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LA MESA -- Elections are the black holes in the government universe. The closer election day comes, the stronger the political gravity. It starts pulling on everything, eventually drawing all activity to a standstill.
Tuesday's council meeting had some indications -- both subtle and obvious -- that decision day looms large on all fronts.
Even a minor neighborhood dispute over a property owners' hopes of adding a rooftop deck to his home seemed to get drawn into the contest between the current mayor, Art Madrid, and his challenger just a few seats to his left, Mark Arapostathis.
The city staff recommended allowing the upward addition, as did the Planning Commission. Throughout two days of debate it appeared the homeowner's right to add an open deck would and should prevail. The city attorney noted that had the addition been enclosed rather than an open deck, it wouldn't even have had to come to the city for a special exception.
Yet, when Madrid signaled he would join inveterate populist Ruth Sterling in siding with the more numerous opponents of this deck, Arapostathis went along and the lofty plan was grounded by a 3-2 vote for now.
(Perhaps that wasn't just political calculus, but the centrifugal force of a looming election impacts analysis too!)
The black hole effect was a little more obvious in the only other substantial issue to come before the council on this night.
Several months back, council members Ernie Ewin and Kristine Alessio had asked the city staff to bring back ideas for a public relations effort to help promote La Mesa's image both far and near. At Tuesday afternoon's meeting, the staff unveiled a Marketing and Communications Plan that would have used $50,000 to hire a PR consultant and begin studying improvements to the city's web services.
Arapostathis -- joined quickly by Madrid -- proposed tabling the issue until the first meeting in January when, as Arapostathis said, "there will be a new council.''
His words hung a bit in the air for a moment as all quickly agreed that, perhaps, this was no longer the time for committing the city for the long-term when perhaps three members of this five person council were in their last few meetings. Come January, at least two new council members and, perhaps a new mayor, will be driving this ship. "I know I won't be here,'' quipped Ewin, who decided not to seek re-election.
With the recently announced retirement of Police Chief Ed Aceves, the changes coming on the council and, perhaps, the mayor's office, the winds of change are blowing. And the city's much admired city manager, Dave Witt, is also approaching the end of his time in government, though he hasn't said exactly when he will retire.
With all this in mind, Ewin brought up a number of fiscal issues for discussion -- as if to remind all that regardless of who is sitting on the dais come January, the challenges of maintaining a balanced budget and keeping up with growing capital needs will continue to be daunting as long as sales and property taxes remain as fragile as they have been.
Something for the ambitious candidates to mull as election hopes swirl.