By Raiza Giorgi
The owners of the Solvang Trolley were not only renewed for their license, but the Solvang City Council directed staff to come back with a recommendation at an upcoming meeting to extend it for five years.
“It’s been a really wild ride and would like to say thank you to everyone who wrote letters, came and spoke and gave us the time to listen to what we do,” said Clau Orona, owner of the Solvang Trolley. “Thank you so much; today we saw democracy at work and demanded our public officials to listen and exercised petitioning our government, the support was heard.”
The Orona family has owned and operated the Solvang Trolley for 13 years, and before that there have been several owners dating back to the 1970s giving tours of the city on the “Honen,” which is the Danish style streetcar. The Honen was created when Axel Nielsen of Nielsen’s Market hired local blacksmith Kris Klibo to make a motorized, Danish style streetcar in 1964 that would pick up shoppers from the Solvang Lutheran Home to take them to Nielsen’s Market, and they would also deliver groceries around the Santa Ynez Valley.
“We are just like any other business and do not get any special favor,” Orona said during public comment. “Yes we use the streets and my livelihood depends on this city. We answer questions about the town, especially who is open during the pandemic and I just want to help people have a great time while they are here. We have invited the council to come ride and you never have.”
She then asked Councilman Chris Djernaes to get off his device and pay attention while she was speaking, as he as shown in many past meetings to be texting, on his computer and sometimes even walking off the dais when people are speaking.
“We have never had to provide a full application every year, but I will do it,” Orona continued. “I also need to know not the day before it is due and I have provided a case study to see if we belong in town. The Solvang Trolley has been featured in many publications, spots on national and international TV.”
In the packet the Oronas provided, they state their tours are enjoyed by 15,000-20,000 visitors per year. Their staff is trained on local and Danish history and folklore, and they visit museums and historical sites. They are dressed in Danish costumes and they operate when temperature and other weather conditions are favorable. Their draft horses are all rescues, and also rotated to ensure each is properly exercised.
“The allegations that we squatted on the city lot and not paying rent are untrue,” Orona said. “We paid rent and are a benefit to the taxpayers, where the Cinderella Carriages came at an expense to the taxpayers.”
Orona’s mention of Cinderella Carriages referred to Julefest last winter when the City Council hired the outside carriage company from Riverside and paid them $7,300 to operate, and paid an additional $4,842 for their hotel rooms to stay. The City Attorney also stated he donated his stables to Cinderella Carriages to board their horses.
“We are not a monopoly, and we have had competition in the past and people quickly find out it’s darn hard and the economy dictates how many conveyances can operate,” Orona said.
Orona pointed out there are several other contributing factors to traffic congestion besides the trolley from closing Copenhagen Drive to companies who use the street to operate from the Solvang Surrey, to the Mokes and the pedicabs who do not require a special license to operate.
She also asked Djernaes to recuse himself from voting as he was the one who sought out the Cinderella Carriage company.
Public comment went for more than two hours with the speakers all in support for the Solvang Trolley. People stood up saying the Trolley’s historic significance was important to not only Solvang’s charm, but enhanced the business community with people coming specific for the trolley and patronizing other businesses.
“The Danish Sisterhood urges you to support the Solvang Trolley,” said Marion Hallum.
Former Solvang Trolley owner David Esdaile also said it was insulting and shameful to question if the Solvang Trolley was viable in Solvang.
“This is a 24/7 commitment and everyone who has owned it has put blood, sweat and tears into it,” he said. “This business does more to preserve the heritage of Solvang and you should be doing everything in your power to preserve it. It benefits you running the city, and other businesses.”
Susie Pierson said Djernaes was embarrassing and she was appalled at the last meeting when he got up and left his seat while Orona was speaking and shook his head.
“Some of you are exhibiting bullish behavior and the Oronas are amazing people and please do what is right for Solvang and renew their license,” she said.
Nancy Hunsicker stated on behalf of the large equestrian community in the valley that they all support the Oronas and the charm of the trolley serves as ambassadors to the horse community.
During council comments, Councilman Robert Clarke said we wants to approve the contract and he represents his constituents.
“I am sick of lumping this council in one voice and I support the trolley — it is a staple in this town,” Clarke said.
Councilwoman Karen Waite said she agreed and added the Cinderella Carriages was to try something new, but could see how that directly impacted the Oronas business.
“I have never seen the vitriol from a single council member have this kind impact. I don’t want to get rid of the trolley, not a single point in time,” Mayor Ryan Toussaint said.
He added he was the one who suggested a multi-year contract.
Djernaes said he wanted to see the data and questioned why the Oronas only pay $75 for the license renewal.
“They have a de facto monopoly and I feel there is room for more than one,” he said. “Do they pay the city? No, what is their contribution? Do they pay encroachment fees, sales tax, revenue share? I don’t know, and I don’t like monopolies.”
The Solvang Trolley has a special license, not a contract or “franchise monopoly,” to operate within city limits, and the council must hold a public hearing before renewal according to the city ordinance.
The current ordinance states, ”It shall be unlawful for any person to operate any type of conveyance for hire for which any animal or animals is or are the primary motive power, on any streets or roads owned and/or maintained by the city, without first obtaining, and thereafter maintaining in good standing, a license permitting such activities.”
The Oronas pay $75 per conveyance a renewal fee every year as they stated during public comment, and they also own and operate the Solvang Trolley Ice Cream shop in Solvang, which pays rent, sales tax, and other licensing and taxes.
Djernaes then said he wanted to postpone a decision and started speaking to the crowd when Toussaint stepped in and said he was closing council discussion which irked Djernaes and they started shouting. Toussaint then started banging his gavel and hit so hard it broke.
Toussaint then proposed the Solvang Trolley get a five-year renewal and City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt reminded the mayor he had to approve the license as is for one year and recommended bringing it back for an amendment.
The license was then approved 3-1 with Djernaes saying “absolutely not,” and Councilman Daniel Johnson being absent.
Djernaes then stormed off the dais, returned to collect his belongings and left the meeting.
To watch the meeting in its entirety visit www.YouTube.com and search City of Solvang to see their meeting video history.