STANDING ROOM ONLY AT LA MESA CANDIDATE DEBATE

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By Kristin Kjaero and Miriam Raftery

October 4, 2010 (La Mesa) -- It was standing room only at the League of Women Voters’ La Mesa Candidates Forum last Wednesday.

East County Magazine was there to videotape for those unable to attend the event. Video links follow at the bottom of this article.

The incumbents, Mayor Art Madrid and Councilmen Ernie Ewin and Mark Arapostathis, focused on the depth and length of their public service and ties to the community, while demonstrating their knowledge of City finances and processes. Madrid and Ewin raised their families in the city; Arapostathis grew up in La Mesa.

Arapostathis sees his role on Council as a natural progression of the public service he began in high school key clubs, and as a teacher he sees himself as a voice for families with children.

Ewin pointed out that City issues are not just something that candidates pull out for campaigns, rather something they work with every day.

Madrid spoke of the value of experience, noting that opportunities and invitations to participate in regional and national organizations do not appear simply because one holds a title, rather they come as a result of connections that have been built and nurtured over time as the result of accomplishments.

Mayoral challenger Laura Lothian, as well as City Council challengers Patrick Dean and Ian Shiff, advocated for change. Council candidate Kevin Rynearson was absent.

Lothian focused primarily on cleaning up trash in La Mesa, combating crime and attracting new businesses to the City. She took numerous shots at the Mayor, beginning even before the meeting started with a team of women in tiaras outside the doorway chanting “Laura, Laura” and blasting music from a tape recorder, in response to a side comment Madrid had made at a previous debate, when he suggested she wanted the title as a “tiara” to promote her real estate business. In her opening statement, she contrasted his length of service with her “high energy,” and promised “professional conduct” and “respect for her detractors.”

Patrick Dean emphasized his endorsement by the Democratic Party and took a more optimistic view of the economy and city pensions than the other candidates. He emphasized his desire for a green future. To a question about an application for an eighteen-story building the City has received, he responded “Hell no, but let’s look at it because it’s going in the right direction.” He clarified that he would like to see more park space in the project, and has previously stated that he would not approve any buildings over the current eight-story limit. He cited a need for multi-use development in transit corridors along Fletcher Parkway and El Cajon Boulevard and the City center. “That is actually going to save our really lovely single family neighborhoods,” Dean said.

Ian Shiff said he is running for change because “politics as usual is over,” saying that he would not take donations from anybody so that he would “not have anybody in my back pocket, not have anyone I own anything to,” and “if I ever do anything to embarrass this City, I will resign.” He was critical of crime rates in the city.

 

Questions about Finance

The central questions of the evening revolved around the City’s finances: where one would cut if revenues decline, how one would attract new business, and what skills each of the candidates bring to the table.

Shiff said he would reevaluate the city sales tax, look at the Grossmont Center lease that is expiring soon, and look into alternative sources of revenue such as red light cameras. He said he would talk to his clients in Northern California and Silicone Valley about relocating and how nice it is to work and live in La Mesa, and offer them some sort of incentive.

Lothian said she feels the sales tax has driven people away, and sees lower sales tax in the future. She criticized the City Planning Department, saying that “Sometimes in the name of compliance and zoning we get too expensive, too strict, too rigid,” and she would like to foster “an environment of helpfulness.” She would like lenders to facilitate microloans.

In addressing the question about candidates’ backgrounds and skills managing a budget, Lothian cited her job as a real estate salesperson advising clients on the purchase of homes. “They look to me for guidance. If I mess up I can ruin someone’s life,” she said, and continued “I’m extremely aware of living inside your means, I’ve done it myself with my own household budget,” she said. (Lothian did not mention at least 10 financial cases including injunctive relief, loan defaults, losing her house to foreclosure, collection actions, an eviction, plus state and federal tax liens totaling $2.5 million for her and her ex-husband. Lothian has stated that those problems were due primarily to the actions of her ex-husband, who was convicted of defrauding investors. She discussed those financial issues with ECM in an earlier candidate interview.)

Ewin emphasized the importance of relationships as part of an integrated process to market the City, and the importance of infrastructure to attract businesses. He said it is no accident that Best Buy opened on Fletcher Parkway. “They did the demographics based on information the city provided.” He cited the importance of infrastructure in making a City attractive.

Madrid cited the importance of the City’s sales tax because it is something the state cannot take away. He agreed with Ewin on the importance of infrastructure. He said he has been in close communication with the owners of Grossmont Center for years; the owner has traveled to explore some exciting ideas, but for now the economy will effect what happens there. He cited his experience working with a “City budget that averages $135 million a year to see that those dollars are invested in a logical way so that the best services we can provide for the citizens are there,” as well as his experience as a Department Head at PacBell, and as a founding member of a Savings and Loan in the late ‘60’s.

Arapostathis noted that while Proposition 13 has allowed many residents to stay in their homes, in established community like La Mesa it also means that we have the lowest property taxes in the County. He says the most important thing the City has done is establish a cost recovery fee policy for services it provides. He stated “as our business goes, so goes our City,” and expressed a desire to make La Mesa a destination. Arapostathis, who is Director of the Peter Pan/Hook Junior Theater joked, “It wouldn’t hurt if we had a performing arts center either. I promise that some time before I leave this earth I will bring that to La Mesa.”

Dean stated that there would be hard choices to make and he doesn’t know all the answers, however “I do believe that people are willing to pay for an effective, efficient government, and we can provide that.” He advocated passage of Proposition 25, which would allow the state Legislature to pass a budget with a simple majority. He referenced past personal financial issues and concluded that as a Councilmember, he would be working with City staff. He stated that he would like to see a five-cent tax on plastic bags, and that the living environment, schools, walkability and bikability are part of what makes the City of La Mesa attractive.

 

Video Clips

  1. Mayoral Candidates Opening Statements: Laura Lothian, Art Madrid
  2. City Council Candidates Opening Statements: Mark Arapostathis, Patrick Dean, Ernie Ewin, Ian Shiff
  3. What motivated you to run? Part 1, Part 2
  4. If revenues decline in this economy, where would you cut the budget?
  5. Describe your financial background and skills
  6. Have you considered eliminating firefighter positions and hiring an ambulance service, and provide funding to CalFire instead?
  7. How will you continue La Mesa's environmental sustainability?
  8. How will you attract new business to La Mesa? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
  9. Development in the Village, and Closing Arguments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3