By Miriam Raftery
October 15, 2020 (La Mesa) – The La Mesa Police Officers Association (LMPOA) announced yesterday that it has withdrawn its endorsement of Councilman Colin Parent. The LMPOA cites several reasons for its withdrawal, which was announced the day after Parent cast the deciding vote on a 3-2 Council decision to establish a police oversight board. Parent joined with Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Councilmember Akilah Weber to pass the measure over the objections of the LMPOA, which had requested the ordinance first go through a meet-and-confer process so that the officers’ union could request changes.
The two Councilmembers who voted against the police oversight board, Kristine Alessio and Bill Baber, have both been endorsed by the LMPOA previously.
Officially, the LMPOA offered these reasons for withdrawing its endorsement of Councilman Parent. “Ever since he aggressively sought and received our endorsement earlier this year, Councilmember Parent has become untrustworthy and unreliable. Whether it was his lack of transparency with the citizens of La Mesa regarding the homeless housing facility, or his broken commitment to protect the rights of workers, we can no longer in good conscience continue to recommend to the citizens of La Mesa that Colin Parent deserves your vote.”
In addition to establishing the oversight board composed entirely of citizens, the Council majority also approved hiring an independent police auditor to investigate serious incidents and misconduct complaints involving La Mesa police officers. The LMPOA, the union representing officers, indicated in letters sent to the city that it believed these actions could have a “a significant and adverse effect on the wages, hours, or working conditions” of the police officers.”
Parent responded in an email to ECM: "I support good pay and benefits for public safety personnel, and also commonsense police reforms to ensure accountability. I think most La Mesans agree that these values are entirely compatible, and I am proud of my vote to create La Mesa’s Community Policy Oversight Board."
The oversight committee was established following a riot in La Mesa after a protest targeted police over an alleged racial profiling incident near a trolley station in La Mesa as well as national protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. LMPD earlier drew scrutiny over a use-of-force incident at Helix High School.
Transparency and campaign contribution controversy
Parent has also been frequently criticized by Aaron Amerling, founder of the La Mesa Village Voice, a group founded originally to oppose the Park Station proposed highrise several years ago. Amerling has started a petition calling on the Council to investigate Parent’s involvement in a proposed County grant to have Affirmed Housing convert a Holiday Inn in La Mesa to a facility to house the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. The County later withdrew its application due to opposition from the city after Mayor Arapostathis said the full Council was not informed of the project until after the County sent in its grant application to the state under an accelerated application process due to Cares Act funding availability.
Affirmed Housing Group gave Parent’s campaign a $1,000 donation on September 1, shortly after that application was submitted. Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit headed up by Parent, also accepted numerous developer donations including from Affirmed Housing. Circulate San Diego's president, Ginger Hitzke, formerly worked for Affirmed Housing.
After the city became aware of the project, the City Council did hold a special meeting and voted 4-0 to oppose it, with Parent recusing himself. Parent has indicated he follows advice of the city attorney on when to recuse to avoid a legal conflct of interest.
In response to Amerling’s allegations of back-door dealings, Parent told East County Magazine, “I first learned about the County’s Holiday Inn application on August 12th, after the proposed location was already selected. I notified our city manager about it that same day, and he informed the mayor and city council via email on August 14th.”
He adds, “The County’s process was unfortunately rushed. I hope we can learn from this and do a better job next time to reach community consensus about the need to help people find permanent homes.”
Parent has long been an advocate of affordable housing, long before he ran for La Mesa's City Council, including serving as a Governor's appointee working on housing issues in the Jerry Brown administration in Sacramento.
Donation records of all six Council candidates
In late September, ECM pulled the campaign contribution records for all six candidates running for the La Mesa City Council.
Mark Papenfuss reported no donations.
Allan Durden reported $5,445 in donations as of September 19, all relatively small donations from individuals, nearly all of whom are La Mesa residents.
Laura Lothian, a realtor, reported $10,000 in donations and has self-funded her entire campaign.
Councilmember Kristine Alessio, in her most recent filing on September 24, 2020, reported $7,750 for the current election cycle, of which $4,000 was self-funded. Her donations included a $3,000 donation from Nels Christen, a carpenter at NTC Development.
Jack Shu reported $21,933 as of September 24, including $4,050 in self funded. The rest is relatively small donations from individuals, nearly all of whom live in East County, or the San Diego area.
Colin Parent reported $61,199 as of his most recent filing for his 2020 campaign. That includes approximately 47 donations tied to development, building or real estate industries. Most of the remaining donations came from politicians and the Democratic party, lawyers, and residents outside of La Mesa. During his 2016 campaign, he amassed at least 67 donations from people or companies in the development, building and real estate industries, including some with projects before the City Council.
Parent has previously said of donations, “Unlike my opponents, I am not able to self-fund my campaign from family wealth. Fortunately, I have many long-time friends who believe in me and my vision for La Mesa, and I am grateful for their support.”