LA MESA COUNCIL CANDIDATES OFFER DIFFERING VIEWS ON HOMELESSNESS, HOUSING, TRANSIT, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND MORE

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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:

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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…”

  1. 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…”

  1. 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.

  1. 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…”

  1. 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.

  1. 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/.

 

Audio: 

audio of candidates' responses on homelessness

Comments

La Mesa Library

While I am not convinced another larger facility is needed, others do feel differently. But why wait for a grant that may never come or pine for new city leaders to pull a rabbit out (free money) of their hat? Perhaps the proponents of a new and larger facility could exercise some group initiative, seek seed funding from like minded citizens, and organize their own signature campaign to put a measure on the ballot for an increased sales or property tax for the facility they want to see. Once on the ballot they can go right to the voters to argue their case for the higher taxes to the voters for passage.

La Mesa's Temporary Library

La Mesa does not have a "new library" and Ms Alessio is well aware of that. When the new LMPD compound was complete, La Mesa's old library was crammed into a make-shift facility, in space built to serve as future office space for other city purposes. The temporary facility was intended to serve as an interim library only until La Mesa's permanent library was built. That temporary facility still warehouses the La Mesa library today. It is not only deficient in space (providing less than half of the space required to serve the library's multiple constituencies) but woefully deficient in design, access, functionality and interior build-out. Hardly surprising, as the temporary facility was never intended to be a library at all. Ms Alessio and the incumbent Council have been fully briefed on these and other deficiencies of the temporary library in considerable detail. Remedy for these deficiencies was the subject of several city grant applications submitted to Sacramento. The merit of the applications was noted by reviewers, but sufficient state funds were not available at the time. Today the library staff labors to serve thousands of La Mesa residents, seven days a week, in often awkward and counterproductive circumstances, while the planned permanent library waits quietly for renewed leadership on the part of the city. Until then, talk of La Mesa's "new library" is nothing but a cynical deceit.

My opinion of the library

My opinion of the library size and it's adequacy aside, councilwoman 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."
It was built in 2008. The same year as the fire and police stations. Are they also not new? The new PD station is referred to as such by Chief Vasquez. Is he wrong. Should he call it "Old PD Station #2?"
Please. I know Anthony doesn't like Ms. Alessio because of her support for term limits, but denying that a civic structure built when Barack Obama took office is new is, well,...silly.

We have a new library?

Perhaps Council member Alessio can tell us where the new library is located. On Thursday night, I heard her make a lot of statements and even sound defiant or annoyed when attempting to answer most questions. I look forward to hearing about real and fresh ideas for SOLUTIONS to existing issues from all of the candidates, both incumbents and newcomers.

The Library address is 8074

The Library address is 8074 Allison Ave. It was built in 2008, only eight years ago.

Library

Thanks...I know where the interim library is, which is not new. As a book person, it would make sense for you to support a permanent, larger collection of information and reference resources for the citizens of La Mesa.

That's quite new by city

That's quite new by city standards. As a bookseller, I find the primary reasons given for library expansion (public meeting room, more computers, etc..) less than compelling.

Library clarification

It's true there is a new library but it was intended as a temporary solution when approved by voters since it's not very large.  There was talk of building a bigger one where the old police station used to be, as  I recall.

Labeling the library an

Labeling the library an "interim building" was meant to make the city more competitive for expansion funding. But, of course, money's hard to come by. The old PD site has use restrictions that require housing, including affordable housing. I think the talk of using that location for the library was just that: talk.

Fluoride

The city of La Mesa has no decision making power in putting, or not putting, fluoride in the system of the Helix Water District. The issue of fluoridation was directed by state officials to California water agencies. La Mesa does not have a water agency. Instead of now complaining about city of La Mesa officials who are not the decision makers in this issue, the complainers should have taken responsibility themselves and gone to their state elected officials and the elected officials of the Helix Water District.

Fluoride

Parent definitely had the better answer for fluoride in terms of taking responsibility for the truth of the matter as opposed to tossing responsibility somewhere else

Fluoride

My daughter's teeth were damaged/discolored by fluoride as a child.  If they are getting it from multiple sources there's a potential for it to be harmful. Her dentist had suggested fluoride tablets and nobody told us it was also in our water. She had to have cosmetic surgery to get rid of giant brown spots on her front teeth.

Helix should educate all dentists locally to be sure they know this stuff is in the water here.