The Coast News Group
News Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News

Council OKs police agreement, housing plan and advisory commissioners

SOLANA BEACH — With Mayor Mike Nichols absent, City Council members voted 4-0 at the Feb. 13 meeting to approve a five-year law enforcement contract, adopt a mandated housing plan and fill two vacancies on an advisory commission.Solana Beach has contracted with the county Sheriff’s Department since it became a city in 1986. It is currently one of nine cities to do so, accounting for a little more than half of the county’s law enforcement budget.

Officials negotiated for nearly a year to create a new contract after the previous one expired in June 2012.

Under the new agreement, which expires in June 2017, Solana Beach will receive the same level of service, but with some added benefits.

In year three all cities can modify service levels based on individual needs. Positions can be added or deleted, with full cost credit given to a city for an eliminated position.

City Manager David Ott said some cities reduced services during the recession but still paid for them.

The new operational cost is capped at 2.75 percent in the second year of the contract, 3 percent in the third year and 3.25 percent in the final year.

Retirement caps are not included but it is estimated they will be less than 2.5 percent annually, Ott said.

No retirement enhancements will affect any of the nine contract cities, which include Del Mar and Encinitas.

“They cannot be passed along to the cities if the county so chooses to (increase them),” Ott said.

The cost of the new contract to Solana Beach this fiscal year is slightly more than $3.1 million, in line with what was budgeted.

Regional benefits include an ASTREA helicopter, crime analysis and lab access, internal affairs, domestic violence assistance, SWAT team, narcotics enforcement and backup coverage.

“It’s very beneficial to us, something that we certainly couldn’t do on our own,” Ott said.

Solana Beach is one of the last cities to approve the contract. Del Mar did so at its Feb. 4 meeting after agreeing to look into other options, including starting its own department.

“It’s kind of the only deal available to us,” Solana Beach Councilman Tom Campbell said before asking Ott why the city doesn’t consider a similar move.

“There’s issues and challenges to that,” Ott said. “One of the biggest challenges to that is your startup costs. You simply don’t flick a switch one day and say, ‘We contracted with the county sheriff’s. Tomorrow, all of a sudden, I have a police force sitting here.’”

Ott said in addition to purchasing vehicles, radios and other equipment, a city must gradually hire trained officers and support staff.

“That really makes it prohibitive,” he said, adding that liability insurance is also expensive.

Council also agreed to send its housing element to the state Department of Housing and Community Development for final certification.

All California cities are required to adopt a housing plan to ensure they meet existing and projected housing needs for all economic groups.

Solana Beach, which has always had a certified housing element, must account for — but not necessarily build — 340 units by 2020. A draft must be presented to HCD for review before the final document is submitted for final certification.

Solana Beach submitted its draft on Oct. 30, 2012. The department requested about a dozen modifications and less than two months later sent a letter to the city stating the plan addressed all state requirements.

HCD suggestions included that the city do more to encourage and facilitate the development of extremely low income households beyond allowing for single-room occupancy units.

In response, the city agreed to hold workshops with developers and provide financial or in-kind technical assistance.

HCD also recommended the city issue requests for proposals for development on the City Hall site as well as the parking lot on South Sierra Avenue.

The city has been working with a developer for an affordable housing complex on the latter.

“We will be issuing an RFP for both those lots,” Ott said.

The department also asked for additional information on the status of development at the Solana Beach train station.

City staff noted HCD accepted the draft housing plan after only one review, something that doesn’t happen often.

Council members also made the final two appointments to the city’s advisory committees, naming William Fuhrman and Thomas Alexander to the Public Safety Commission.

Seventeen vacancies to the city’s five committees were filled at the Jan. 23 meeting. Public Safety had five available positions but only four applicants. Morey Rahimi and incumbents David Bittar and Bernhard Geierstanger were appointed.

Dean Pasko listed Public Safety as his second choice but was named to his first preference, the View Assessment Commission.

Had council members re-appointed Georgia Wood to View Assessment, Pasko could have been named to Public Safety, leaving only one vacancy. They chose not to do so and did not reply to emails asking why.

Alexander’s term on Public Safety was expiring when appointments were initially made. Ott said he wanted to return but his application wasn’t submitted in time.

Other applicants included Paul Bishop, who already serves on View Assessment, and Molly Fleming. None of the 10 applicants not appointed to the various commissions Jan. 23 reapplied during the two-week reposting period.

Councilwoman Lesa Heebner asked staff to review all commissions to ensure they are providing a service to the community, don’t put an undue burden on staff and clearly state the mission and duties for each group.

She said some Parks and Recreation commissioners thought they would be designing parks rather than planning events, the main responsibility for that committee.