By Miriam Raftery
September 15,2016 (La Mesa) – After receiving a reader’s editorial and a call from another local businessperson critical of the new La Mesa Village Association (LMVA), which ECM recently profiled, ECM reached out to Aaron Dean, LMVA Chair, to respond.
The criticisms focused on concerns that the new group has not done enough to distance itself from the La Mesa Village Merchants Association (LMVMA), which defaulted on a $47,900.50 loan from the city for Oktoberfest security costs; that debt has been sent to collections. The LMVA has also taken over the existing Facebook page of the LMVMA, even though the latter has not filed any paperwork to dissolve, according to the California Secretary of State.
“For me, the importance is that an association is run properly and benefits the surrounding area,” Dean told ECM. He noted that many merchants were involved at some point in the old organization, and that if he held everyone ever active in it accountable, ”it would be very hard to do business.”
The LMVA has no officers from the old group on the LMVA board. However it does have two recent officers and two former board members from the disgraced LMVMA listed among its founding members. Those include Arlene Moore, who is still listed as LMVMA president.
“The city knows who my members and board members are and they’re thrilled. I’ve had no push back,” Dean told ECM. “To set up a nonprofit takes money. He said he welcomed support and financial investment of founding members who donated $1,000 apiece. “I’m thrilled that they want to be involved. I will never speak poorly about anyone,”he said.
Dean said Moore is not actively involved in his group other than being a founding member. He praised the antique store she owns as a valued business in La Mesa’s village. “Arlene loves the city of La Mesa…I think we need more antique stores like hers,” he added.
Dean notes that only 4 of the 15 founding members are from the LMVMA, not enough to orchestrate a takeover. Many other founding members are new merchants who were never involved with the old group and have a vested interest in seeing the new nonprofit (which has filed papers with the Secretary of State) to succeed.
Dean emphasized, “I don’t have anything to do with the old merchant’s association…I don’t think individuals are necessarily accountable for the actions of the group.” As for criticism that ex-officers of the old group should first pay back the city before pitching in large sums to the new nonprofit, Dean said it’s the old association that owes the city, not necessarily individuals. But he adds, ”If someone owes money, they should pay it.”
He added that the LMVMA likely had many “amazing” successes in the past that benefitted merchants and the community before running into financial troubles. In past years, before falling on hard times during a year of streetscape construction, theLMVMA hosted many events such as summer car shows, an antique fair, Christmas in the Village and Oktoberfest, though the latter was done in conjunction with the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce in recent years.
Dean observed, “You’re not remembered for everything you did in the past, but you’re remembered for the last thing you did. They obviously were not effective; they did not have a good business plan behind them.” He maintains that his group, by contrast, is developing a solid business plan and stable financial base, as well as encouraging input and ideas from new members.
Asked why the new association didn’t start a brand new Facebook page, Dean said a request has been made to Facebook to change the URL or website address for the page, but that it can take several weeks for that to be completed. Meanwhile content has been updated to reflect the new group, not the old one.
He said his board’s majority voted to convert the old LMVMA’s Facebook page, with permission of the webmaster who runs it, rather than starting from scratch in order to retain the hundreds of visitors who come to that page looking for information on La Mesa events. The person in charge of the Facebook page is not an officer or board member of the old group, he added.
“This is a democracy,” Dean said of his board’s decision, adding that he would have been fine with starting fresh on a new page or rebranding the existing site.
The new LMVA is organizing this year’s holiday event downtown, slated for December 10th. Several new restaurants will likely be open by then, including a brewery, coffee shops, a farm-to-table fresh eatery and more. “I think what you will experience over the next year in the village wil lbring some wonderful new energy and give people an opportunity to go eat in the village,”Dean predicts.
He says there is excitement for bringing events to the “West Village,” where business owners have long complained those in the East Village area got all the traffic off events. “We got this going very quickly. We’re ready to start offering merchant services. We’re a couple of days away from having credit cards…We are going to have another meeting on the 18th and overall, we’ve had an amazing report.”
Dean, who owns multiple properties in the village as well as the Depot Springs Brewery set to open soon, has a strong stake in the organization’s success.
He wants to focus on the future—not the past. Dean concludes, “Now there’s a new group. We’re looking to make it something that really works for La Mesa.”