SOLANA BEACH — Affordable housing, short-term rentals and roundabouts were just a few of the big issues faced at a Sept. 20 City Council candidate forum, which drew about 250 people.
But several attendees and candidates alike were awaiting the discussion of one controversial topic that fell to the wayside — the 16-acre bluff-top resort that would potentially be erected in Del Mar, but largely affect Solana Beach residents.
“I’m really disappointed they didn’t bring it up,” said Steve Saunders, a retired Solana Beach resident in attendance. “It’s probably the biggest issue we’re going to face in terms of impact on our community.”
Shawn McClondon, Kristi Becker, Valeri Paul, Craig Nelson and Kelly Harless faced a handful of questions drafted by attendees, as they run for two vacant seats that will be left by Lesa Heebner and Peter Zahn in November.
Becker and Harless, when reached for comment after the event, were both hoping the resort would find its way into the discussion. Becker, a current member of the city’s Climate Action Commission and a former member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, is against the bluff-top resort plans as they currently stand. Harless “adamantly opposes” rezoning for the property, which would be necessary to accommodate the planned structures.
Candidates brought a diverse array of experience to the table: Nelson, currently a principal at Nelson Financial Consulting, has 25 years of experience as a finance executive in Corporate America, and thinks the council would benefit from “at least one cheap, old, curmudgeon-y finance guy.”
McClondon, a nine-year resident and digital marketing expert, has 18 years of experience in marketing and communications, and worked as a communications director for a city of San Diego council member. Harless is a program manager at USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute. Paul has more than 10 years of experience in publishing, and Becker — beyond her community involvement — is an attorney.
But the candidates did have a few things in common, including their affinity for the Solana Beach City email blasts and their opposition to roundabouts.
Harless, who advocates a “neighborhood first” approach, believes the Lomas Santa Fe Corridor should be beautified, but that the council ultimately needs to respect the public voice.
When asked about developing Solana Beach, candidates diverged, with Nelson seeking a “template” that developers could follow for their projects.
“Let’s get a pre-approved template so developers can get an idea of what will and won’t be approved,” Nelson said.
Harless disagreed with Nelson’s template idea, concerned that it might risk turning Solana Beach into a “cookie-cutter” community. Harless is member of the Solana Beach View Assessment Commission and a former member of the Parks & Recreation Commission.
Paul emphasized that she is “here to listen and learn” from the community.
When it came to short-term rentals, most of the candidates agreed there must be better enforcement for the existing ordinance.
Affordable housing proved to be a difficult topic, as Solana Beach is one of many cities in the county searching for creative solutions to a lack of affordable housing options. Nelson said “the battle” of affordable housing starts with the community — “everybody’s in favor of affordable housing until it moves in next door to them,” he said.
Nelson hopes the train station property development — “if (it) ever gets going” — would be a good opportunity, but otherwise it’s something the city should implement “bit by bit.”
McClondon supports more affordable housing options in the area, which might allow more people who already work in Solana Beach to actually afford living there. McClondon assured attendees that “the type of individual that’s going to come (to the city) based on affordable housing is still going to fit right into the community, because it’s still going to be…not affordable,” he said, prompting chuckles from the audience.
The candidates had mixed opinions regarding the city’s launch of community choice aggregation, or CCA, which allows cities to buy or generate renewable energy. Nelson and McClondon agreed that the city didn’t communicate the policy well with constituents.
“Most of the residents in my neighborhood had no idea what was going on,” McClondon said.
Mary Jane Boyd, a “professional agitator” and active member of the community who helped organize the forum, said the attendance was the highest she has seen at the city’s candidate forums. The forum was sponsored by four organizations: Solana Eastside Community Group, La Colonia de Eden Gardens, Save the Beach, and Condominium Organizations of South Sierra Avenue.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.