SOLANA BEACH — Nearing the end of what Mayor Dave Zito called a “very momentous year,” Councilwomen Kelly Harless and Kristi Becker took over the two vacant seats left by former council members Lesa Heebner and Peter Zahn on Dec. 19.
Heebner and Zahn were both appointed to the council in April after the sudden resignations of former council members Mike Nichols and Ginger Marshall. Both Heebner and Zahn served prior terms, and had stepped down from their council seats in 2016.
In a moment of déjà vu, Heebner approached the podium to receive gifts from council members and say a second round of departing words. Zito recognized Heebner for bringing her experience to the council, joking that he purposefully wore the same outfit as the last time Heebner stepped down, a la “Groundhog’s Day,” in the hopes that “maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to serve with you again.”
“I kind of suspect if you had known what you were getting into, you may not have decided to do it,” Zito said, referring to the near nine months of Heebner’s term in which the city begrudgingly underwent redistricting, launched its own community choice aggregation program, endured a lively debate on roundabouts, and approved the Solana 101 and Solana Highlands projects — the latter just two days before Heebner and Zahn’s retirement.
In a phone call with The Coast News, Heebner described the past year as a councilwoman as “intense,” but also “kind of fun.”
She said one of the reasons she came back to the council was to “make sure (Solana 101 and Solana Highlands) were done right, and we got what we needed for our community and for the developers.”
She also enjoyed mentoring Councilwomen Jewel Edson and Judy Hegenauer — who were both first-timers to the council when they were seated in 2016 — and supporting Harless and Becker in their campaigns.
Heebner served 12 years on the council prior to her most recent stint, while Zahn previously served a four-year term.
Although Zahn wasn’t present at the meeting, he sent a video to thank his fellow council members and city staff and offer a piece of outgoing advice: “act boldly.”
“Resist the institutional pressure to toe the line and play it safe,” he said. “Change can be scary to the people who we serve; but real progress, real improvement in people’s lives, seldom occurs without it.”
Zahn reflected on a contentious season of politics — particularly the “hurtful accusations” dealt via campaign mailers by an out-of-town Political Action Committee during the months leading up to the election.
“I hope these practices along with the electoral districts we were forced to create, don’t deter people from stepping forward and participating,” he said.
Dave Zito was once again appointed mayor after he took on the position in June. Jewel Edson will be deputy mayor.
Becker and Harless were sworn in and seated as new council members. Becker won 35.10 percent of the vote, or 3,886 votes in November, with Harless following close behind with 32.77 percent of the votes, or 3,628 votes.
In an email to The Coast News, Becker said one of her top priorities as a new council member is to implement measures laid out in the city’s Climate Action Plan.
She also looks forward to working with community members to find a potential suitable use for the .7-acre parcel north of La Colonia Park purchased by the city this year, and to help negotiate a development at the city’s train station that “will fit the area, support the business district, and enhance the character of our community.”
Becker anticipates one of the biggest hurdles ahead for the city will be the Del Mar Resort, and taking steps to help mitigate the project’s potentially negative impacts.
Harless is honing in on development concerns, looking ahead to coming decisions on a residential care facility proposed for a vacant lot on Genevieve Street, and continuing to work with developers on the Solana Highlands revitalization project to ensure that looming decisions on factors such as landscaping do not have “unintended consequences.”
She plans to work closely with residents to ensure they are “feel(ing) informed and empowered.”
“I’m looking forward to what I think will be a more positive year,” Harless said. “ … I think there’s some political fatigue going on, and people are ready to move past the negativity.”