By Elijah McKee
September 20, 2022 (Lemon Grove) — “Five years or 15 years is not enough time to keep the deed on these to stay affordable,” said Alysson Snow as she laid out her vision for housing developments in Lemon Grove. “I’m looking for things that are at least 50 years. That they can’t do anything with it that’s not affordable until the expiration of those 50 years.”
Snow leads a newly founded legal clinic through the University of San Diego (USD) called the Housing Rights Project — and she is also one of five candidates vying for open seats on the Lemon Grove City Council this election year.
She officially qualified for the ballot last month, and has been endorsed by the Spring Valley Democratic Club, the San Diego County Democrats, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, former San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry, as well as several current school board members and city councilmembers.
Given the four-year term lengths for councilmembers in Lemon Grove, Jennifer Mendoza is the only current official whose seat could be challenged this year. However, Councilmember Jerry Jones has also decided to retire after nearly 20 years as a councilmember, creating an open seat and the possibility for two new faces to join the dais.
For elections within San Diego County this year, every active registered voter will automatically be granted a mail ballot. They will begin being sent out on October 8, and early voting via ballot drop boxes will begin October 10. All in-person poll centers will be open from November 5 through Election Day on November 8.
In the Lemon Grove field, Councilmember Mendoza has announced her bid for reelection and is the only incumbent in the race. The other four candidates include Snow, as well as Blanca Brown, Jessyka Heredia, and Stephanie Klein.
East County Magazine sat down with all five women for in-depth interviews in order to learn more about them and their campaigns. Watch for spotlights on each of the candidates in our Lemon Grove communities section.
“My heart and soul is in Lemon Grove,” said Snow, who moved to the area back in 2010 for it’s family-friendliness, ample space for kids to grow up, and kind neighbors. “I’ve raised five kids in this community.”
For most of that tenure, Snow ran the Consumer Protection division at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego for 13 years, where she represented low-income people struggling with issues related to businesses: things like reverse mortgages, student loans, auto fraud, and repossessions.
During that time, she helped establish a bankruptcy self help center, as well as two debt defense clinics via law libraries. She even got one large lender to dismiss 500 cases of debt collection during the pandemic.
Yet her current passion is the housing rights work she has begun at her USD School of Law Professor position. She was asked to run the new clinic’s work regarding affordable housing, evictions, foreclosures, and predatory lending based on her prior experience fighting for consumers. She now tries to help the housed stay housed and the unsheltered find housing.
Snow hopes to further address the issue as her top priority from a City Council position in Lemon Grove. Three of her strategies would be working to bring Just Cause legislation to Lemon Grove to protect tenants, bringing a Safe Parking Program to Lemon Grove, and streamlining the process for building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), in order to boost the number of new housing options while also giving fixed-income folks, like many seniors, a way to age in place.
She would also seek to draw upon relationships she has made as part of the San Diego Housing Collaborative, where she has gained a spectrum of organizational connections and resources to share.
If elected, Snow’s second priority will be making the streets and sidewalks a safe, walkable place. “We have a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed,” she said, noting how residents’ health and their desire to use the trolley can also be improved by tackling infrastructure repairs. “We just want to make it so that our town is a safe place to be, where our kids can get to and from school without getting hit by a car.”
Snow is also thinking of the natural next step: paying for it all. She would look to generate more sales tax revenue by helping established businesses flourish, and new ones take root, such as an urgent care clinic. By making sure the local laws and permit processes don’t have too many cost-prohibitive requirements, Snow sees a Lemon Grove that has less dark windows and more productive businesses.
Having gone door to door on Broadway, Snow sees her core issues as one intertwined campaign — after all, the top priority of many businesses on Broadway is homelessness.
Read on for more highlights from our conversation with Alysson Snow.
Why are you running for elected office? What drew you into this race?
A lot of the time lawyers have to work within the boxes they’re given — and I needed better boxes. So we started doing some policy advocacy. Because I was working for a 501(c)(3) I had to do it on my own, but it was exciting and important to me. And we had great legislators that we were working with, but it became increasingly difficult when we’re trying to think of a bill to run, which legislators would have the same passion and push the legislation the same way we would in order to get things accomplished. After a while I was like, well it’s time to run. I can be that legislator.
I could do a lot in city council. Bring these skills in policy making, and understanding rules and laws and ordinances, to help the community grow and become stronger.
How might you approach a sales tax to bring more funding to the City?
