By Miriam Raftery
East County Magazine sat down with Councilwoman Kristine Alessio, who is seeking reelection to the La Mesa City Council. Alessio, an attorney specializing in land use issues, was born and raised in La Mesa and previously served on the Planning Commission. “I have a very good understanding of the city,” she says.
You can hear her interview, originally aired on KNSJ radio, by clicking the orange button above, or click “read more” and scroll down to read highlights.
There are two seats up this election; other candidates are Councilwoman Ruth Sterling and challenger Colin Parent , an environmental attorney and affordable housing advocate.
Alessio believes her most important actions on the Council include streamlining the code, making information more accessible and marketing the city using social media.”When I got there,they didn’t know what Facebook was,” she says.
She says her priorities include fiscal health, public safety, transparency and “assuring sure that La Mesa maintains the family-friendly character that we all love with safe neighborhoods and maintenance of our programs for our seniors.”
Challenges for the future include civic center redevelopment, use of the old police changes and the lease coming up for Grossmont Center. She feels her knowledge of the city will be assets to address those challenges.
Asked about a new library, she said it’s doable but “it takes money.”
She feels the SANDAG half-cent sales hike for transit would be a negative for La Mesa, putting La Mesa within a quarter cent of the maximum taxation allowed for the city for the next 40 years if the transit tax is approved by voters countywide. While she does not favor tax hikes, she also does not want to tie the hands of future councils. She also says the transit tax doesn’t have adequate benefits for East County, with more than 50% earmarked to build a trolley line to the South Bay. “That’s a mistake. You can’t ignore freeways and roads either,” she said, noting that even electric cars need a place to drive.
On downtown redevelopment, she says Council has done a good job promoting downtown. Council is working on a Downtown Village Specific Plan in which she hopes to incentivize mixed use. She views the City of Orange as a good example.”It is the symbolic heart,” she says of La Mesa’s downtown village.
Alessio voted for the city to sponsor Oktoberfest this year, after the La Mesa Village Merchants Association defaulted on repayment of nearly $48,000 from last year’s event to cover security costs provided by the city. Council drew criticisms from some for extending credit to the merchants and for now stepping in to run this year’s event.
Alessio defends those actions. “ I think that it’s a good idea for the city to sponsor the Oktoberfest because for once, the city can actually stand to gain financially from this, so it benefits the city and instead of a private entity reaping the profits if there are some, the city itself does, and it involves us managing it so that it remains safe.”
She said Council recently gave police officers a raise and said “firefighters are next” to make pay comparable to Heartland and prevent turnover. She added that the city is addressing needs of each employee group’s needs separately now instead of treating all the same in one big group.
Asked her views on variances to height limits or other items in the General Plan, Alessio said she believes the proper use is for minor variances only. “As much as people say they want to do eight stories downtown it just does not seem to be what residents want or what should be done to maintain the downtown character…massive height variances or regarding square foot, usages, are addressed in your planning documents and we have a very recent planning document.”
She declined to voice an opinion on the climate action plan that is still in process. She says it should be enforceable “but there’s a difference between enforceable and mandatory.” She thinks the city already meets state requirements.”All the climate action planning in the world won’t make a difference if the city won’t change it’s behavior.” Her opponent, Parent, by contrast has called for a strong climate action plan that’s enforceable.
Alessio says “I believe that the climate is changing; the amount that’s attributable to man is debatable however action needs to be taken no matter what China or Russia are doing. She notes that she drives a “green” car, runs and walks where possible. “I partnered with HERO and PACE” for rooftop solar. “What can we do without unacceptably burdening the lives of our residents?”
Asked her approach to homelessness, she says the responsibility is primarily the County’s, “not something that can be solved at a city level.” She mentioned her half-sister is homeless. “She works a job and…she likes an itinerant lifestyle” but chooses to live in her car.”It’s very frustrating to me because everything offered is rejected.” She wants the County to spend more to help those with mental illnesses and substance abuse. She calls homelessness “heartbreaking” and the way the nation treats the mentally ill “disgusting.”
She defends the council’s choice to fill the City Manager position from within, without public hearings and discussions only in closed session, a departure from past procedures. She notes hiring key city personnel is an exception to the Brown Act. “I cannot see a person you are trusting to manage the city…being talked about in open session by the Council members.”
She voiced concerns over an initiative on La Mesa’s ballot that would legalize medical marijuana clinics but said the city is prepared to appropriately zone such clinics if the local measure, or a statewide legalization measure, passes. She says her uncle found pain relief from medical marijuana while battling cancer but believes it should be dispensed through pharmacies. (Federal law prevents that.) Shutting down illegal pot shops has been difficult because that’s low priority for the District Attorney, she added. As a mother of a teenager, she also voiced concern over access by young people.
Alessio has been endorsed by the entire La Mesa City Council and Mayor, the County Republican Party, Supervisor Dianne Jacob and the La Mesa Police Officers Association.
For more information, Alessio’s website is www.VoteAlessio2016.com .