Love where you live!
LA MESA -- In many ways, Tuesday started out as a sort of classic small town day.
The friends, family and admirers of local restaurateur Don Sanfilippo gathered in a church to honor a life that had been lived, in large part, at the service of La Mesa.
"When Anna Sanfilippo got done talking there wasn't a dry eye in the house,'' said Jim Wieboldt, who was among hundreds attending the memorial. "There was a man who did so much for this city.''
But if there was a sense of unity and civic pride at Sanfilippo's memorial service, much of that good feeling quickly disappeared as the reality of life in California these days quickly intruded on the rest of Tuesday.
Many of those who attended the memorial later retired to the City Council chambers, where some, like local realtor Laura Lothian, still wearing funeral black, participated in an evening that was a mix of angst, anger and vitriol.
One guesses Don Sanfilippo wouldn't have approved.
First the anger -- and the news.
What had looked on the agenda like a routine and uneventful meeting was suddenly disrupted by a report by City Manager David Witt that the state's fiscal crisis -- to date more of a troublesome sidelight to city government -- had just landed like a ton of bricks. In an unprecedented move, the city had been informed it would need to make a nearly $2-million payment to the state within a matter of days.
The payment, in the state's view, was to make up for tax collections on local development projects that the state and local governments had been wrangling legally over for months now. Local governments had fought the state in court to stop the state from taking this money, but the locals had lost and the state was demanding its winnings now.
The state's demand brought out bitter words, even from usually even-tempered council members like Mark Arapostathis. He called it "extortion'' and compared it to the state "reaching down our throats and taking out a vital organ.''
Mayor Art Madrid was less metaphoric.
"There are 120 legislators in Sacramento,'' Madrid said. "Seventy-nine of them are former local officials yet they get up there and drink the kool-aid and they become robots, stealing money from the people they say they represent. . . Mickey Mouse could do better.''
City Manager Witt said, however, the threat of penalties and the state's authority in distributing sales tax revenue meant the city needed to make this payment, which he said represents 20 percent of La Mesa's reserve fund. The council held its collective nose and voted 4-0 to approve the payment.
Witt said the payment won't force layoffs or immediate service reductions, but he said the city is being pushed under its stated reserve policies and will have to look for ways to replace those funds.
"The governor wants that money and he is being unrelenting,'' Witt said.
After this uplifting lesson in state/local politics, the council turned to approving appointments to its many committees and commissions, a potentially more uplifting issue that highlights the volunteers hours donated to the city each year by so many. But even this issue took a contentious turn.
Lothian cited Sanfilippo's selfless contributions to the city and then launched into a tirade against Wieboldt, who has been serving as a volunteer member, and sometimes chairman, of the city's Parking Commission for years now.
Lothian said Wieboldt has overseen a commission that has done little and at every turn has resisted and been dismissive of her innovative ideas for sprucing up the city with parking meter funds. Lothian encouraged the council to unseat Wieboldt in favor of other volunteers.
Local merchant Bill Jaynes followed Lothian to the mic, offered a one minute paeon to Sanfilippo and then also encouraged the council to look for new blood, though he didn't mention Wieboldt by name.
The council listened politely and then voted unanimously to re-seat Wieboldt. The Parking Commission has been saving its money to help fund a La Mesa Village overhaul and clearly the council approved.
Following the meeting, Wieboldt would only say "God bless'em!'' though it wasn't clear whether he was talking about the council, Lothian and Jaynes or all of the above.
The City Council meeting ended in a blissfully short 90 minutes, but that left time for many to make it across town to attend an informational meeting at the Community Center on water rate hikes being proposed by the Helix Water District.
There, journalists and Water District employees, far outnumbered the members of the general public and the facts presented were familiar. The cost of purchasing water from distant sources was rising more than 16 percent next year so rates were continuing their unrelenting rise.
Local residents complained angrily about the size of district executive salaries and employee pensions, but the hard water facts -- the rising costs of moving water hundreds of miles to a desert community like La Mesa -- continued to drown out other issues. The average home would be seeing more than a $5 increase in their water bill every couple months and further increases are coming.
The Helix Water District meeting ended with one of the disgruntled citizens -- public pension expert Russell Buckley -- gathering up another of the angry citizens and pitching the idea of running for office to oppose some of the current office holders he judges to be too weak to stand up to public employee unions. (Read Russell Buckley's full comments to the district executives he...
Buckley and three others had earlier in the day announced the launch of a new website -- La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group -- aimed at creating a clearinghouse for information on local government and politics.
The council also took a moment to honor Police Detective Dale Perry as police officer of the year for La Mesa. Perry (at right in photo above) was praised for conducting special robbery investigations that led to arrests and for his special efforts to help local business combat the spate of robberies that hit the city in the last year.