By Janis Russell
Hear audio of candidates' response on homelessness by clicking the orange link above
September 16, 2016 (La Mesa)-Last night, the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum for La Mesa City Council candidates at the La Mesa Community Center. Councilmember Kristine Alessio and newcomer Colin Parent participated; Councilmember Ruth Sterling was unable to attend due to surgery on a broken arm.The candidates agreed on some issues, such as helping local businesses thrive, but offered divergent views on others, such as how to address homelessness and transit funding.
Mary England, President/CEO of the Chamber, welcomed attendees. Bill Hammett, a Chamber board member, was moderator for the forum.
First, Alessio and Parent gave introductions about themselves.
Alessio said, “I have been your Councilmember for the past four years (and before that, was on the planning commission for 10 years)… I have been a La Mesan for 24 years.” She also mentioned what the city of La Mesa has done since she’s been Councilmember, such as groundbreaking on pet parks. “The senior center is thriving… La Mesa is becoming a hot, new place to move to,”she said, adding, “Your concerns are my concerns.”
Parent said, “I’m a native to East County… I’m a graduate of Valhalla High School… I’m trained as an attorney.” He was in the Jerry Brown campaign when Brown ran for Governor and was appointed by the Governor to a position handling affordable housing issues. He currently works for Circulate San Diego.
“I focus on three things,” Parent stated. One,public safety. Crime is going up in La Mesa.” To retain police officers, he proposed, “We should be considering three to four year contracts.” His second focus is on “quality of life; I really like the direction we’re seeing downtown.” Third is open government.”so everyone has an opportunity to be involved.”
Next, Hammett read a list of questions the public came up with for each candidate to answer. The board chose the most popular questions that people submitted on cards, including these:
- In 2009, Prop L was passed, which increased the sales tax. Then Prop 30 came along, which increased the sales tax even more. Is there a plan to replace the revenue once the sun sets?
Alessio answered, “I think Prop L is important… We will review the budget.” She added,”If we are going to sustain La Mesa.. we are going to have to be in control of our destiny. Prop L is what saved our city in 2009” (after the 2008 recession) she noted.
Parent replied, “We both agree” that Prop L is important, but he added that stating whether the city should extend the tax measure or not would be “premature.”..He added that he supports the SANDAG transportation ballot measure on November’s ballot because “it has “very clear explanations of how the money will be spent.”
- The city is funding Oktoberfest etc. Do you approve the city using taxes to fund the events?
Parent responded that he thought it was okay for this year (the city hired an outside agency to run Oktoberfest after the La Mesa Village Merchants Association defaulted on repaying costs from last yaer’s event.) But Parent added that he hopes the city can “empower new groups of businesses to (form) the new business association,” a reference to the new La Mesa Village Association that recently filed for nonprofit status and has been holding meetings with plans to organize future events.
Alessio said, “Well, I voted to support these events… You cannot put a dollar amount on community events… We used taxpayers’ money,” she noted, but hopes to see full cost recovery for the future. “I think a new business association shows great promise.”
- How can the Council bring small businesses to La Mesa, like breweries?
Alessio answered that the City has been doing just that already. It’s also important to “foster relationships with other entities, so people will know what a wonderful city we have,” she said, noting that La Mesa has also hired a marketing consultant.
Parent said, “I think promoting small businesses, local businesses” is key for Council and that having an “active business association.. is really important..A lot of people tell me the rules in La Mesa are back from the ‘70’s—outdated,” which makes it difficult to apply for permits etc., he added. As for letting new businesses in, he quipped,”Sometimes people are afraid of their own shadow.”
- Our library is an aging library. Is there any way to improve it or expand it? Where will the money come from?
Parent replied, “If the City of La Mesa will invest in a new civic center.. there has to be more space for the library”and activities. He added, “ I think libraries are incredibly important… How you pay for that? I’ve read a Keyster- Marston study that La Mesa is ready for a new civic center… If we won’t build a new library, we will actually lose money to the County…”
Alessio said, “We have a new library. The problem is getting funding to increase it. The size is inadequate.. It all comes down to money… We probably have to do [that] with a bond measure,” which would mean taxes for the new civic center and library.
- Someone else expressed an uneasy feeling they get about the homeless.
Alessio answered that people have been providing services to the homeless, including the Police Department and faith-based organizations. “Yes sometimes people are afraid of the homeless or they don’t like what they’re doing and it is a huge problem, but La Mesa is not going to solve the homeless people…” She mentioned having a family member who has been homeless and noted that many have mental illness and “it’s extremely said.” She added,.”What we can do is take care of the people that are here and make residents feel safe… She views directing the homeless to services elsewhere as the best solution for La Mesa.
