SOLANA BEACH — After nearly two years of discussion, countless hours of staff time, neighborhood meetings, public comments — one tearful — and nearly $32,000 for consultants and an environmental study, a proposal to allow private use of the recently renovated Fletcher Cove Community Center went nowhere at the June 12 meeting.
When it was obvious two motions would fail to garner the required votes to move forward with a one-year trial period, both were withdrawn and council members ultimately took no action.
“It’s tabled,” City Manager David Ott said, adding there are “no specific plans on bringing it back at this time.”
So the former Army barracks on Pacific Avenue north of Fletcher Cove will continue to be solely used as it has been for more than a dozen years by nonprofit organizations and community groups such as the Civic and Historical Society for meetings, summer camp, classes, city programs and the Thursday night singalongs.
The facility was used for private events in the 1980s and ’90s. Nearby residents said some were rowdy and it was tiresome hearing party music every weekend.
When the building fell into disrepair, the rentals stopped and it was only used by community groups.
But even before a $370,000 renovation was completed last year, residents began asking to use the facility for private celebrations.
As plans developed, nearby residents expressed concerns, mostly about traffic, parking, noise and a provision that would allow alcohol to be served.
In September council voted 4-1, with current Mayor Mike Nichols dissenting, to spend up to $25,000 to study the potential impacts.
The initial study/negative declaration was available for a 90-day public review — three times the required time — from Nov. 28 through Feb. 28. Ten comment letters were received. About two dozen additional e-mails, mostly opposed, were submitted since June 6.
According to the proposal, events would be limited to l00 people until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 8 p.m. on Sundays. Only beer and wine could be served to adults 21 and older and alcohol sales would be prohibited.
Live music would be allowed with a limited number of band members and instruments, but horns, amplification and disc jockeys would not.
Use would be limited to two events between Friday and Sunday with no back-to-back activities. Events with more than 50 guests would require the use of a valet or shuttle and at least one security guard selected from a list of city-approved firms.
Proposed costs were $200 or $250 per hour with a three-hour minimum and a $105 nonrefundable cleaning fee. City-purchased insurance was $83 or $125 depending on the size of the event and whether alcohol would be served. A refundable $500 security deposit was also required.
The provisions would not apply to existing activities.
Even those who supported the one-year trial period opposed some of the provisions, many saying the rental rates were too high.
Before the 70-minute public comment period began, Nichols acknowledged the proposal was controversial.
“It’s a divisive issue,” he said. “We’re all friends and neighbors and we’ve all known each other for quite some time. No matter what happens … just remember that we are a small community and we all want to get along as best we can.
“Just believe that we’re always stronger as one Solana Beach rather than two,” he said. “So let’s hope that we can keep it that way.”
Of the 16 speakers, nine opposed the policy. Supporters included four former mayors.
After public comments were received, Councilwoman Lesa Heebner made a motion to go forward with the one-year trial with some modifications to the proposal. She suggested limiting events to three per month with a maximum of 50 people.
Heebner noted alcohol is legal. “We’re not going to make it illegal in Solana Beach,” she said. “Not all of us overindulge.”
Peter Zahn seconded the motion. Nichols and Tom Campbell, who spoke next, said they wouldn’t support it.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Campbell said. “Neighborhoods come first. The quiet enjoyment of your neighborhood comes first. I think that we are throwing that neighborhood under the bus.”
He said allowing alcohol, something prohibited at all other city-owned properties, “is a really dangerous thing to do.”
David Zito, who would have provided the deciding vote, said he couldn’t support the proposal mostly because of the alcohol provision.
“Were we to consider alcohol usage this is probably not the facility I would choose to try such a thing out at,” he said. “It’s too integrated into that local neighborhood.
“The vast majority of our community would be very respectful but once you introduce alcohol things start changing,” he added.
He also said with unknowns such as parking and drinking, the city was testing too many things at one time.
“The slower we take it the better with respect to protecting the community and protecting the neighborhood,” Zito said, adding that if provisions are allowed at one city-owned facility they should be permitted at others.
Knowing Heebner’s motion wouldn’t pass, Nichols introduced a substitute motion that limited the number of guests to 50, prohibited alcohol and set the fees at $300 an hour. Campbell seconded that motion, but Heebner said she couldn’t support it.
“It’s a waste of staff time to go on any further with this because nobody is going to rent a place for $1,500 to $1,800 a day for what will turn out to be children’s parties,” she said.
Zahn and Zito agreed. Seeing the motion wouldn’t pass, Campbell withdrew his second.
Unable to garner a second or an alternative motion, the item was tabled with no action taken.
Heebner said she didn’t understand where the extreme positions came from. “Perhaps it’s because I have a culinary background where people like to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal,” she said. “They’re not getting hammered, running wild down the street and mowing over kids.”
Although she could, Heebner said she has no plans to bring the item back.
“I’m way over it,” she said. “We had an opportunity to test something that would have been a benefit to the vast majority of the community. I’m not dismissing the concerns of the neighbors. They are valid.
“But a lot of time, money and emotions were spent and it was a big disappointment,” she added. “It was just exasperating to me.”