By Janis Russell
October 20, 2016 (La Mesa) - Topics ranging from crime rates to homelessness to business issues were discussed Tuesday, when La Mesa City Council incumbents Kristine Alessio and Ruth Sterling along with challenger Colin Parent participated in a forum held at the La Mesa Police Department community room. The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of San Diego and the American Association of University Women.
Each of the candidates was given two minutes for an opening statement.
Sterling (left) began. She recited a letter from Aug 15, 2012 in which the person stated how loyal he thought Sterling was for a lone vote. “I remain the same- loyal and committed to representing you…I brought this letter forward because I was a lone voice in the wilderness… I look forward to running and serving you again for another four years.”
Parent spoke next. “I have substantial public policy experience…I’m the only Democrat in this race…I am running a vigorous campaign.” He mentioned problems in La Mesa, including crime that has recently increased. In the second quarter of 2016, crime is up 8.6% over the same time last year, according to the city’s most recent police report. Violent crimes are up over 30% year to date: http://ca-lamesa3.civicplus.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/869?fileID=1484
Alessio insisted that crime hasn’t gone up. “It’s gone down over the last 30 years.” Like Parent, she went to Valhalla and is an attorney. Since being on Council, one accomplishment has been the push to stop high rise development buildings by people’s homes. “I represent all of you."
Then there was time for questions and answers. Donna May-Bartlett from the League was the moderator.
One person wanted to know how long each candidate has lived in La Mesa and what they have done.
Sterling answered first. “I was born and raised in San Diego. I’ve lived in La Mesa for 53 years… I raised my four children here. I’ve been on La Mesa City Council for 24 years,” she added. “The main thing is I represented you all these years…”
Parent replied, “I’m a native to East County… I’ve been in La Mesa a couple years… My dad [Don Parent] works at SDG&E… I was going to Council meetings all over East County” when he was a kid with his dad.
Alessio (right) said, “I’ve been here about 24 years… What I did before is I was a planning commissioner for 10 years.” She also served on the board of directors for East County YMCA and East County Boys and Girls Club. I love La Mesa.
The next question was on how La Mesa can address climate change.
Parent (left) said, “The city of La Mesa is required to adopt a climate action plan… I believe in a human cause (climate change). There’s no reason we shouldn’t adopt [the plan].” Parent, an attorney, has called for a climate action plan that is enforceable.
Alessio, also an attorney, responded, “It is necessary under the law” but qualified that, “If it’s enforceable, it’s not legal…I believe we can accomplish the climate action plan quite easily” without enforcing more rules. I’m on the subcommittee of the climate action plan,” she added.
Sterling said, “We have a consultant to look into this… Nobody’s made a judgment or decision. We are going to obey the law…we also want to make sure the change is cost effective.”
Someone asked what plans each candidate has regarding the homeless population in La Mesa.
Alessio said that housing isn’t all the homeless need. Instead, there should be treatment for those homeless who are mentally ill and have any alcohol or drug addictions. “There’s not a blanket solution to it,” she concluded.
Sterling, a retired nurse, said, “It’s a regional issue everywhere…I want to be involved by going to the regional homeless shelter…we all need to pitch in together.”
Parent replied, “We need to do better” by pressuring the County for more resources. “Homelessness is a problem.” They don’t have a house to live in because of the housing crisis, added Parent, who specialized in affordable housing as an appointee in Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.
Another person wanted to know, If the city doesn’t purchase funding for the library, where will they find funding?
Sterling said, “Funding is a problem” and she suggested maybe they could work with the County.
Parent said, “If we don’t build a new library, we’ll be out of $1 million and taxpayers will have to pay for it.” He is also in support of having a new civic center. “There’s not enough space” in the library, he added.
Alessio said, “If the County asked for the money back, we’re going to have to pay the County back…the County has made no demand on us.”
Someone else asked if they oppose or support high density development in La Mesa’s downtown village.
Parent said, “We should have a contextually appropriate area.” There are opportunities to do things near the transit area, he added. He thinks there should be town homes.
Alessio was strongly opposed. “A three story building is adequate,” she said.
Sterling answered, “There’s nothing charming about three story buildings…we just don’t want to become a Temecula…”
Someone asked how they felt about group homes in La Mesa.
Alessio has been an advocate for residents affected of group homes. The problem is “there’s been no oversight at group homes.” She added that if they adopted a Conditional Use Permit, they would need to be regulated.
Sterling said, “We have, on one street here, group homes [that] have bought almost all homes in the neighborhood.” That’s a problem. “Group homes are very nice, but they have to be separated… They do need to be regulated.”
Parent said, “We should be careful and sensitive of where these are located.” He supports legislation for local control for group homes.
Another person asked if Prop 64 passes and legalizes recreational marijuana, how will it affect La Mesa? And when will the dispensaries in La Mesa be closed?
Sterling answered, “Dispensaries are operating now” though they are currently illegal and the city has fought to shut them down. But they should be separate from places like child care centers, churches, and schools if marijuana is legalized, she believes.
Parent clarified Prop 64 won’t legalize dispensaries, since the initiatives still gives cities controls. “It will cost $10,000-12,000 for the dispensary to shut down.”
Alessio replied, “If it’s passed, we’ll have to treat it like how we treat alcohol.” Dispensaries operate illegally. “It takes a year for a dispensary to shut down.”
Another person asked what they can do to address crime in La Mesa.
Parent suggested keeping officers long term, emphasizing again that crime has gone up.
