said he supports the new law but believes the 10-cent charge for paper bags should have been phased in with better education.
The issue was included in a two-part question and Zito ran out of time to answer it.
Attendees could ask questions of all candidates or just one or two. Only one was directed to Heebner, asking why she would oppose an upscale boutique hotel.
Heebner said she supports such a business but only in the right location, such as the train station, and not on the Gateway site on Coast Highway 101, where one was one proposed.
“I am not anti-business,” she said. “I do not know where this comes from. I shop, you guys. I like to shop.”
About 150 people attended the forum, which was hosted by the city’s Clean & Green Committee, moderated by the League of Women Voters North County San Diego and co-sponsored by the Solana Homeowners Association Group.
In their press release, Driver, Frankel and Powell stated they are seeking organizations that “have not already endorsed candidates to sponsor a forum where all six candidates can discuss their positions on a broad range of issues facing Solana Beach.”
“We simply asked for assurances that topics like the city’s finances, traffic circulation and business regulations be discussed,” Frankel stated in the release.
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