Parent said, “Homelessness and affordable housing are big important issues for me… I worked in the Governor Brown’s administration in the Dept. of Housing and Conmunity Development where I worked on affordable housing policy; and a couple of years for the city of San Diego’s Housing authority” working on affordable housing for the homeless. “I think what we just heard is focusing on services for the homeless.”By contrast, he believes, “What the homeless really need is housing. That’s why they’re homeless. That needs to be the focus.” He acknowledged that takes more money than La Mesa could afford on its own.”We need to demand more resources from the County… We can’t do it all ourselves,”he said noting that the county gets federal money which could be allocated for La Mesa.” He also noted that some need additional help and resources for services should also be sought from the County.
- A question was brought up about energy saving, and possibly conducting a feasibility study for the public to participate in different options.
Parent thought a study was a good idea.
Alessio responded, “Yes, City Council is actually hearing a presentation on this at our next meeting… I’m always into giving consumers choices…”
- Someone asked if a big RV parking lot on Baltimore could be used for a hotel, and if there could be improvements on Baltimore.The site is where Park Station, a mixed-use high rise development has previously been proposed.
Alessio said, “Whether or not the project is being considered depends on the property owner... Yes it does need to be redeveloped… [It] has to apply with zoning and planning,” added Alessio, who has previously voiced concerns over an 18 story building proposed that would require a variance from height limits. “As it sits today, I don’t think they’re planning to do a hotel or anything else.”
Parent replied, “Clearly, an 18 story hotel building is too tall… I think the initial proposal is no longer in play…”
- The next question asked about the “green rush” and marijuana industry, on which residents have different views. The person wanted to know if there was a plan to protect residents from the illegal retailers and delivery services.
Parent said, “La Mesa has a blanket plan on medical marijuana.” There is a ballot measure coming in November, where there would be areas where those businesses could operate. “I think voters are going to pass that… Anyone who owns and operates.. has to follow the rules… There are a bunch of dispensaries (throughout La Mesa) that haven’t been closed down...” thought they are not legal currently.
Alessio commented, “It is a problem for many neighborhoods… There is a very complex legal system to get them to shut down… I hope voters don’t pass this measure. If voters do pass this prop.. we’ve already taken steps” to determine where they can operate for example. If approved by voters, she wants to “tightly regulate them [and] place them away from schools and residences.” City staff and Council have been fighting to find ways to deal with illegal dispensaries that have cropped up,she noted.
- Do you think Helix Water District should stop adding fluoride to drinking water since it’s not necessary anymore?
Alessio answered, “Having the district respond” to anything the city asks or requests “is a difficult thing. We cannot force them to do one thing or another. Helix Water District needs to be responsive” to anything the public asks, she added.
Parent replied, “My understanding is that [fluoride is] good for people’s teeth… There is a role for City Council to play in communicating with other governments…”
- There’s been much growth in La Mesa. How does Council plan to fund infrastructure as well as crime that will come along with it?
Parent said, “If the new development wants to occur, they have to pay the impact fees to offset costs. You have to make sure fees are set correctly… I think people are concerned on the new development and the impact it’ll have on infrastructure.”
Alessio replied, “… My professional background is I’m a real estate attorney.” There are two types of infrastructure- road and sewer/other. For sewer, “we do incremental rates… We have various funds…” she added.
- Another question was brought up on how to promote and expand public transportation.
Alessio answered, “I think it promotes itself. I’m not sure what you would do to expand it. We can encourage it… We have been the leader in urban trails” as well as walking and biking, she noted. “I don’t think you should force people to ride public transportation. MTS needs to be marketing themselves.” Alessio has previously voiced opposition to the SANDAG transportation measure, stating she didn’t feel it offered enough for East County.
Parent responded, “I’m a professional advocate for public transportation… I’m not satisfied with the answer” that it’s MTS’s problem, he said of Alessio’s response. “New routes and new transit are not made by MTS; they’re made by SANDAG.” He urged the public to support the transportation ballot measure from SANDAG that would raise taxes a half cent to fund transit as well as roadway improvements.
After the last question, each candidate gave closing statements.
Alessio said, “I hope you learned a little bit about me. We have been leading La Mesa on so many fronts… I hope I get your vote for re-election.” She thanked her daughter, Emily, for helping with her campaign.
Parent said, “This was fun… I was a little nervous… I think we do have challenges in La Mesa”such as homelessness, housing, and public safety. “We have to be willing to try new things… If elected, I won’t slow down,” he promised. “I am the only Democrat in the race.”, he added,noting that it would be nice to have diversity on City Council. “I would really be honored to have your votes.”
A second forum for La Mesa candidates that hopefully will include all three is slated for September 28 at the La Mesa United Methodist Church (4690Palm Ave.) with meet-and-greet at 6:30 and forum at 7 p.m. Some ballot initiatives will also be discussed. For full details see http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/la-mesa-candidates%E2%80%99-forum-sept-28.
For more information on Alessio, visit: http://www.votealessio2016.com/.
For more information on Parent, go to: http://www.colinparent.org/.
Also, to find out more about the La Mesa Chamber and other upcoming events, go to: http://lamesachamber.chambermaster.com/events/calendar/.