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City also lifts pandemic emergency declaration, proposes enforcement of affordable housing rules

By Jessyka Heredia

March 21,2023 (La Mesa) -- At Tuesday’s meeting, the La Mesa City Council voted to have staff draft a project labor agreement, form a subcommittee to consider stricter regulation of tobacco sales, and create fees for monitoring compliance with affordable housing in the city, among other items.

There were three Council-initiated items on the agenda.

Councilmember Jack Shu (photo, right) said he was approached by members of the public asking to agendize a Tobacco Retailer Licensing (TRL) Ordinance which could be modeled after El Cajon’s strict tobacco ordinance. Several speakers expressed their concerns over tobacco, including Janet Castenos, who said she is “in favor of enforcing illegal sales” and assuring that “youths are not sold tobacco and flavored tobacco.” Linda Baber testified that the city has an illegal tobacco sales rate of 65%, which she called “unacceptable.”

Mayor Mark Arapostathis recommended a subcommittee, expressing concerns over enforcement, and encouraged Council and staff to “push the education side” for prevention. The motion passed 4-1 with Councilmember Laura Lothian casting the only no vote. She expressed concerns over enforcement of current law and asked, “Did anyone receive fines?”

The Council also heard an item put on the Agenda by Vice Mayor Colin Parent and Councilmember Patricia Dillard and Parent asking to direct staff to begin negotiations to enter into a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the building trades and carpenter unions.  A PLA would require union workers on city-funded construction projects. The room was filled with many local union representatives and union workers encouraging the city to keep local money local. 

Union worker Patrick Davidson told the Council about the “opportunity the union gave him.” He testified how he could buy a home, has good benefits, and a pension and how this agreement would “keep tax money local.” The item passed unanimously 5-0.

The Council also heard an item put forward by Parent and Shu to create a policy and program that would utilize affordable housing agreements and generate a fee-based  revenue to monitor compliance with affordability deed restrictions.  Shu showed his desire to approve this ordinance, stating, “If we do create affordable housing,” compliance monitoring would assure that affordable units go to “people who are eligible to rent from those places” and further assure “that the landlord is complying with the deed. “

This item passed 4-1, with the no vote coming from Councilmember Laura Lothian. She voiced her view that “more government programs, affordable housing programs, it’s just adding more layers of bureaucracy and it’s just making it unaffordable.”

Grossmont Center Security Guard David Antonio was recognized by  Mayor Mark Arapostathis and the City Council  for helping two separate unsheltered women connect to long-term housing. Antonio made a call for assistance to the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement (HOME) team, a program designed to prevent homelessness and housing insecurity, provide outreach and mental health services, as well as address future transitional and permanent housing needs. 

Antonio proudly stated, “I love La Mesa! I went to Helix, I learned a lot of life lessons there”. He praised HOME for the work they are doing, saying, “I reached out to them. but they finished the touchdown.”

A presentation was given by MTS Director of Transit Security and Passenger Safety Al Stiehler on current fare enforcement policies, types of enforcement officers as well as support services and facts and statistics for the trolley system.

Stiehler explained the difference between a Code Compliance Inspector and a Transit Security Officer and the limitations they have in enforcement due to policy. 

Code Enforcement Inspectors are unarmed MTS employees who may issue citations. These inspectors are public officers for the state of California and are there to enforce MTS ordinances and misdemeanors, whereas a Transit Security officer is a contract employee who may or may not be armed, but has limited authority in that they can do a citizens arrest. Stiehler specified that “one third of TSOs are armed” and “all inspectors are Narcan trained.”

For passengers who did not purchase a fare before boarding, there are options to avoid a citation. If a rider has the PRONTO card or app pre-loaded with money, an MTS inspector can simply accept the rider’s fare or the rider can exit at the next stop to purchase the fare and re-enter. The passenger may also” just walk away”, said Stiehler, with no ticket or fee. If the rider refuses to pay or exit, the rider will be cited and can either pay the “$15 fine“ or do volunteer hours. There is also a process to review the citation if the rider feels it is in error.

Work Plans were presented by Planning, Community Services and the Historic Preservation Commission establishing their goals for 2023. Councilmember Shu read the proclamation declaring March 21, 2023 Spring Equinox Nowruz Day.

In his staff report, City Manager, Greg Humora (photo, left) recommended that staff adopt a resolution to terminate the local emergency due to Coronavirus and rescind the executive orders associated with it such as reprogramming the pedestrian traffic signals. During the pandemic, Parent pushed for the pedestrian crosswalk signals to no longer require the pedestrian to push the button to activate the crossing signals and instead, crossing signals would be automatically coordinated with the traffic light.

Parent asked Council to direct staff to keep the timing of the lights as is, while the Mayor gave examples of seeing cars idling needlessly and increasing emissions. Councilmember Shu eventually motioned for a compromise, requesting that they approve terminating the emergency but to analyze the crossing signals further. The motion carried 5-0.



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