The Coast News Group
The city is trying to create a use policy for the newly renovated Fletcher Cove Community Center, but residents and council members are having difficulty agreeing on costs and how to address neighborhood impacts. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Use policies create controversy

SOLANA BEACH — With input from City Council, representatives from city organizations and a committee that included planning, foundation and Civic and Historical Society members, staff presented recommendations for a use policy for Fletcher Cove Community Center at the March 14 meeting that resulted in more concerns than conditions.“We’ve created this beautiful asset and we’ve got an administrative nightmare here in terms of trying to deal with this on a fair basis that’s equitable to the folks that want to use it but also respects the concerns of the neighbors,” Councilman Tom Campbell said.

When the former Army barracks was undergoing a recent renovation, people who live near the facility were told it would be used for community events such as meetings, the Thursday singalongs and classes, Campbell said.

“Now we’re all of a sudden turning this into a retail operation and it really concerns me,” he said.

When the restoration was completed last July, there were numerous requests from the public to rent the building for special events, Danny King, the city’s environmental specialist, said.

In October, council members directed staff to look at similar facilities in the county to create a baseline for regulations and pricing.

The site is currently used for educational, nonprofit and city programs that were held in the building before the renovation. These include San Dieguito Union High School District adult education classes, summer camp and Del Sol Lions Club and Civic and Historical Society meetings.
Those groups can continue to hold their events at the facility and will not be subject to the new policies.

According to the draft proposal ceremonial, leisure, noncommercial one-time events such as birthday parties and receptions could be held at the community center on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Events would be limited to two per weekend.

Reservations must be made by a resident or someone at least 21 years old who is sponsored by a resident. The site cannot be rented on city-observed holidays that include Christmas and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, July Fourth and Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Fire laws limit occupancy to 50 people if tables are set up and 100 people if only chairs are used. Those numbers include service providers such as food servers and musicians.

Council members generally agreed with those provisions, but had differing opinions on other potential measures presented.

The staff recommendation was to limit music to a disc jockey or three-piece band.

“Certainly there are occasions when a disc jockey can make more noise than a three-piece band or a single person with a trumpet can make more noise than a three-piece band,” said Mary Jane Boyd, corresponding secretary for the Civic and Historical Society, which raised money to fund the renovation.

She said all music should comply with the city noise ordinance. Council members agreed. They also supported a provision that would require the front door and all street-facing windows to be closed when amplified music is used.

Staff was recommending alcohol be served but not sold. A representative from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said groups could sell it with the proper permits.

“We would like to have that option available,” Boyd said. “We want (the facility) to be available and fully utilized. … The purpose was to make it a gathering place for the community.”

Most council members agreed, except Mike Nichols, who said he thought alcohol should be prohibited at the site. They all agreed that if it is allowed at Fletcher Cove, it should be permitted at La Colonia Community Center, which is also a public facility.

Boyd said the Civic and Historical Society also did not want to limit alcohol consumption to inside the building.

“People will naturally, with their wine in their hand, go out to the west area to enjoy the view,” she said. But ABC laws don’t allow that unless the outside area is fenced off.

“We can’t allow you to do something if the ABC says you can’t do it,” Campbell said.

“One of the biggest concerns is parking,” King said.

There are 14 available spaces along Pacific Avenue. Two would be reserved for loading and unloading. Guests could use nearby public lots, but parking in adjacent neighborhoods would be discouraged and monitored by security guards if applicable.

“I think you’d be way off in left field from an enforcement standpoint and a fairness standpoint,” resident Eric Lodge said. “That is public parking and it’s available for the public.” Campbell, Nichols and Dave Roberts agreed.

Residents also had issues with the frequency of events.

“Put yourself in the position of someone living right next door,” Vicki Cypherd said. “If you have a big party going on two days out of the weekend every weekend that’s kind of impacting.

“You work all week and you come home and you kind of want peace and quiet on the weekends and here you’re going to have a party,” she said.

Cypherd also had concerns about noise and alcohol consumption.

“People are very uninhibited once they’ve had a few drinks,” she said. “So it’s not just the noise at the party. There’s that little period where they’re whooping and hollering as they are on their way back to their cars.”

Resident Gerri Retman also had concerns about neighborhood impacts. She once lived in the area when events were held at the community center before the renovation.

“It gets really tiring to listen to that same DJ music and that same wedding music every single weekend and it’s loud,” she said.

Councilwoman Lesa Heebner also used to live near the community center. She said she experienced the impacts and noise firsthand. “I heard it but I dealt with it,” she said.

Retman had other issues as well, including people urinating on sidewalks and in the gutters. She was also concerned about visiting the area when events are taking place.

“Is the public not going to have access to that area directly west of the building on weekends?” she asked. “I just can’t get behind that.”

Resident Bruce Berend, who lives in another section of the city, said he thought Retman was painting a worst-case scenario. He said at times he has similar problems with noise and parking.

“I don’t see why the neighbors down near the community center should be entitled to any more protections and insulation than we are in a regular neighborhood that’s not adjacent to a public beach and facilities, which they knew full well were there when they bought in,” he said.

Peter House, a member of the Solana Beach Community Foundation which also raised money for the renovation, said he sent a draft of the policies to residents in the neighborhood and all but one had either no comment or were “content” with a trial period.

Staff proposed a six-month trial of the new procedures, but most council members thought that wasn’t long enough. They decided to extend it until Dec. 31, 2012.

Suggested costs to rent the facility included a $500 refundable security deposit, $105 cleaning fee, $83 for insurance if alcohol isn’t served and $125 if it is, $25 an hour if a security guard is required and either $200 or $250 per hour with a three-hour minimum.

Heebner said either hourly rate was fine but she was leaning toward $250. Nichols and Campbell thought both suggestions were too low, and Roberts and Mayor Joe Kellejian thought they were too high.

“Twelve hundred dollars is outrageous to have a birthday party,” Roberts said.

Staff will present a revised draft of the policy at an upcoming meeting. If council members agree on the provisions it would have to come back once more before the trial period begins. But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

“If I lived down in that area I wouldn’t want to deal with this weekend after weekend after weekend,” Campbell said. “I’m going to have a hard time supporting this unless we can put some limitations on usage.”

“This is a good idea … especially on a trial basis, but I do want to get off on a real positive note,” Heebner said. “Let’s just start off on the right foot.”