The Coast News Group
Comments made by some council members over a use policy for Fletcher Cove Community Center prompted a former mayor to seek an apology. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Comments made by some council members over a use policy for Fletcher Cove Community Center prompted a former mayor to seek an apology. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Feud continues over community center use policy

SOLANA BEACH — It may not have been a World War II Army barracks, as was previously reported, but Fletcher Cove Community Center could well be remembered for a historic battle. 

A 1935 Civilian Conservation Corps barracks, the bluff-top building was home to community meetings and classes after it was moved from Vista to its current location on Pacific Avenue in 1944.

It was also used for private celebrations that many say occasionally got out of control, resulting in loud music, traffic, overconsumption of alcohol and partygoers sometimes urinating on nearby yards.

When termites, the ocean atmosphere and a lack of maintenance eventually got the best of the approximately 1,000-square-foot facility, the parties stopped but community groups continued using the dilapidated center.

In 2007, when the building was ranked second on a list of 15 facilities that needed to comply with accessibility laws, city officials took advantage of federal funding opportunities and launched a renovation effort that was mostly completed in 2011, just in time for the city’s 25th anniversary celebration.

But even before that ribbon-cutting ceremony, residents wanted to know when they could again use the facility for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other celebrations.

Those living near the facility — some new and others who remembered issues from three decades earlier — set out to avoid repeating history. They worked with city officials and community members who wanted to use the facility for weekend celebrations — many of them donors to the $370,000 renovation effort — to work out a compromise.

Most issues were resolved except alcohol consumption, which isn’t allowed at any city facility. Council members were set to make the final decision in June but when it was obvious there wouldn’t be consensus, they tabled the discussion.

That prompted a group of residents to gather signatures for a citizen initiative so voters could decide what events could take place at the center.

In August City Council adopted a 14-month trial use policy, but those behind the initiative said it was too restrictive. At that point they had collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative.

According to election laws, they had six months to turn it in but they submitted it in August. Had they waited a week or so, the initiative could have been added to the primary election in June.

The decision to turn it in early will cost the city more than $200,000 for a special election.

The group, known as Friends of Fletcher Cove Community Center, then sent a mailer to residents urging them to contact City Council members and tell them to adopt the initiative rather than hold a special election.

“The decision to hold a special election is entirely up to the City Council,” the mailer states.

That comment angered council members, who shared their opinions at the Oct. 9 meeting.

“Tom Golich, Jim Nelson and Mary Jane Boyd and a lot of other people who are afraid to identify themselves … decided to put forth an initiative,” said Councilman Tom Campbell, who admittedly is not one to hold back his opinions.

“These initiative sponsors and their financial backers decided to play Washington-style politics,” Campbell said. “They adopted tactics that projected deceit, lies, misinformation and intimidation. They hired a high-priced San Francisco lawyer and … even sent this misleading mailer out and they haven’t disclosed who’s paid for it. It just makes you wonder.

“The initiative sponsors and their financial backers and their paid representatives told the Solana Beach citizens and voters that by signing the petition the matter would go to a vote of the people,” he added. “They didn’t bother to tell the citizens and the voters that the cost of a special election would be at least $200,000.

“The Friends of the Fletcher Cove Community center had up to six months to turn in their signed petitions but they did so early and they did it on purpose,” added Campbell, who never supported alcohol consumption at the site. “They clearly did this on purpose and they knew what they were doing.

“They wanted to try to place the responsibility of the cost of this election on the shoulders of the City Council, when in fact it’s their responsibility. … Perhaps the founders, Mr. Golich, Mr. Nelson and Miss Mary Jane Boyd and some donors like Mr. (Peter) House and Mrs. (Carol) Childs and the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society will belly up and pay for the special election but we know that that’s not going to happen.

“This initiative, in my opinion, is a very bad law because it can only be modified by a public vote,” Campbell continued. “There will be problems. The present and future councils will not be able to fix these problems. We’ll have to try to figure out how to take this to a vote. That is ridiculous. If this initiative becomes law, watch out because the next time another group of NIMBY friends come up with a wild proposal it could impact your neighborhood due to the foolish acts of these crazy folks.”

“This is a really disturbing situation,” said Councilman Peter Zahn, who supported alcohol consumption during a limited trail period. He said the initiative proponents “wanted a special election … and now obviously the campaign has changed.”

“It’s really about now saying, ‘We don’t really want a special election but we want to paint the … City Council as being responsible for forcing this,’” he said. “I think it’s a brilliant campaign but brilliance doesn’t mean good and for the good of the city all the time. I’m really disturbed by this and I’m wondering what their intentions really were.”

“The history is really a history of deception on the part of the proponents of the initiative,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who also supported a trial period with alcohol allowed. “I am thoroughly disgusted with them.”

Heebner said people who contacted her had no idea “they were being used as pawns in a political game.”

“There are people who are … political vultures, people who want power in this area,” she said. “One of them is Mary Jane Boyd.

“Marion Dodson, you were voted out of office in 2000,” Heebner said. “It’s been 13 years. You talk about ‘Not in my backyard.’ You’re backyard’s in Rancho Santa Fe. You grace us with your presence, wagging your fingers at us often … but this is getting a little bit far. And the other person whose money might be used in this, it’s just a game for him.

“So those people want political power and they are co-opting the wonderful warm memories that a lot of people in this community, many people who are a little bit older, have had of Fletcher Cove Community Center,” Heebner said. “Those people had lovely, lovely parties there and … they want to see that happen again.

“And they really truly believe that they want just the policy changed,” she added. “But they have been co-opted and led by the noses by these individuals who are wanting political power back. It’s as simple as that, folks.

“It has nothing to do with really the policy of Fletcher Cove Community Center. It has to do with political power here in our fine little city,” Heebner said. “We’re being blackmailed … so I’ve had it with you all. I’m really am disappointed.”

Those comments prompted former Mayor Celine Olson to ask Heebner and Campbell at the Oct. 23 meeting to apologize to the “people they publicly humiliated” and “to all who believe in our constitutional right to petition government.”

Olson, 88, said the council members acted “rudely.”

In response, Heebner said she stands behind “everything I said.” She said council members give up a lot of personal and financial privacy.

“What you don’t give up is your First Amendment rights,” she said. “I believe very strongly in what I said. I expressed my opinion. I stand by it. I would say it again. And I might even add a few things.”

The city attorney said council members have a right to express their opinions.

“There were some allegations of defamation or slander,” City Attorney Johanna Canlas said. “Council members actually have an absolute privilege under the civil code that says that you are not to be prosecuted and you are immune from prosecution for that kind of slanderous alleged slander statement because … you’re voicing your opinion and you are not to be curtailed in expressing your opinion that is before you as part of your legislative function.”

Boyd said her group didn’t do the math when trying to figure out when to turn in the initiative.

“The people I worked with did not do that,” she said. “We learned about all of this as we moved forward.”

She also said events at the community center will be governed by state and local laws that cover noise, traffic and alcohol use.

Council members at the Oct. 9 meeting ordered a report on the impacts of the initiative. They must adopt the initiative or order a special election before Nov. 8.