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By Miriam Raftery

Hear our interview with Colin Parent, originally aired on on KNSJ Radio: https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/sites/eastcountymagazine.org/files/au...

August 25,2016 (La Mesa) – Recently,  we  sat down for an in-depth interview with Colin Parent, a lawyer with extensive experience as an affordable housing expert in the Governor’s administration. Currently he’s the policy counsel/attorney for Circulate San Diego, an nonprofit that advocates for public transit, safe and pedestrian-friendly streets, safe routes to school, and smart growth issues.  He’s also cofounder of La Mesa Conversations, a civic discussion group.

Now he’s running for the La Mesa City Council in a three-way race for two seats currently held by incumbents Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio.

“I’m running to improve La Mesa,” says Parent, who calls La Mesa a great place, but adds that it can be even better.  Here are the ideas he discussed:

Parent grew up in East County,  graduating from Valhalla High School and working for the East County Economic Development Council before attending UCSD and later obtaining a law degree.  In 2011 he was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to work in the state’s Housing and Community Development on  Affordable Housing. He’s worked for prominent political leaders in the state capitol before joining Circulate San Diego.

One issue where Parent’s views differ sharply from the council members he is running against is the city’s proposed climate action plan.  He faults the city for failing to include enforceability provisions in its draft plan. 

“The County had a similar plan without enforceability. It was thrown out in the courts. It is state law in California that if you update your general plan and have greenhouse gas impacts, you have to mitigate—and mitigation has to be enforceable…If La Mesa had adopted that plan, it would have put the city at risk of litigation and our entire general plan could have been thrown out in the courts,” Parent says.

He indicated that Council member Sterling “has said several times in hearings that she doesn’t believe the Climate Action Plan should be adopted with enforceability measures.” He calls that position “irresponsible and incorrect.”

Council member Alessio has suggested rolling back the city’s commitment to addressing climate change, as ECM previously reported.  Parent notes,”She has said on numerous occasions that she doesn’t believe that humans have a contribution to climate change.”That perspective as out of step with the world’s climate scientists, he notes.  Enforceable actions could include “common sense” solutions that aren’t costly, such as planting more trees and adding bike lanes, he adds.

A key goal for Parent, if elected, would be to provide more affordable housing, drawing on his knowledge of policies through his work for the state.”We don’t have enough affordable places to live,” he states, noting that many have left La Mesa for this reason.

Asked if he would support height variances or other variances for developers who build transit-friendly projects (such as the controversial Park Station),  Parent says he does not support giveaways to developers but might support some variances if the neighborhood supports the project  and the developer offers something in exchange, such as a park.  He believes projects must be in scale with the community, adding, “If the public is coming unglued, that generally means the project is really out of scale.”

Parent co-founded La Mesa Conversations because “civic engagement has always been very important to me.” The organization aims to foster “smart” dialogue on community issues outside official government channels.  He is also cofounder of the San Diego Leadership Alliance and has a string of honors including being named to the Daily Transcript’s Top Young Attorneys list and its Downtown 40 Under 40 business professionals.  San Diego Metropolitan Magazine also listed Parent on its “40 Under 40” up and comers in our region.

Parent also wants to work to help revitalize the business community in La Mesa’s historic downtown village.  He notes the demise of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association, which formally ran events such as Oktoberfest, the car show and Christmas in the Village. “We need something to replace it,” he says, noting the areas such as North Park have successful business groups to represent and attract businesses, also organizing events in the business district.

He says there is an effort now led by  owners of new businesses coming into La Mesa to form a new organization to represent the business district.  “The city has to send strong signals that it would support that,” he indicates. The city could facilitate bringing people together to talk and help forge the new association.  Though this year the city has footed the bill for Oktoberfest, ultimately Parent believes that “ideally you want this to be done by the businesses themselves.  Businesses are better at knowing who their customers are and how to get them there.” 

He sees downtown La Mesa as a ”maturing” district, noting the flurry of new and successful restaurants fast becoming EastCounty’s own restaurant row. La Mesa’s downtown has “a lot of opportunity and a customer base interested in having new options to explore.”

Parent also supports strong public safety. He notes that over half of La Mesa’s budget goes for police and fire, yet retention is a problem in the police department  here and regionally.  “A lot of it is because of housing costs,” he says, noting that officers can earn similar pay elsewhere where housing is more affordable.  Besides competitive pay and benefits, he wants to see a focus on affordable housing to encourage officers to stay and make a career in  La Mesa.

To make streets safer,  he has advocated regionally for the Vision Zero initiative. San Diego committed to it, pledging to aspire to zero traffic fatalities in 10 years.  Parent says other places that adopted the plan had dramatic reductions in fatalities.

He believes more should be done to help the homeless in La Mesa,  as a recent Grand Jury report suggested.  La Mesa spends zero on services for the homeless, but it’s costing $200,000 a year in police time to deal with homeless people.  The answer,  Parent believes, is to push the County to provide more help, such as making sure La Mesa gets its fair share of federal grant money provided to the County for homelessness. “We need to be a stronger voice at the County and not be complacent,” he says.

Parent wants to move all City Council meetings to evenings so that working people can attend.  He also wants to bring back the Human Relations committee that the City Council recently merged with another committee. “That is reflective of a more inward looking culture and mentality on the City Council right now,” he observes, adding that the charter requires advocating for diversity and affordable housing.  The Human Relations Committee used to organize an annual Multicultural Festival,for instance.  But if anything, La Mesa has become even more diverse in recent years.

Parent says instead of abolishing or combining commissions that have become less active, the key is to actively recruit new participants among citizens who may be eager to get involved and give back to their community.

He also criticizes the Council for lack of transparency in recently promoting from within to fill the City Manager position, unlike past years when an extensive process of notifying the public and holding public hearings was done for prior City Manager openings. 

“They announced the City Manager was leaving and announced his replacement at the same meeting,” he says.  While the new manager appears qualified, he thinks the public should have been allowed to weigh in on what they may want to see in the next City Manager.  “Hiring a City Manager is one of the most important things a city does, along with pass a budget,” he points out. “We need to make sure that’s done in an open and transparent manner.”

He also says he wants to see the city honor its commitment to create a new library ,since the current space was intended to only be temporary and is regularly filled up.  Parent says he would consider supporting a new civic center, if it penciled out financially—but only if it includes new library space.

Although the La Mesa City Council race officially is nonpartisan,  Parent is a Democrat.  He has been endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party and prominent Democrats including former State Senator Christine Kehoe (whom he worked for) and ex-Speakerof the Assembly ToniAtkins.

Currently La Mesa is represented by five Republicans on its City Council.  But the demographics have shifted, and the city now has significantly more registered Democrats than Republicans. Parent says it is”absolutely”timefor a Democrat to win election in La Mesa, noting that the city’s voters supported Barack Obama in the last presidential campaign by a 10% margin. 

But he adds, “I won’t govern in a way that will be appealing only to Democrats.”  He concludes that he’s running to represent everyone in La Mesa.

For more information on his candidacy, you can visit www.ColinParent.org.


Interview with Colin Parent, La Mesa City Council candidate 2016

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