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Aiming for curb appeal and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Solvang City Council on Monday voted 3-2 to demolish and replace the two restrooms at Hans Christian Andersen Park with prefabricated or design-build restrooms that are expected to come with a hefty price tag.

Earlier this fall, the city requested bids to completely remodel the aging facilities — originally built in the 1970s and '80s — to meet ADA requirements, add overall interior facelifts, and refurbish plumbing and electrical components.

J&P Construction of Santa Maria made the lowest bid, offering to remodel the restrooms by the park's skate park and tennis court for $213,059. They quoted the remodeling of the skate park restroom, the smallest of the two, at a minimum cost of $96,000.

Solvang's Director of Parks and Recreation Fred Lageman said if the council rejected the bids and decided to replace the restrooms the cost lies between $125,000 to $175,000 for each structure. The estimates don’t take into account demolition costs and the fact the new structures might lack the Danish “character” the buildings currently have without additional customization costs.

Mayor Jim Richardson supported remodeling the facilities.

“I think, for a sense of economics, that we ought to consider the J&P construction bid,” said Richardson.

His suggestion garnered support from Councilman Neill Zimmerman, while the rest of the council voted to replace the buildings.

“I don’t think that we’re obligated to take the lowest bid. I think that we’re obligated to do the best thing. The $350,000 may be reduced,” Councilwoman Karen Waite said. “I feel that this is something that should be done quickly because it’s been out there for so long and there hasn’t been enough attention paid to it.”

Using a pre-fabricated or design-build restroom would require additional funding of $25,000 to $75,000 from the general fund to replace each building.

City Attorney Dave Fleishman said the ADA compliance is necessary to prevent legal action against the city in the event that a claim is filed.

“As long as we’re on a trajectory or path to improving to ADA standards the chances of being found liable or having to come into compliance as a result of a court order is fairly low. The courts are looking for compliance in that type of situation rather than sanctioning the public agencies,” said Fleishman.

Protocol for seat vacancy dissolved

In other business the council voted 4-1, with Zimmerman voting no, to dissolve a controversial city protocol that recently allowed the appointment of Karen Waite to a vacant seat on the council after a month of deadlock.

The city protocol, approved in 2009, required the council to look to the last election and offer appointment to the runner-up in that election if a vacancy were to occur. While protocol isn’t law, it is meant to provide guidance to councils.

As directed, city staff provided a version of the protocol that showed a four-year timeline with options for special elections and council appointments in the event a vacancy occurs.

One option was the next runner-up in the election be appointed if a vacancy occurs within 90 days after an election is certified.

There were two options for special elections during that four-year time period depending on when the vacancy occured.

The first option would be for the city to use an all-mail ballot:

  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in May of each year;
  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each even-numbered year; or,
  • The last Tuesday in August of each year.

The other option would be to participate in a regular election with Santa Barbara County, with dates established by state code as:

  • The second Tuesday of April in each even-numbered year;
  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each odd-numbered year;
  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in June each year; or,
  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November each year.

Santa Barbara County typically holds primary elections in June and general elections in November of even years.

If Solvang called for a special election on an election day that the county wasn’t participating in, the city would have to administer an all-mail ballot, which would cost about $28,000 for up to six candidates.

Regardless of the type of election, there’s a state requirement for the city to call a special election 114 days prior to the election date.

After seeing the timeline laid out, the merits of a special election remained in question for the council, although that was the method preferred by Zimmerman.

“These are all elected positions we’re talking about here," he said. "You have to get elected. This isn’t an appointment seat.”

Richardson opposed the idea because of cost.

“We should be given the opportunity to save the city a couple of dollars by at least interviewing or developing an appointment process that allows representation by the constituency of the city and doesn’t cost the city $30,000 or more,” he said.

The mayor added, “The special election will have a time period greater than 114 days without a full-blown council. That’s over three months. That’s seven council meetings that we may not be able to conduct the city business.”

He thought the issue should be resolved by the council that was seated at the time the vacancy occurred.

After much debate, the council opted to follow state law, which states that in the event of an unexpected vacancy the council decides between an appointment process or a special election.

The council also voted to cancel its next meeting on Nov. 27, which falls on the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend. The council's next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11.

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This story has been updated to correct the record of a vote and correct a name.