We should examine how much we would need to realize our goals, because we don’t want to raise it and it’s not enough, and then keep coming back to the community for more. Nobody’s going like that. So we need to have research and be able to explain clearly why we need the increase, we need to be able to communicate that effectively to everyone. Then we need to show what we’ve done with the money so far; the community needs to trust that it’s being used the way it should be used.
It makes sense, a lot of the neighboring areas have raised their sales tax. While we’re waiting for that to happen — because it didn’t pass before — we need to maximize and let the community-at-large know that it costs more to buy your car in National City, it costs more to buy your home. We are at least one percent cheaper — one percent adds up. The largest sources of sales tax revenue are the two big car dealerships in town, and so let’s bring more business to them. You know, where we’re short on sales tax, let’s make the world know about it.
I think by increasing the communication, and showing and building trust, then I think the City would be ready for a sales tax. But the last time it didn’t make it, and I think a lot of that was people didn’t understand what the money was going to be for, they didn’t understand what the current money was being used for, and all they know is that they have potholes that are not getting fixed. They don’t want to give the City more money until they know where that money is going.
What is your vision for the future of Lemon Grove’s zoning and development?
The City Council has an extremely important role as a gatekeeper for what’s coming into our community. Not just a gatekeeper, but also inviting people to come to the gate. So I want to be out there seeking people who are willing to do development projects in our communities that promote affordable housing — we’re way below our goals of where we need to be.
I think we need to build more density right where the trolley stations are, and where there’s easy access on and off the freeways. It’s very industrial, it’s not going to disturb single-family homes. We’ll still have the flavor of our community, but at the same time building where it’s accessible to downtown where a lot of the jobs are. A lot of people here don’t work in Lemon Grove. They live in Lemon Grove but they work downtown, or in North County or Chula Vista. So making it easy for people to go to and from work without needing a car would be fantastic.
I want us to be thoughtful when we’re bringing the businesses in. We have a lot of kids here, and we have a lot of activities. But right now we use Spring Valley’s soccer fields, for example. When they have a clean up day at the little league fields, everybody shows up — literally hundreds of people out there. So it’s great to see the kind of volunteerism that’s here, and I’d like to see more of that private-public partnership. I want businesses that are coming here and the City Council to see each other as partners, and try to achieve good things for our community together.
What do you think about disincorporating the City of Lemon Grove?
I am anti-disincorporation. We’re a small town surrounded by a big city, we have flavor that we need to protect. And I think the more local government is, the more it is answering directly to the community it serves. So if we get sucked up as an unincorporated part of San Diego County, we won’t be able to control what happens in our business district, or if they’re putting the housing where we want it to go.
Even if we disincorporated, we'd still have a lot of the same financial obligations — like the City’s pension benefits. We’re still going to end up paying those one way or the other, it’s not like those are going to go away. And we’ll still be paying them through our property taxes. There’s a lot of disadvantages and very little to gain by disincorporation. I think it’s a bad move for our community.
If elected, how would you feel about collaborating on the City Council?
One of my skill sets is being able to bring people who have disparate beliefs, ideologies…together to identify common interests and goals, helping people put aside the things that are distracting and get the real work done.
People are going to have different ideas. I get along really well with all of the people on the City Council, I’ve had discussions and talked with each of them. That’s one of the goals I have. I had a gentleman stop me on the street and he was like, “Stop the bickering!” That’s what he wanted me to do, those were my marching orders. And so, I hear him, I hear him. It’s time to stop the bickering and get the work of the City done.
I’ve been to the meetings — lately they’ve been getting more and more eventful. It’s good, you’ll see people out there advocating for what they believe in. I think there’s a lot of work we can do to get more people involved in that process, people who have specific issues. I’d like to extend efforts to reach and hear from a broader swathe of our community at those meetings. Part of that could be through Zoom. We have a very large Latino population and we need some translation services. And closed captioning, for those who are hearing impaired. City councilmembers just guessing at what the needs are, is not the best way to serve our people.
What is something about Lemon Grove you wish more people knew about?
You actually know who your neighbors are, you can go out and you can talk to them. It’s so great to be able to walk down the street and take your dog and enjoy chatting with whoever’s out in their front yard. There’s just some really cool, eclectic people here who have interesting stories.
We’ve also got some pretty tasty restaurants in town. Some really great local places that aren’t fast food that are family-owned businesses. I love that about here.
For more details on Snow’s campaign, visit her website. A full list of relevant dates from the Registrar of Voters can be viewed here, and for information on when, where and how to vote in the Lemon Grove election and other local offices, explore www.sdvote.com/.