Seacoast Drive won’t be getting “pedestrian scale” lighting with solar panels, thanks to a 3-2 vote by the City Council.
Supporters had hoped the project would help energize the waterfront at night, encourage investment in IB and benefit the city as a whole.
But last week, council members who opposed the idea said that if there are any more delays, the state could take away $1.6 million in redevelopment funding. Mayor Jim Janney and Councilmen Brian Bilbray and Jim King opposed the plan. Members Lorie Bragg and Ed Spriggs backed it.
The project would have replaced 22 30-foot street lights with 34 lights 13 to 16 feet high.
New street lighting was approved last fall. Since then, Spriggs has pushed to add pedestrian scale lighting to the project.
Spriggs called the hotel replacing the Seacoast Inn the largest investment in IB in a generation, and said paying around $100,000 to add 40 pedestrian height street lights with solar panels is a small price to pay to assure good lighting on the beach street at night.
Pacifica Companies, the hotel’s owner, agreed—and sent a letter to the City Council in favor of pedestrian scale lighting the day of the meeting, March 21.
Allison Rolfe, the company's planning director, wrote: “We only get one chance to make a first impression with our hotel guests, and the audience of the community will have a significant impact on that impression and the quality of their visit.”
Solar-powered lights, her letter said, “have the added benefit of supporting the city’s and Pacifica’s vision of promoting the area as an ecotourism destination.”
Beachfront business and homeowners also voiced their support for pedestrian scale lighting at the meeting.
Paul Meschle, owner of Sea Breeze Apartments, and real estate agents Richard and Cheryl Shaumburg attended the meeting along with property owner Robert Miller and others.
“I know that’s a biased view from me,” Miller said, “but I can’t imagine anyone on Seacoast Drive having a business that wouldn’t be in favor of it, and the ones I’ve talked to are in favor of it—and I think we have to do it right the first time.”
Mayor Janney said he appreciates that pedestrian scale lighting could improve the experience of local residents and hotel guests, but he couldn’t support funding something that didn’t receive complete community input or go through the same process as other proposed improvements.
“I understand what everybody’s trying to do with the lighting,” he said, “but I believe if we don’t maintain a process, we are going to get ourselves in big trouble in a short period of time.
Improved lighting would be good for other parts of the city to improve safety and reduce crime, Janney said.
“As many know, I don’t consider Seacoast the end all for all of Imperial Beach. I still worry about those folks that live to the east side of Ninth Street. And from that standpoint, I’m having a hard time doing it.”
Janney also said he was concerned that the state could take away money from redevelopment projects.
Councilman King said a lot of people have visions of the future of IB, but “many people don’t realize the severity of in regard to RDA monies which supported a lot of the projects in our city.”
Optimism for the city’s future needs to be balanced with a tough reality, he said.
“That wouldn’t give us the immediate thing we would like to see when the hotel opens,” he said, “but it’s not going to make a lot of difference if our funds are taken away by the state before that hotel gets open.
“And if the street looks like it does now, we will have achieved nothing except for a lot of debate about something that is a very difficult decision.”
Councilman Spriggs, who lives on Seacoast Drive, said City Council had the chance to do something to increase the economic potential of the entire city.
He called the new hotel “the most important development in modern times in Imperial Beach” and went so far as to say that without redevelopment money, the hotel’s success is critical to the city’s survival in the future.
“You’ve got a street that’s the engine of our growth for the future. Let’s face it,” he said.
“If we’re going to get new investments to increase our tax base, if we can’t get it on Seacoast Drive, with all the amenities close to the ocean and everything else, and the new hotel, we’re not going to get it anywhere, and we must have it without redevelopment to create the tax base, the TOT, the sales tax revenues that we need to survive as a city.”
Councilwoman Bragg agreed that a successful beachfront helps the rest of the city.
“A rising tide raises all boats, and I’ve always looked at Seacoast Drive as our boat that we can all get into and row to prosperity,” she said.
After the vote struck down pedestrian scale lighting, Spriggs proposed that if a portion of the $2 million allotted for the light installation is left after the first set of lights is installed, then the remainder could be invested in the solar lights.
That vote was struck down as well by another 3-2 vote.