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In Solana Beach, a different type of party politics

A seaside community center is a great party venue. A ballot measure aims to make it more so. Opponents fear a host of problems.

By Tony Perry

5:39 PM PST, January 20, 2014

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SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — The community center atop a seaside bluff here seems an ideal spot for a beach party: 1,000-plus square feet of indoor space, lots of windows, a grassy area for when the party spills outside, plus picnic benches and gorgeous views of the surf and the sunset.

Therein lies the problem.

A squabble about party rules has led to an unusual and controversial measure on the Feb. 11 ballot in this upscale community (population 13,000) 20 miles north of San Diego.

City policy limits parties at Fletcher Cove Community Center to 50 people, greatly restricts live music (no drums, horns, DJs or amplification), and limits drinks to two per person (wine and beer only).

Proposition B would increase the attendance limit to 100, largely quash the live-music ban and remove the limit on drinks. It would allow eight parties per month, up from two.

Parties would continue to be restricted to weekends, and must end by 10 p.m. But Proposition B boosters say the looser rules are necessary to make the center a true community asset.

Opponents fear a nightmare of parking, noise and rowdiness, particularly during graduation-party season and maybe even when horse players from the nearby Del Mar racetrack are looking for a place to blow off steam.

The issue is so hot that normally candid San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former Solana Beach councilman, is not taking sides and declines to comment.

The community center has been a beachfront landmark for decades. A former barracks for the Civilian Conservation Corps, the structure was moved to Solana Beach from Vista in 1944.

The center was the site of civic merry-making for years before it fell into disrepair. A private fundraising effort, matched by an allocation from the city, led to a $370,000 renovation and a grand reopening in July 2011.

For two years, despite numerous meetings and heated debates, the City Council could not agree on party rules. They were finally adopted late last year. A petition drive by opponents then qualified Proposition B to overturn those rules.

"It's just a nice community thing to have," said former Councilwoman Marion Dodson, a Proposition B backer. "To put all these rules in place so it can only be used very little is contrary to everything the center is meant for."

Dodson said her daughter had hoped to get married at the center but found the rules too restrictive. The wedding was at Dodson's house instead.

Opponents of the measure, including neighbors of the community center, say the city is taking a risk, particularly with the traffic and parking hassles that are sure to occur. The one-acre site has only two parking places, both reserved for the disabled.

"This will really change the character of our little town," said Kelly Harless, a Proposition B opponent and chair of Friends of Fletcher Cove. "We've managed to be a seaside community separate from those other beach towns; this is not Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, even Del Mar."

Opponents say some parties had to be shut down in the 1990s because of noise and misbehavior. They say the parking situation is even worse now, after a new park and playground at nearby Fletcher Cove eliminated dozens of spots.

The pro-B side says stories about parties of the past are largely myth — and the shutdowns that did take place were attributable to overflowing toilets in the aging building.

While the rules dispute has raged, the center has been used mainly for adult-education classes, city staff gatherings and community sing-alongs.

If Proposition B wins, enforcement of loud music would lie with the city's noise ordinance. Drinking would be regulated by state Alcoholic Beverage Control statutes.

Opponents say the measure forfeits the city's right to set center-specific rules for music and drinking. Backers reject that, saying all parties need a city permit, which gives officials authority to turn down possible rowdies.

Only the vote will determine how the public feels. But there seems a pent-up desire to use the center for fun.

"It looks so nice," said Kim Kelley, gazing at the center while guiding two women, lying on the center grass, through stretching exercises. "Definitely a great place for a party."

tony.perry@latimes.com