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LA MESA -- During the adult portion of Tuesday's City Council meeting, La Mesa's leadership made a couple of important moves for the city's future. But during a meeting-ending exchange of names and accusations, Mayor Art Madrid and City Councilman Ernie Ewin kept up their version of Family Feud.
First the news:
Reacting to a request from the City Manager, the council voted 5-0 to begin the process of allowing developers to make in-lieu payments to avoid parking requirements that may have been inhibiting new building projects in La Mesa's commercial district for the last 20 years. The payments would help fund the eventual construction of a central parking garage when the demand warrants it.
The move is potentially momentous for the Village portion of La Mesa where efforts to expand properties or to build new facilities have been restricted by zoning requirements that any expansion or major use change required significant additional parking spaces on the project site. Practically speaking, this greatly limited efforts to add a second story to an existing building or to rebuild on sites where land for parking was scarce.
In lieu payments, if finally approved, would allow a developer to contribute funds that the city would pool and, when parking demand exhausted the supply in the Village, the money would be used to build a parking garage that could efficiently serve the entire commercial district.
A parking feasibility study presented to the council showed that on average only about 75 percent of the available parking spaces were full in the city's Village area. That doesn't suggest a garage is feasible now, but if future development swells that demand, a garage centrally located in the shopping district could be an efficient answer to the area, the study suggested.
City staff suggested that the zoning changes needed to create the in-lieu program could be made after the city's downtown masterplan is completed in the next year.
The Council Tuesday also heard a measured, thorough and collaborative report that was the result of the La Mesa Village Merchants, the Chamber of Commerce and the city police analyzing Oktoberfest problems and suggesting changes. No final decisions have been penned yet, but it looks like Oktoberfest will eliminate the carnival rides that drew so many rambunctious teenagers to the event.
Arlene Moore, the president of the merchants group, said elimination of the rides seems inevitable, but that she and others were resisting limiting the event to the area east of Spring Street. Moore said it wasn't fair to merchants west of the trolley tracks to have the event moved from their front doors.
After two hours of dealing with substantive issues -- including giving thank you gifts to Centennial volunteers (see photo above) -- this meeting ended with Madrid and Ewin returning to a routine that has become common at the end of recent City Council meetings.
For the last few months, as Ewin has become increasingly public about his differences with Madrid, the last few items of every council meeting have been "council initiated" items that can be described as Ewin using parliamentary and legislative moves to challenge Madrid's positions and control the way the mayor uses his position. Ewin has challenged Madrid's committee appointments and his adherence to travel report procedures and even the mayor's votes while attending governmental advisory groups like the National League of Cities. One series of meetings, each ended with an almost Laurel & Hardy routine in which Ewin quizzed Madrid about a lost historic softball and plaque that had been given to Madrid years ago.
Tuesday night, Madrid had had enough and, during this latest late-night skirmish, lit into Ewin, calling him a "liar" and accusing Ewin of pursuing a self-serving personal vendetta at a time when the city is facing substantial challenges. Ewin denies the allegations, saying only he is holding the mayor to the requirements of the law.
At one point, Madrid formally proposed tabling Ewin's latest procedural moves against the mayor and to move on with important city business. That motion lost by a vote of 3-2 with new council member Kristine Alessio joining Ewin and Councilman Mark Arapostathis in denying Madrid's effort.
That left Madrid's efforts to move on with only the support of long-time council member Ruth Sterling who had not particularly distinguished herself on this civic outing either.
Sterling started the meeting publicly praising the Mission and Viejas Band of the "Kum-e-Kai" Indians (not their name) and later praised the Community Development Department for setting "clear perimeters" when she meant "parameters." She also went on a cringeful five-minute tirade criticizing City Manager Dave Witt for operating in secrecy and not giving her enough time to understand the in-lieu parking proposal, which she then voted for anyway.
Witt, ever the gentleman, apologized profusely to Sterling though it was pretty clear there wasn't another soul in the room who felt he was guilty of anything. Perhaps, however, Witt's tact was a lesson to others in this tight-knit council family who can't seem to get beyond personal animus. Smile, apologize and move on.