KRISTINE ALESSIO, LA MESA MAYORAL CANDIDATE: GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO SERVE THE PEOPLE

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View videos of our interview by clicking the video image at left.

Kristine Alessio is running in hopes of becoming La Mesa’s first woman mayor, challenging the current Mayor, Dr. Mark Arapostathis. She is a former La Mesa Councilwoman  with a background in land use, law, business and community service. She holds degrees in philosophy and law, and she’s a La Mesa native who raised her daughter here. As a former City councilmember, she says she spearheaded some local initiatives including Term Limits, the Climate Action Plan, pension liability paydown plan, Smoke Free La Mesa ordinance and an Affordable Homes Bonus program.

La Mesa is changing from a sleepy small town and is now facing challenges that larger cities face. Alessio says the city needs a dynamic mayor with leadership that she hopes to provide. In an interview with East County Magazine originally aired on KNSJ Radio, she spoke about her goals if elected. Click the links to view videos or hear audio, or scroll down to read highlights.

Q:  What are your top priorities if elected?

A: My top priorities are very simple. The government needs to serve the people, and right now, the main challenges facing La Mesa are preservation of community character, adequate police and fire, and financial issues. We have a sales tax called Prop L which funds a huge portion of our city, and it’s set to sunset in 2028 and nothing has been done or worked on about that, so that’s a little scary….The other thing is preservation of neighborhood character and that’s a big thing. You see new buildings going up all over La Mesa, neighborhoods worried, concerned, they don’t want their neighborhoods to look like downtown L.A…and that’s where my skillset, my expertise in land use, zoning, law, all of that just sets me apart from my opponent, who just doesn’t have that skillset. As La Mesa changes, and we’re faced with these issues, we need a mayor who can react without relying on staff. We need a mayor who can be out in front on these issues.

Q:  The size and scale of development has been a major issue in La Mesa, with a statewide push for affordable, transit-oriented housing on one hand and some residents concerns about protecting community character and La Mesa’s historic ambience on the other. How would you balance or prioritize those competing concerns? Can we do both?

“They aren’t necessarily competing. I also sit on the board of directors of the La Mesa Historical Society which is now the La Mesa History Center. One thing we’ve been trying to get off the road is an inventory of  our historic homes. That has met with pushback from either city staff or elected officials. That is a step. You inventory. You see what areas have historic resources. Those areas should have design guidelines so new development fits with character of the neighborhood. Right now we have basically no design guidelines in La Mesa. Zero.

(Miriam notes that in the past, there were efforts to put up an 18 story building that failed, with a push for a five story one.)

A: And you don’t want to do that. A good example of that is the proposed plan which you’ve covered, the Alvarardo Specific Plan. The people who were following it are housing advocates. They are not aniti-growth people. But it’s the bulk and scale of the project… and a lot of that is going to be within state law and our own city ordinances allowed to go higher because of the affordable homes…and the state requirement …that’s where you really need to look at design features…I am not in favor of building five-story buildings in the village. I think that would be a tragedy, to be honest. Design guidelines – as a developer it’s helpful to have design guidelines because then you are not just taking a stab in the dark and hoping that the design review board will approve your project. You know what you need to build. What I view as a good example that was controversial at the time but ended up being a lovely project is the Little Flower Haven. They did a superb job of matching the architecture, of creating a pleasing building, the concerns of the neighbors did not materialize but we had a backup plan which was something that I also started  which was the idea that if your neighorhood became adversely impacted by too much parking, you could apply for a neighborhood parking program. That should be an option and I was really proud of getting the council to approve that program in case it was needed…

Q: Homelessness has been growing in La Mesa and our region. What is your plan to humanely address the homelessness problem?

A: I think right now that we are doing a very good job with our current program. But what we also need to do, which is imperative, is we need to equip our law enforcement agencies, especially our fire department which takes the brunt of dealing with the homeless…until there are changes at the state level for dealing with a person who is not down on their luck, homeless because of the pandemic, but is mentally ill or drug addicted it’s going to be very difficult for us to deal with those individuals. I encounter those on a daily basis and it’s heartbreaking when someone is talking to a building, but how do we reach that person, or telling me that in Kentucky there is a Senator that’s going to kill him because he’s a Cherokee. This is a well-known homeless person in La Mesa…That’s something that is going to need to change at the state level and in the meantime, we need to make sure that our law enforcement officials are prepared to deal with that…I support [the Care Court]; that’s actually a good step.  But in the meanwhile we need to have an adequate response to this so if a business person has a person sitting there, defecating on their property, that person needs to be given a ticket…forcing them to make positive changes in their life, maybe get back on medication, get off drugs and alcohol. It’s tragic. Meanwhile those who are homeless because they lost a job, they’ve had a fight with their husband, moms and children, we need to continue to p0rovide shelter for them.

Q: What about the homeless shelter that was shot down that the county wanted to build in La Mesa, and El Cajon complaining that the county is sending homeless to motels there and complaining other cities should do more.  Should La Mesa consider partnering with the County to build a shelter?

A: I don’t think so.  Our homeless population in La Mesa, when you count, does not warrant building a shelter.