Alessio said, “Crime is always a concern… [Police] don’t want five-year contracts…” Alessio clarified that historically, crime hasn’t gone up and there’s no retention problem for the La Mesa Police. They are fine with two year contracts.
Sterling said that to reduce crime, the police collect more data and they collaborate with other police departments nearby and the Sheriff’s department.
Someone asked if there’s any opportunity to increase bicycle and walking trails.
Alessio answered, “We’ve been doing that.” La Mesa is the award winner in urban trails. There are bike lanes etc.” she added.
Sterling replied, “We just allocated $250 for bicycle lanes... in West La Mesa” at the last City Council meeting. “We are really involved with pedestrian lanes and bicycle lanes.”
Parent, who serves as counsel for Circulate San Diego, said the city should encourage more biking and walking for residents. “Make it so they feel safe.”
Someone asked about steps to take in civic engagement/public input in local government.
Sterling responded, “The civic engagement is very important… I’ve heard Council members want to change to 6:00” for all Council meetings rather than keep it at 4:00 and 6:00. That wasn’t right to Sterling.
Parent thought it was a mistake to hire the city manager without public input.” Yvonne Garrett replaces David Witt who retired in August. (See the story here: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/la-mesa-appoints-yvonne-garrett-new-city-manager.)
Alessio said, “We have a strong city manager form of government…” As far as getting people to come to city council meetings, she posts about it on social media and invites people on the streets.
Another person said that some people don’t have a business license. If it’s not a tax, would they consider abolishing it?
Parent said he’d consider it. He thought the fee was $30.
Alessio answered, “I think our business license fees are $25.” She thought it was important to have business licenses so people’s business locations could be tracked.
Sterling replied, “I haven’t heard any complaints of the business license.” She also thought it was important for the same reason as Alessio.
Someone asked what Council can do to encourage more dining and restaurant options.
Alessio said that the key is to promote downtown because “a) people want to come here and b) making people want to come here”, which is what La Mesa has been doing.
Parent responded, “We do have to make sure there’s a culture of saying yes at city hall” to new business efforts, like a new business association.
Someone asked what Council can do to stem the flow of sex trafficking in East County.
Sterling said that the La Mesa Police should be more aware of this than her, and the La Mesa Police work with other police departments.
Parent answered, “It’s a pretty big issue in the San Diego region.” Gang members have moved from drug trafficking to sex trafficking, and they earn more money in sex trafficking. He said that everyone “should be supportive of public safety personnel.”
Alessio replied, “Sex trafficking continues to be a problem.” Council has been giving the police resources when they need it.
Someone asked if they support Measure A which will raise taxes in La Mesa.
Parent said, “Yes. Measure A will provide over $1 million in infrastructure” to fix the 94 freeway and it will provide grant money to change the trolley on La Mesa Blvd “so it doesn’t affect traffic.”
Alessio was opposed. “It’s wrong.” It raises the tax limit and it’s a competitive grant for the trolley, she added.
Sterling was also opposed. “I don’t think taxes would put La Mesa in a position where they can’t ever have their own bond later.”
Someone asked about each of the candidates’ impressions on Oktoberfest and wondered if it should continue.
Alessio answered, “This year was one of the best.” She would like it to be continued because “it’s a tradition in La Mesa.”
Sterling said, “I think Oktoberfest is synonymous with La Mesa. I’m all for it.”
Parent replied, “We should have a Village association to take on the responsibility” of Oktoberfest. “Oktoberfest is absolutely a part of La Mesa,” he added.
Someone mentioned a lot of La Mesa residents shop outside of La Mesa. They wanted to know when the tax rate would be lowered.
Sterling was unsure. “Many, many people are shopping on the Internet… We’re getting good sales tax from the Internet.”
Parent said, “I think it’s 10 years or something before the tax expires… It’s a substantial part of the budget… I wouldn’t be ready to get rid of it right now…”
Alessio answered, “Prop L is scheduled to sunset in 12 years.” That’s when the tax rate would be lowered. “It has kept us afloat during hard times…”
Someone asked when the lease is up on Grossmont Center and what the plans are now.
Sterling responded, “The lease is up now” adding that the Cushman family, owners of the center, are “kind of secretive” about plans. But, recently, Sports Authority closed and a Restoration Hardware center opened in its place.
Parent added that the new tenants have extended their lease for an additional 2-3 years.
Alessio had no comment since Sterling and Parent said what needed to be said.
Last question was each candidate saying one good thing of the two other candidates.
Parent replied, “Ruth demonstrates a long standing commitment to La Mesa and a willingness to listen.” He admired Alessio for expressing support of her daughter.
Alessio commented, “Ruth is not afraid to be challenged” and she liked “Colin’s tenacity.”
Sterling thought Parent had a bright future, “but I hope it’s not with La Mesa City Council.” She also stated, “Kristine is a really special person [and] is well liked by the Council.”
The candidates gave their closing statements.
Alessio started. “I’ve been here a long time…I’ve been civically involved in for a long time.” She concluded, “I want to serve you…I’m your neighbor [and] your friend.” (For more information, visit: http://www.votealessio2016.com/.)
Parent said, “I think La Mesa is a wonderful place to live” but there are still challenges. “I am running a very spirited campaign.” (Go to: http://www.colinparent.org/.)
Sterling said, “La Mesa is a great place to live. It’s stable and a well run city…I’m part of that stability. It’s my greatest honor to serve you all these years.” She was also proud to be endorsed by the La Mesa Police.
Also, to get the facts before voting, go to LWV’s voter information site at http://votersedge.org/ca.