Of Dogpatch, L'il Abner and Cornpone

LA MESA -- Both literally and figuratively, Tuesday's City Council meeting may heretofore be known as the "L'il Abner Night" in local politics.

City Councilman Mark Arapostathis had to miss the meeting because he is directing "L'il Abner'' for Peter Pan Jr. Theater, which opens Wednesday at the Joan Kroc Center.

In Arapostathis' absence, La Mesa seemed to turn into Dogpatch, U.S.A itself. The council that tends to vote 5-0 on almost everything suddenly broke out in a series of 2-2 votes that will require Arapostathis' return to resolve. In staying away, Arapostathis suddenly went from the least loquacious council member to the swing vote, peace-maker. The Decider.

Students of musical theater might consider Arapostathis the "L'il Abner'' to Art Madrid's "Jubilation T. Cornpone" of this local drama. On this night, the council, like the Dogpatch characters in 'L'il Abner.' was struggling with the federal government policies and neighborhood tensions.

The first fight came as residents of the Sacramento Drive neighborhood came to complain that school traffic heading from Lemon Grove to Helix High and Dale Middle School were turning its neighborhood street into a freeway with life-threatening speeding, graffiti and litter.

The neighbors were asking for limited turn signs to be added to key intersections to help calm the traffic, but two council members -- Madrid and Ruth Sterling -- wanted to hold out for more drastic traffic calming measures and the two other council members, Dave Allan and Ernest Ewin, wanted to approve the neighbor's request.

Repeated 2-2 votes left the issue waiting for L'il's, err, Arapostathis' return to this patch for the next meeting in two weeks.

That debate was quickly followed by an issue that closely paralleled the actual plot of "L'il Abner,'' where the residents of Dogpatch were struggling with the impacts of federal nuclear policy on their rural town.

In La Mesa's version, the feds were cutting back severely on Community Development Block Grants that have been doled out by the council to support local community service organizations.

The federal cuts have left so little money that the council considered simply eliminating the funding rather than try and divide it up among so many organizations that each grant would accomplish little.

A proposal by Madrid to do just that -- cut the program grants altogether -- was voted down 2-2 as was another, modified proposal by Sterling.

Eventually, the council approved a stop-gap plan that could be advertised in order to schedule a full-fledged public hearing at which Arapostathis can wield another swing vote.

The most efficient part of the evening actually came early when the city's Youth Commission presented a report on the summit on teen issues it had conducted.

The commission members (photo right) sketched out the process they had pursued to assure all of the summit members were heard and respected. The group then focused on identifying teen issues -- drugs, alcohol, and bullying were the big concerns -- and recommending possible fixes to the problems.

Two interesting recommendations:

-- That police stop breaking up teen parties and forcing the youths, many of whom have been drinking and using illegal drugs, to drive away from the parties under the influence. Have their parents come pick them up was the fix recommended.

-- That school officials stop doling out equal punishments to students involved in fights when one of the two combatants is invariably just defending his or herself and is a victim.

The mayor and council were so impressed with the teen's presentation that they will be scheduling a half-day workshop with the commission to delve further into problems facing La Mesa teens.

Another highlight of the meeting was the formal departure of last year's Miss Teen La Mesa and the introduction of this year's successor to that throne:

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Tags: Arapostathis, Art Madrid, City of La Mesa, Dave Allan, Ernest Ewin, Government, L'il Abner, La Mesa, La Mesa News, La Mesa Today, More…Mark Arapostathis, Mayor Art Madrid, Miss Teen La Mesa, Peter Pan Jr. Theater, Ruth Sterling, Sacramento Drive

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Comment by Russell Buckley on March 29, 2012 at 10:07am

Regarding the Block grant issue: I don't thing it is the Federal Governments responsibility to provide funding for local La Mesa organizations. Especially when Federal Government must borrow bout 40% of its money, thereby burdening our kids with an enormous deficit they must pay for. But what I primarily want to point out is that the pension burden we have imposed on  ourselves is a major reason money is tight. If the City of La Mesa were to spend the same proportion of salary on pensions that is typical in the private sector, we would have an additional $4 million with which to fund City operations of all sorts. Public sector pensions are fundamentally unfair and unaffordable. They need to brought in line with the private sector and most of the taxpayers who pay such a high price to maintain them. Doing so would significantly ease the pressures on or budget. 

Comment by Lynn Hunter on March 28, 2012 at 9:43am

  Life imitating art.

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