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Updated with highlights from all three participating candidates' statements during the forum, plus links to interviews with three other candidates who were not available for the forum.

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: left to right: Allan Durden, Colin Parent, Mark Papenfuss, Kristine Alessio, Jack Shu, Laura Lothian

October 11, 2020 (La Mesa) -- At East County Magazine's recent virtual forum for La Mesa City Council candidates, candidates offered their ideas for addressing the compelling issues facing the city including police/racial justice/public safety issues in the wake of protests and a riot, downtown redevelopment, housing, homelessness, budget priorities, COVID-19 relief and more.

Three of the six candidates running participated in the forum: Councilman Colin Parent, as well as challengers Allan Durden and Jack Shu.

To view video of candidate forum, click here:


To read highlights of the forum, and more information on all candidates, scroll down.

Three other candidates were unable to participate in the forum due to schedule conflicts, but provided separate video interviews via Zoom, which are posted below, along with highlights of their statements:


Kristine Alessio is a native of La Mesa who was elected to the La Mesa City Council in 2012 after serving for many years as a planning commissioner. She holds a law degree and has served as the city’s representative on SANDAG. She is a former board member on the East County YMCA and East County Boys and Girls Club, also donating time to support various local charities. As candidate not aligned with a political party, she says she can represent all La Mesans, equally and fairly. www.alessio2020.com

Allan Durden has been a La Mesa resident since 1964. A Helix High School graduate, he earned a football scholarship to the University of Arizona and entered the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. He is a licensed insurance agent and regional sales manager. He says his mission is “to keep our La Mesa streets safe and our small business community thriving.” https://www.facebook.com/allandurdenforlamesa/

Laura Lothian is a realtor with a business in the village. She is running to bring a business perspective and vote for personal and business freedoms, also reducing regulations. She supports the farmer’s market and festivals in the village and wants to create a “garden district.” She is on the La Mesa Village Association board and previously ran for council and mayor. She voices support for police to address civil unrest. www.LauraForLaMesa.com.

Mark Papenfuss raised his family in La Mesa, where he says he’s had ties for 25 years. He states that he has worked for a Fortune 500 company and wants to bring more small businesses into La Mesa. He  aims to expand the farmer’s market, support affordable housing with adequate parking, and help La Mesa “rise from the ashes” after recent events. http://www.markp4lamesa.com/

Colin Parent was elected to the La Mesa City Council in 2016. An attorney, he serves as executive director and general counsel for Circulate San Diego. He advocates for affordable homes, accessible transit, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He is also a  cofounder of La Mesa Conversations, a discussion group on La Mesa issues. https://www.colinparent.org/about

Jack Shu is a former California State Parks Superintendent and past president of Cleveland National Forest Foundation. He has advocated for healthy communities, human rights, environmental protection and justice. He pushed to form a Citizens Public Safety and Oversight Task Force, to address concerns of policing and racial justice. He worked to form La Mesa’s Citizens Task for on Homelessness and served on the Wellness Committee. https://jackshu.com/


Qualifications and goals

Parent:  I was the first new Democrat elected to the City Council in over 20 years.” He attended Valhalla, SDSU and New York University law school. He runs a nonprofit advocating for safe streets for schools and affordable housing.

He says he helped the city adopt a climate action plan, led on making it easier for homeowners to build granny flats or ADUs, and “I led the fight to keep La Mesa’s farmer’s market in the village.”  He’s endorsed by the East County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic Party. He says he is proud of his record working for economic development and wants to keep a thriving business environment in La Mesa.

Shu:  He’s lived in La Mesa for 34 years and raised his children here.  “Because of events that occurred on May 30th and watching the City Council struggle made me think that I need to do more for my community.” He’s been an advocate for the environment, police reforms and helping the homeless.  He’s been a park superintendent for nearly 30 years, been a peace officer, and president of Cleveland National Forest Foundation for 25 years, dealing with regional transportation and greenhouse gas issue. He’s endorsed by the Democratic Party and unions.

 “I want a vibrant La Mesa from one end to the other, and that we don’t leave anyone behind.” Says Shu. The law enforcement oversight task force of which he was a member will be submitting recommendations that he believes will provide the best possible oversight to make the police department trusted by the community.

Durden:  “Forty five years ago my family moved to La Mesa. People signed a petition to get my family to move. We didn’t move. We decided to stay. We loved La Mesa. My brother, Kevin, was killed on the streets of La Mesa right across from La Mesa Dale Elementary School by a 16-year-old,” he says, yet they stayed.  Recently he says he was profiled along with his wife by people taking down their license plate and taking their photos while they drove home from Vons, yet they stayed because their friends and family are here. “I love La Mesa,” he says, despite those problems. “All I know is that La Mesa is better together.”

His priority is keeping La Mesa safe, keeping the business community thriving, and making sure we take care of family and kids to have a place to gather, grow, have good learning communities and a vibrant library and community center.

