Editor’s note: In the print version of this article and in an earlier online version, the headline incorrectly stated that the two business had their licenses revoked. The revocation was NOT of their business licenses but of their business certificates. The Coast News Group regrets the error.
SOLANA EACH — A lawyer and a psychologist recently learned the hard way the importance of reading and understanding a document before signing it.
At the Feb. 11 meeting, Solana Beach City Council members revoked the business certificates of attorney Myra Chack Fleischer and Robert A. Simon, who holds a doctorate in forensic and clinical psychology, because operating their practices from a home at 404 Santa Helena proved to violate city zoning regulations.
Fleischer and Simon submitted applications for home-occupation business certificates Sept. 8 and 15, respectively. The form they both signed states that issuance of the certificate is not evidence that the applicant is in compliance with all city ordinances. It also states that the applicant agrees to abide by the two municipal codes listed on the back of the application.
Councilman Tom Campbell asked if they had read the application before signing it.
“I don’t recall if I read it or not at that time,” Fleischer said.
“I’m aware of the provisions of it,” Simon said. “I can’t tell you if I specifically read it prior to signing it.”
According to the municipal codes, professional and medical offices are prohibited within the area where the home is located. The ordinances state that a person must live in the house in order to run a business from it. The home occupation is limited to “only the residents of the home and one employee.” It also must not cause “increased noise (and) traffic.”
Shortly after Fleischer and Simon opened their practices, the city began receiving complaints from residents. That prompted a visit from Tom Warden, the city’s code enforcement officer. Based on Warden’s observation and meetings with Fleischer and Simon, city staff determined the use did not conform to the requirements for a home occupation.
Fleischer and Simon didn’t deny their businesses were not in compliance with city codes. Both said they fully disclosed their plans to the city. In fact, on her application for the certificate that was approved, Fleischer describes her business as a “law office with full time and part time employees.”
Fleischer said before purchasing the house, she met with Maeve Keppler in the Planning Department “and explained exactly what I was planning to do, including the exact nature of my business, the number of employees and the fact that my husband and I would not be living there full time.”
“She did not tell me that our proposed use was prohibited in a residential zone,” Fleischer said. “Instead she enthusiastically told me to send in my application and if it was accepted, there was no problem. She said that this was the norm in Solana Beach.”
“We acted in good faith. We acted with complete transparency,” said Simon, adding that he asked Warden and Keppler “several times and was told several times that our use would not be a problem.”
Once they realized they were violating city codes, Fleischer and Simon began looking for an alternate site for their practices. They said they have secured a location, but it won’t be ready for occupancy until April 1. They asked council members to allow the certificates to remain valid until then.
“If you revoke the business certificates tonight my staff and I will lose their income,” Fleischer said. “Among us there are 12 children to support. Obviously in this awful economy it would hurt a lot of people to close our businesses, even temporarily.” Fleischer said the disruption would also have a “drastic impact” on her clients.
Although sympathetic, resident Suzanne Rincon said because Fleischer and Simon could potentially serve clients who are victims of domestic violence and abuse, their businesses do not belong in a residential neighborhood.
“I’m sorry that other people’s lifestyles may be disrupted by the business license being revoked,” Rincon said. “But I’m also sorry that my lifestyle has also had to change because of this.
“I cannot leave my 13-year-old home alone to go get a carton of milk at the store anymore because I don’t know who is going to be coming to my door by mistake or standing on my front step, which has occurred, and also on my front lawn having confrontations with my husband and, thank God, not my children.”
Prior to Feb. 11, Council members and city staff met three times in closed session. Although those discussions are confidential, the city attorney said the negotiations “ended up being futile.”
“There was no agreement,” Johanna Canlas said. “The terms that were proposed were unacceptable for either party.”
Simon said he was told he could maintain his certificate until April 1 if he signed a release of liability. Fleischer said the city made her the same offer, “but we weren’t given enough time to respond,” she said. “My attorney asked for time to work things out, but my understanding was that no matter what, it was going to a full City Council hearing.”
Council spent little time discussing the matter before voting unanimously to immediately revoke both certificates.
“Our job up here is to take the emotion out of this discussion and stick to the rules,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “I think there is more than sufficient evidence … that there is a gross violation here of what the intended use was for this piece of property.”
“I believe … we went above and beyond the call of duty,” he said. “I’m really saddened it had to get to this public hearing.”
“Anyone willing to purchase a home ought to do their due diligence and not rely on a conversation,” Mayor Mike Nichols said.