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By Allan Acevedo
July 19, 2019 (La Mesa) – The La Mesa City Council meeting last week started with public comments from speakers advocating to keep a Farmer’s Market downtown. The early testimony foreshadows what could be a contentious next session, when Council will consider four proposals for the future of its farmer’s market.  

Long-Vacant Old Police Station May Soon Be Developed


The old La Mesa police station may soon become the sight of a new housing development. Reporting back from closed session, La Mesa City Attorney Glenn Sabine announced that council approved entering into an exclusive negotiating agreement with USA Properties Fund, Inc. for the property’s development.


The 1.27-acre lot located at 8181 Allison Avenue has been vacant since the demolition of the old police station in 2007. The La Mesa City Council acquired the lot in 2012 as a result of the State of California’s mandated disillusion of redevelopment agencies and the City opting to serve as its successor. The City affirmed in 2017 that it intended to develop the property for housing affordable to persons and families of low and moderate income.


Last November, Council reviewed a market and feasibility study for the property and ultimately voted, unanimously, to direct staff to issue a request for proposals for developers, based on a market analysis scenario presented by City consultants, Keyser Marston Associated (KMA). The full memorandum can be found online here


It makes clear that the original sale of the site to the redevelopment agency created “an obligation to construct affordable housing.” The analyses focused on five development scenarios, all of which envisioned 104-residential units with 138 parking spaces.


The preferred scenario, per the report and council action, was a mix of market-rate and moderate-income housing. The scenario outlined 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent moderate-income housing. That would create 21 below-market units. The KMA report projected a market-rate two bedroom renting for $2,600 a month and a one bedroom for $2,030. The 21 other units would rent for $1,966 and $1,755, respectively.


The estimates focus on the residual land value after construction. Importantly, construction estimates “do not assume prevailing wages.”


Last week, Council announced it was negotiating with USA Properties Fund, Inc. Councilmember Kristen Alessio spoke to East County Magazine after the meeting. She emphasized that USA Properties Fund, Inc. had the strongest application and already operates another housing project in La Mesa. Alessio explained that the negotiations are confidential until an agreement is reached. Such an agreement would then be made public and voted upon. She anticipated that would take 60 to 90 days. Though Alessio ensured that there would be many opportunities for public input before the project was finalized.


Vice Mayor Colin Parent stressed that the City has had an obligation to construct more affordable housing. With this project, Parent celebrated that the council was finally acting on its obligations by moving the project forward.


Proposal for new parking district fund moves forward despite funding concerns


Councilmember Bill Baber and Vice Mayor Colin Parent brought forth a proposal to divert half of budgeted surpluses from parking meters and permits towards a new fund. The funding program would provide monies designed to attract customers to businesses and create entertainment and community opportunities.

The proposal’s controversial funding plan called for drawing down roughly $40,000 from a reserve fund that contains nearly half a million dollars. Decisions concerning funding in subsequent years would be included in the budgeting process, the proposal detailed.


Parent emphasized the proposal “won’t solve all the problems but make a gesture” to make more people “feel like they are winning.” Baber likened the project to “a business improvement district with training wheels.”


Councilmembers Akilah Weber and Kristine Alessio expressed concern with drawing down reserves. Both emphasized there were still phases of older projects which had not advanced due to denied grants. Weber and Alessio also wanted to expand permissible applicants beyond the proposed non-profits to include local small businesses in The Village.


The proposal asked staff to develop the program and come back to council after input from the Parking Commission. Parking Commissioner Lori Kern spoke before the Council requesting a presentation on the proposal, because the fund would fall under their jurisdiction.


Medical Marijuana Patients May Have Been Erroneously Charged Sales Tax: Council Approves Correction 


In 2018, La Mesa voters overwhelming passed Measure V, the cannabis business tax. In the impartial analysis prepared by city attorney Glen Sabine, the measure would impose taxes “only on commercial cannabis businesses, and is not a sales tax imposed on qualified patients, primary caregivers or other persons who purchase or otherwise acquire cannabis for their personal use, including personal cultivation.”


After approval, in codifying the measure into the La Mesa Municipal Code, the section concerning the different tax rates on retail cannabis sales and those for qualified patients was “inadvertently omitted,” per staff reports.

La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis inquired of staff what percent of La Mesa citizens currently qualify for the lower tax rate of zero percent. Staff reported fewer than one percent of La Mesa residents would be affected.


Councilmember Baber underscored that this change “was not a change to the tax.” It was unclear how many people, if any, were erroneously charged.


East County Magazine reached out to The Grove medical marijuana dispensary, were an employee said the  dispensary was unaware of the error or the proposed corrections at the City Council meeting. The owner of the dispensary was unavailable for commentary at the time of publication.


The correction to the City’s ordinance passed unanimously. 


Sewer Rates Set for Coming Year: Deadline for Corrections and Exceptions is August 10


Since 2012, The City has authorized the County of San Diego to collect the fixed charge special assessment, levied by the City, when the County collects property taxes. This sewer service charge is based on the winter water rate usage from the four-month period over the past five years, and other factors, per staff report and the Sewer Service Charge Adjustment Policies. State law requires an annual written report to the City Clerk describing each parcel and its charge, based on the adopted schedule.


Of the 13,716 parcels in La Mesa, the City anticipates generating nearly $12 million, which averages to a cost of roughly $850 annually per parcel. Ratepayers can review rate information on the City’s Sewer Service Fees handout.


Residents may request a sewer billing adjustment, if qualified, before the charges are placed on the property tax bill. The City’s sewer charge adjustment policy are available on the city’s website. Exceptions submitted after August 10 will require a $15 fee.


Other Council Actions


The City Attorney position was changed from part time to full time with a base annual salary of $223,000. The approved agreement is for three years.


Appointments to various boards and commissions were ratified by the council. The full list can be viewed here