The Solana Beach City Council has approved the site of Distillery West for a teen-age nightclub, but the city manager has not yet decided whether Richard Henry Vander will receive a permit to run such a club.
After two dozen teen-agers and half a dozen parents turned out to support Vander, the council agreed unanimously Monday night that the site on Sierra Avenue near the city's beachfront park is a suitable spot for a non-alcoholic disco for youths age 16 through 19.
The decision on whether to issue a permit to Vander rests with City Manager Michael Huse, who has delayed his decision so the San Diego County Sheriff's Department can check the background of three new employees who Vander says will help manage the club.
The Sheriff's Department recommended against issuing a permit to Vander, who has a criminal record in San Diego and in Texas.
Sheriff's Opinion Considered
Huse won't say how he is leaning, but did say he would find it difficult to justify overriding the recommendation of the Sheriff's Department. He said his decision on Vander will probably be made within a week.
Mayor Margaret Schlesinger said she was surprised at the backing Vander received, given recent disclosures about his criminal record.
"The interesting thing is that we still have parents coming down and talking about how great the club is," she said. "Solana Beach has a tremendous need for a teen club. The parents are almost desperate for somewhere for the teens to go."
Schlesinger said the controversy has left her troubled.
"Frankly, I have some problems with the things about his background that have been revealed," she said. "I think if he wanted to run a restaurant or a shoe store that's one thing, but a teen-age club is something different.
"We have a special responsibility to make sure that people who work with teens are of the highest moral character and responsibility."
Hearing Focused on Routine
The Monday night land-use hearing did not deal with Vander's suitability to run a nightspot. Rather, it dealt with the more cut-and-dried issues of parking, lighting, noise levels, building capacity, compliance with building codes, and where the teens will wait before the club opens each night.
Planning Director Steven Apple had recommended approval of the land-use application as long as several restrictions, such as ensuring that nearby condominiums are not disturbed, are followed.
"Under state law, the background of the applicant is not part of the discussion over land use," he said.
In the permit application process, however, the character of the applicant is a key consideration.
Vander promised to do anything necessary to win permission to reopen the club for teen-agers. Distillery West would be the only nightspot for teen-agers in the beach communities of North County.
"I want to run a good, clean place for kids, that's all," Vander told the council.
He was backed by a small group of teens and parents.
'Dance and Let Off Steam'
"My husband and I spent the evening there," said Pamela Inman, an Encinitas resident and mother of two teen-agers. "We feel it is a good outlet for teens. . . . Teens can dance and let off steam rather than hanging out in unknown areas."
Jeremy Lamont, 18, a Cardiff resident and June graduate of San Dieguito High School, said that, without Distillery West, North County teens are left with "wild parties where it's drugs, alcohol and sex flat-out, or movies where it's more sex and violence, or bowling, which is totally unappealing to young people."
Most teens find Vander's criminal record irrelevant, Lamont said.
"I think he's a nice guy who's straight now," said Lamont, now a student at Palomar College. "I don't care what he did in the past as long as he's clean now. Richard legally paid his sentence but he's been paying ever since. Other people keep dragging him around because of it."
Vander, 35, served a 15-month prison term in Texas ending in 1980 for selling cocaine and receiving stolen property. He served 79 days in San Diego County Jail in 1981 after being convicted of receiving stolen property and was sent back to jail briefly in 1984 for violating probation.
Changed by Marriage
A former bartender and music store proprietor, Vander insists that his re-marriage several years ago and the traumatic experience of caring for a badly deformed child for three years have changed his life.
Vander's daughter died in November, 1984, of neurological damage suffered at birth; Vander and his wife, Tanya, used money received from a lawsuit to open Distillery West.
The relationship of the Vanders with the Sheriff's Department and Solana Beach officials has been both rocky and complicated. Vander opened Distillery West in April with a permit allowing young adults and chaperoned minors. He devised a plan whereby young teens would provide a signed release from a parent appointing him guardian for a night.