The Solvang City Council by a majority vote last week returned representation of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce to a city tourism advisory body, unraveling years of work by the previous council to release what members then saw as the grip of old-guard alliances.
In a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Robert Clarke dissenting, on Aug. 23, the council appointed Solvang Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tracy Beard to its newly formed Tourism Advisory Committee. Other appointees include Max Hanberg, Barry Prescott, Kim Jensen, John Martino, Cheryl Shallenberger and Alexander Grenier.
The committee’s duties include making recommendations to the council regarding tourism and marketing initiatives and plans, the feasibility and effectiveness of tourism and marketing initiatives and plans, the selection of consultants and their scopes of work, and marketing budget allocations.
Up to seven members will serve two-year terms. Each member of the City Council appointed one member to the committee, with two additional members selected from the pool of applicants by a majority vote of the council.
Grenier and Beard, both chamber employees, were selected over additional applicants including Sal Orona, Constance Cody, Jennifer Soni, Linda Johansen, Scott Thaler and Matthew Bieszard.
Beard, the Chamber and the now-disbanded Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau were all targets of cost-cutting efforts under the previous council, most notably former Councilman Chris Djernaes.
Djernaes handily won his seat in 2018 and, with the majority support of the remaining council, fulfilled campaign promises that included bringing to task city administrators and contractors.
While sitting on the council, Djernaes was an outspoken advocate for a city administration restructuring, which resulted in the replacement of the city manager and city attorney, dissolution of long-standing contracts with the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, and restructuring of its relationship with the Solvang Chamber of Commerce.
Djernaes was recalled in November 2020 by citizens who, among other things, claimed Djernaes disregarded the Ralph M. Brown Act — the state law requiring governments to do the public’s business in public — and violated the council’s code of ethics, as well as ignored the will of the voters.
The petition cited Djernaes’s support for developing the 7.1-acre Old Lumberyard parcel as well as repeated incidents lacking common courtesy, perceived acts of mockery and disdain of citizens, defamation, bullying and harassment.
Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Orona and council members Jim Thomas and Mark Infanti were all newly seated by that election process. All had been supported by the Chamber and Beard during their election campaigns. On election night, the three convened on Casa Cassara Winery Tasting Room for a victory party sponsored by Dan Cassara and Beard.
Clarke, who voiced a strong “no” when called to vote Aug. 23, initially urged the council to consider Soni and Johansen as citizens “dialed in” to the community.
“I’d like to get a different viewpoint,” Infanti said.
Then Beard, an 18-year resident of Solvang, took the podium during public comment on the issue to provide some background and advocate for herself.
“I would very much like to see the bridging of the Chamber of Commerce and the tourism community,” Beard said. “We’ve had a disconnect on and off where we were part of the tourism community, the Chamber was, and it actually branched away from the Chamber ... and became the CVB, then we dissolved it. We’ve really worked hard to branch, and I’d like to see a spot for my board or for myself on there so we can really make this a business-economic ... community for ourselves and for what we want to bring for future tourism and economic development and growth ... ."
Thomas followed with comments in support of Beard.
“I think Tracy’s made good points,” he said. “Not only has she made good points, she’s shown so much that she’s done for the community in the work that she does. I’m certainly a big supporter and certainly would like to see her have a position on this board.”
Orona followed with the second needed to take it to the vote.
“I do think it is important for local businesses to be represented in the advisory committee. And, you know, it’s a shame we can’t have everybody, because we have such great applicants that have such great expertise, but uh, yeah, I’ll second having Tracy on the advisory committee,” Orona said.
This article has been corrected to remove the addition of Perry Baker to the Tourism Advisory Committee. Baker was not appointed to the committee.