Racial justice and public safety

Shu:  He recalled that the Police Chief and  City Council rejected a Grand Jury recommendation to start a police oversight commission, which he calls a failure of leadership. He says the officer involved in the trolley stop incident was known to people of color for having a reputation of racial profiling. “We could have intervened,” he says.  He cited data obtained through a public records act that shows Black people are arrested at a rate three times higher than the population of Blacks in La Mesa, a situation he believes must change under a new police chief.

Durden:  He cited a survey that ranked La Mesa the 66th safest city in California but that 16% of Californians have experienced violence in the past 38 months. La Mesa had a violent crime rate 2.6 per 1000 residents and property rate 17.4.  “I am not advocating defunding of the police department,” he says, adding that police are not doing a bad job. But he wants to see the crime statistics kept low – within confines of the law.

 “We need more police officers that understand the community – walking downtown La Mesa and having conversations with business owners,” getting to know the homeless people.  “Defunding is out of line with what we need. La Mesa is a great place we need. There are a few bad apples…but this is not  the character of the people in La Mesa.” He wants to get rid of bad apples and hire officers that live in La Mesa.

Parent:  He says public safety is a core responsibility that he takes seriously.  “If we’re going to continue to keep our city safe we’re going to have to have a police force and fire department that we pay well…but we’re also going to have to have accountabiilty.” He voted for the police oversight body, but says that’s only the first step.  “It’s a big national conversation that we’re having.”

He noted that the city is having a national search for a new police chief and will have opportunities for the public to be engaged in the process.  He wants a continuing dialogue to be sure everyone is treated equally and everyone feels safe.”  Rioting is “totally NOT okay,” he said, but added that issues of concern to protesters need to be acknowledged. “These are my values and I think they are the values of La Mesa.”

Housing and homelessness

Durden: He says it makes sense to build housing on undeveloped commercial land but does not want overbuilding. He cites concerns from people concerned about lack of parking at some new projects and wants contingency plans for ingress and egress out of neighborhoods. “I believe in housing but we have to do it responsibly,” he says.

Parent: He was appointed by Gov. Brown in Sacramento to serve in the administration working on affordable housing and later worked at the public housing authority for San Diego. “ This is something I care a great deal about,” he says, adding that he worked on efforts to create La Mesa’s homeless task force and has supporting building more homes in La Mesa.  He says there is a housing shortage and wants to focus on development near transit, reducing the number of vehicles, which has “great synergy with our climate action plan.”

Shu: He says cities are often driven to do housing with economic priorities, which is an error in his view. It should be “what the community needs, what the people need. That’s how we design our community and set priorities.”  He says we don’t have a shortage of expensive or moderate priced homes in our region. “We have a lack of affordable housing” and we need to increase the percentage of them in projects, he says, citing state mandates.  He is proud of the homeless task force proposal to create a mobile outreach team. “We don’t always need to send a police office with an armament” to deal with a homeless person or one in a psychiatric crisis.  He cited the CAHOOTS program as an alternative approach.

Downtown vision and beyond

Shu: He chided the city for “broken promises” to build a better library. “That’s a priority.”  He mentioned the climate action plan and the need to reduce vehicle miles traveled. “We also need to accommodate things like our special events, farmer’s market etc” which includes a need to revise the general plan. “La Mesa is nine square miles with other areas that need attention” to invigorate communities through innovative approaches.  “It just takes leadership at City Hall.”

Durden: He agrees that a library should be a priority. He says the current library has no room for privacy for mothers to read stories to kids, he noted on a recent visit. He wants better use of the community center. He likes Oktoberfest but wants inclusive events like Juneteenth. “We can all come together for a beer because we respect each other. We have to learn how to respect each other.”

Parent: He calls the village a “special” part of La Mesa that everyone in the city enjoys, as well as a big economic generator drawing people from as far away as the South Bay to dine out.  “That’s a real reflection of the investments we made” such as the downtown street scape, new businesses and restaurants that amounted to a Renaissance in the village.  He thinks a pedestrian piazza is a good idea but we also need bicycle and pedestrian connections to contribute to the vibrancy of the village.

Budget priorities and CARES Act funding

Parent: He notes the challenge with budgets is “there’s never enough money to spend” on everything everybody wants.  So a budget has to be “a reflection of our values.”  He believes “we have to be looking after the people in our community who are the most vulnerable first” such as those facing eviction or those who are homeless. But he says the budget will mean real challenges in the recession; despite substantial reserves “we also have substantial costs,” he adds. That means looking at more revenues such as the new tax on cannabis but more are needed to continue providing quality services.

Shu: His priorities are “the people” which means looking at the broad scope of services. For a long time, police and fire got whatever they wanted, he says, adding he supports rethinking how to provide services the police provide and see if there are efficient ways to provide some of those, such as teams to respond to certain kinds of calls such as homeless.  As for revenues, he has long opposed regressive taxes that cost the poor more, such as sales taxes.  “I want to reverse that…people that have the means should be paying more.”  As for CARES Act, he says that’s “a good example of why progressives need to win a majority on the city council…We cannot afford to continue” leadership that “did not hear the cries of many hundreds of renters/applicants who needed help.” While businesses also need help, he says we need to help those who need it most first.

