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By Michael Howard

Photo: Council Salary Adjustment Citizen Panel member Aaron Landua acknowledges his fellow panel members at the October 24 La Mesa City Council meeting

November 29, 2023(La Mesa) -- After 18 years without getting a pay raise, the La Mesa City Council members voted to give themselves a hefty 90% pay increase at their regularly scheduled November 14 meeting.

The ordinance passed unanimously and will amend section 2.04.010 of the La Mesa Municipal Code to increase each city council member’s salary from $1,000 per month to $1,900 per month.  The move also increases the mayor’s compensation by an additional $1,900, reflecting the dual role a mayor plays as both council member and mayor, bringing the mayor’s total monthly salary to $3,800 a month, or a 135% increase.

The increase doesn’t take effect until after the November 2024 elections, which means current pay rates remain the same until then.

The vote to increase the salary of council members and the mayor also included an increase for the city treasurer. Pay for this position was increased from $579 a month to $1,100, a 90% increase for the position, which also doesn’t take effect until after the November 2024 elections.

It’s not likely that the 18-year drought of no pay raises will continue. Built into the ordinance was a provision that city staff make salary adjustment recommendations for the mayor, councilmembers, and the treasurer in August of non-election years.

The ordinance was brought to the city council by city staff, which commissioned a five-member citizen panel to look into current compensation of its elected officials.

“The public needs to know that you could have simply, by a 3-2 majority, approved a pay raise for yourself,” citizen panel spokesperson Aaron Landua said at the previous October 24 city council meeting when the panel reported their findings. “Most city councils choose to bite that bullet without such a sub-committee,” he commented.

“I commend you for your brave and unprecedented decision,” Landua said to the council members about their choice to allow a citizen panel to decide their compensation.

But the city council didn’t exactly follow the citizen panel’s recommendations. While the panel recommended a 50% increase, the city council voted in a 90% increase.

“It shows a respect for what this job is,” Mayor Mark Arapostathis argued when he made a “substitute” motion to increase the compensation to the maximum amount allowable by law of 5% a year for the 18-year duration without an increase, rather than the total 50%, or 2.778% per year, proposed by the panel.

“Not for this council,” Mayor Arapostathis implored about the increase, “but for the future – trying to recruit people who are the best and the brightest,” he insisted.

The citizen panel did not say why they only recommended a 50% increase, but said they looked into similar cities nationwide with comparable populations, including comparable cities within San Diego County. Focusing on National City, citizen panel spokesperson Landua said the La Mesa city council was noticeably behind in compensation compared to that city.

National City in March of this year voted a 30% increase for their part-time city councilmembers to $1,546 a month and a 15% increase to their full-time mayor position to $5,211. 

While not mentioned in the citizen panel report, other East County cities in the past few years have voted to increase pay. El Cajon in July 2022 increased salaries of their elected officials by 10%, paying the mayor $3,167 a month and city councilmembers $2,194.  Santee in August of this year approved a 4% hike, the mayor now receiving around $2,880 a month, councilmembers $1,709. Only Lemon Grove lags behind in recent hikes, approving raises eight years ago in 2015 with a 12% raise for both city councilmembers at $803 a month and the mayor, at $1,405.25 a month.

“We’re still below the median,” La Mesa Mayor Arapostathis pointed out during the October 24 city council discussion.

Neither the October 24 discussion nor the November 14 vote met any opposition, but not everyone supports the pay raises. Resident Don Wood noted in an email to the East County Magazine that the mayor is serving his last term due to term limits and Councilman Colin Parent is leaving to run for the Assembly. “A pay raise of this size could substantially increase their city pensions,” he noted.

As for the council, Councilmember Jack Shu summed up the justification.  “To serve in public office, I don’t think people do it for the money – they don’t do it for the salary,” he reflected. “But, the compensation does help a lot, and I do think it does help others who are considering running for public office to know they are going to get a stipend that is at least close to what other cities compensate their elected officials,” he concluded. 



City of La Mesa. (2023a). LA MESA CITY COUNCIL AGENDA.

City of La Mesa. (2023b, October 24). CITY COUNCIL, BOARD AND COMMISSION MEETING AGENDAS & MINUTES. City of La Mesa.

City of La Mesa. (2023c, November 14). CITY COUNCIL, BOARD AND COMMISSION MEETING AGENDAS & MINUTES. City of La Mesa.

City of National City. (2023, April 18). Elected Officials Compensation History. City of National City.

Murga, T. (2023, March 12). First pay raise since 2017 approved for National City Council. The San Diego Union Tribune.

Nelson, B. (2022, July 26). El Cajon Council Votes To Give Itself A Raise. San Diego Union Tribune.

Pearlman, K. (2015, June 3). Lemon Grove Council Gets Pay Hike. San Diego Union Tribune.

Woods, D. (2023, November 22). La Mesa mayor and city council members voting themselves a 90% pay raise [Personal communication].



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La Mesa Part-Time Mayor Pads his Retirement Benefit!

Our Part-Time Mayor Arapostathis is pretty slick ensuring there's more retirement $ in the trough for him to enjoy as he terms-out. He now has his "high-three" extra generous retirement benefit all set up, while self amending it even higher for himself, in all it's glory! Let's just hope we have no more City Emergencies and he won't have to go into self-imposed hiding, again, and be MIA for several days straight, while being unreachable for his duties and City responsibilities like last time!

Mayor pay raise

The Mayor more than doubled his pay while the rest of us receive only 2% to 3% annual increases. He should have followed the recommendation of the citizen panel. He now makes more than the mayors of larger cities (El Cajon and Santee) for his part-time job.