Q:  La Mesa had seen racial justice protests and a devastating riot fueled in part by actions of a La Mesa Police officer who has since been dismissed. You want to increase the city’s police force to respond faster to calls. You’ve also drawn criticism for initially voicing support for groups like Defend East County that formed to protect merchants after the riot, but which later became linked to controversial actions of their own.  How would you approach both improving public safety while also addressing racial tensions that were the root causes of prior conflicts?

A:  I think the police department has done an excellent job of addressing that. I’m in La Mesa every day. I shop, I work, I play and to be honest I don’t see a lot of racial tensions between residents in La Mesa. But you have to be careful. No one should be pulled over  because of the color of their skin. No one should be, and we cannot allow that…Another thing that the mayor can do and needs to do, I remember the Helix High School incident a few years ago, there were two Councilmembers who met with concerned citizens. Not the mayor.…one was Councilmember Parent and the other was me.  As a mayor, you need to get out there and talk to people….and I’ll do it.

Q:: What is your time availability compared to the current and past mayor?

A:   I am very fortunate that my primary thing that I do is able to do done on computers, so my availability and my promise to the people of La Mesa is I’m going to have one day a week where I’m going to hold open office hours. You don’t need an appointment. You get me. If you’re upset by something in your neighborhood…come talk to me. I want to solve the problem. I’m not going to hide behind staff or the city manager. So in that model, more like Art Madrid, open and accessible. If I need to give 40 hours a week to this, I will. There are going to be people who come in and are angry at me, I’m going to listen…

Q:  What’s your plan to improve efficiency in the city’s planning department?

A:  Going back to design guidelines that are easy to follow, everyone knows what they are, the neighbors know, the developer knows. WE need to have design guidelines within the planning department itself that are so clear, when someone calls, and asks about their permit…if it meets XYZ requirements, you/staff say go for it and you give the staff some latitude to interpret that in favor of the applicant. Too many are sitting there. The historical society, we have a new sign with our rebranding. It's been in the queue, same size, same location for months now. That’s not accessible. If I need to remodel my bathroom because my mom is moving in with me and it has to be handicapped accessible, that should not take six months or a year. That’s not accessible. If I want to build an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) either for income or so that a family member, maybe a child is moving back home…that needs to be happening fast. Not three years, not one year. It needs streamlining. Having the legal knowledge of the land use process combined with the practical knowledge or working in the industry gives me so many ideas of how to make things easier for people, how to make government work for them.

Q: You have an ambitious agenda that includes more street repairs, cleanup of public right of ways, hiring more police officers and providing firefighters with smaller, more efficient vehicles to respond to calls faster, all admirable goals. But you also oppose any new taxes. So how would you pay for the programs you hope to implement?

A:   There are a few things that you can do right here and now. We have Prop U,the marijuana tax. That is just going into the general fund, half million dollars a fund. It’s not being allocated for anything…it’s already here, it’s not a new tax. You take it and you start spending it on those issues. It’s that simple, and that tax will only increase over time…parking it in the general fund without allocation to either police, public right of way cleanup, firefighters, is not acceptable…

Q:  La Mesa has a tradition in recent years of elected officials changing political parties, and often, still winning reelection since the city’s voters seem to have an independent streak.  You left the Republican party a few years ago to become independent, but recently rejoined the party and are now endorsed by the San Diego Republican Party. Can you  explain your reasons for these shifts, and also are there any other endorsements you’d like our audience to know about?

A:  I can explain that. I was very pleased with the Republican Party until we had a parting of the ways on national issues and I was not pleased with the way the local party responded. However watching and going back to me, I realized ….what the Republican Party today is prioritizing, take all of the national issues out, they are pro-business, for small business. The Republican Party is becoming more diverse…

Q: You run a cat rescue organization with beautiful Savannah cats; will we see a mascot cat for La Mesa?

A:  Most definitely! I would love to have a cat mascot, but the cat mascot also needs to have a dog companion…The official cat and dog of La Mesa, and maybe even a ferret…Another thing I was proud of when I was on the Council, you couldn’t have backyard chickens (until legislation she supported to allow this)…and changing the limit laws on animals so that people who want to have three dogs, you can have three dogs now and it increases adoptions. It’s great.

Other endorsements--I am very proud to be endorsed by Heartland Firefighters of La Mesa, the Carpenters Local 619, and the Lincoln Club of San Diego County.  It’s business. I’m your working class candidate. I’m the crazy cat lady who wants to help the people, the residents of La Mesa, who’s not afraid of controversy, and who will fight and be accessible for you, the people of  La Mesa.

Q: What else would you like people to know about you and your candidacy for La Mesa Mayor, and where can people find more information on your campaign?

A: What I’d like people to know is that I am like you. I’m just a normal person, a divorced woman who raised her child in La Mesa basically almost as a single mother, do volunteer work, do community work, and listens to everyone. Everyone deserves respect in this city. Everyone deserves a mayor, and as mayor, that is what I will provide you, no matter what political party, no matter anything you are. You will get a mayor that works for you and is there for you, no hiding behind closed doors or staff. You’ll just get me, plain and simple. If anyone has any questions, this is my personal cell phone number. Call me, text me. 619 806 4058. I will respond, within hours, unless you’re texting me in the middle of the night. You can look at my website www.KristineAlessio.com and check out what I have to say. You can email me at kckcsasa@cox.net. I am here for La Mesa residents, La Mesa businesses, and La Mesa.

East County Magazine has invited Mayor Mark Arapostathis for an interview and await his reply.

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