Durden: He says a balance between businesses and citizens is needed. He is a supervisor of 40 independent owned businesses in a large company to “help them stay alive and stay vibrant.” We need a vibrant community, he says, adding that the “most vulnerable are the people we need to take care of first” yet “if we have a vibrant business community, we will have the revenues to do that.”  He wants to see data that led the Council to make their decision to give more to business than to renters.

How would you work with Spring Valley and Lemon Grove to strengthen regional racial relations?

Parent:  He says relationships are important with Supervisors and neighboring councilmembers.  He’s endorsed by the Lemon Grove Mayor and says they’ve worked together on some projects.

Shu: “La Mesa can really provide some leadership…to have events that are multicultural, international events and make it fun, make it tasty, musical, artful, and bring that together…I taught multicultural diversity for much of my career…” but we also need “hard core discussions on racial relations” soon he says “to change our community to be more together.”

Durden: He said the day after the riot, a woman asked him why so many minorities are moving into La Mesa; she’d lived here 25 years. “I said I’ve been a La Mesa resident for 45 years, so does that mean you moved into my neighobrhood? She stormed away.”  He wants to invite friends from all neighboring areas here. He supports multicultural events so people understand “we are one and we are La Mesa, we’re better together.”

Conflicts of interest

Parent: “California has very clear rules when people are required to refrain from voting on certain issues” if there is an actual conflict. He says if there is ever a vote on a matter his board members or the nonprofit is involved in, “I would be required not to run for that.” He says he has recused in the past and that he asks the city attorney when there is any question over whether to withdraw. But he adds that this is a part time job, so it’s not unusual for there to be conflicts that arise.

Shu: He’s retired and just stepped down from Cleveland National Forest Foundation to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, since they are involved in planning issues and regional climate change matters. He also withdrew from the homeless task force to avoid a conflict. “As a city councilman I’ll be very transparent,” he said. Shu added that there are “incompatible activities” that may be legal, but appear to be a conflict. He says he would disclose and if he can, get out of the conflict of interest.

Durden:  “This is a very easy one for me,” he says. “The only reason I’m running is to give a voice to La Mesans”.  He said he has no conflicts of interest and if he did, he would recuse.

Covid-19 enforcement

Durden: “Absolutely” enforcing rules for masks and social distancing are important, he said, citing the risk to the elderly and now, evidence shows, young people.  “I think it’s so important that we look out for each other.” 

Shu: He says COVID-19 laws are to “slow down the spread of the disease” which is” terrible and kills people..I’m a person of science and I believe public health officials.” A public official should enforce the laws of the state, he says.

Parent: He is troubled by El Cajon’s mayor wanting police not to enforce public health laws.  “There is a reason why we have a rule of law in this country and we need to enforce it…We don’t need to be Draconian…but we can’t play these weird kind of politics where we say we are not going to enforce” the laws.

Defender groups and protesters

Durden: “I’ve talked about this a lot…The flag is an identity of our sovereign nation,” adding that it includes people of all races.  “We need to make sure that we bring the flag with us – it’s a representation of all of us,not just some of us. If we reject that, we will never be one. From now until Nov. 3rd, put a flag in front of your house.”  He is upset that flags are often associated with conservatives and racists.  “Stop that. When you march, fly the American flag…if we do that, we de-weaponize those people,” referring to defenders.

Shu:  “In times like this we are dealing with real questions of who is a patriot, who is an American.” He says he swore to protect the constitution, as do all public officials, which does not say you can form your own militia – it has to be government sanctioned. “These are vigilante groups.” The constitution does say that you have a right to protest, he notes, adding that he supports people expressing themselves but “not hate that is not protected by the constitution or vigilante groups.”

 Parent: “If people want to support law enforcement then they should join a neighborhood watch group, not a racist hate group.” There are sanctioned groups allied with the police department, he says, which have “regular honest people” but “these other groups are really, really scary” not just here but nationwide.  He said he understands that not everyone involved is “coming from a dark place” but “we’ve got to say no to it. At the last protest there were some of those folks from the Defend East County folks who were out there with knives, and drinking in a parking lot, very scary stuff.”

Closing thoughts

Shu:  He cited his advocacy for homeless task force, wellness task force, police oversight task force. “We have good people in La Mesa. We need a government that will let people of La Mesa…be part of the government and make the government work for the people.”

Parent:  “It’s been really exciting to be on the council to serve my neighbors and my community. I really hope I have the opportunity to do this for another four years.” He says he’s been able to apply progressive values such as on the climate action plan, farmer’s market and adding granny flats to provide more housing.  “That’s what I want to be able to keep doing for my constituents. Give me another four years so that I can keep working for you.”

Durden:  A former student, athlete, and now businessman, he’s a long-time La Mesan. “I’m just asking you for ability to make Mesa a better place” with ability to walk down the street “without fear” or having people follow and take his picture. “That’s why I’m running. I don’t want to be Mayberry, but I don’t want to be New York City either.”

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including our series of virtual candidate forums during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.


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