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Fourth in a series.
LA MESA -- Two years ago, Patrick Dean, a relative newcomer to the Jewel of the Hills, threw his hat into the City Council race.
In retrospect, it was probably wishful thinking that an unknown, new to town could go up against two incumbents like Ernie Ewin and Mark Arapostathis, both with long histories and even longer lists of supporters.
Still, Dean was not frantic. He simply repeated his admiration for the city and voiced his concern that smart growth policies would be needed to keep it this way.
Dean lost but performed much better than other unknowns in that race and within days of his defeat, he showed up at the next City Council meeting and continued taking notes.
In some ways, he has never stopped. Dean -- a single Dad with two daughters who works in the restaurant business -- has attended virtually every council meeting and, as he became more familiar with local issues, started speaking out at those meetings. He has neither been in lock-step with the current council members, nor has he reflexively opposed the so-called "establishment.'' He has charted a truly independent course, apart from the local factions, and continued to shape a reputation as a political newcomer willing to do his homework.
"What I really want to do is to be seen as someone who looks out for the common good,'' Dean said. He eschews criticizing his opponents, and, as he goes door-to-door these days he emphasizes to voters that he has done his homework.
"I tell them I've been going to council meetings for three years and, oh and by the way, we need more bike lanes,'' Dean said. "Giving people a chance to get out of their cars and walk and ride bikes. That's not something people want to argue about.''
Environmental issues are important to Dean, but he describes them in a context that is as much about smart growth as it is about more macro concerns like global warming.
So over the last few years, Dean hasn't joined the "keep La Mesa the way it is forever" nimby forces that can be found in town. He talks about smart growth and the need for more density but intelligent density. What does that mean practically? Is the Park Station project as originally described with 18-floor towers smart growth?
"Maybe not 18 but six or eight certainly fits in with this area,'' he said.
Dean admires the public transportation the city can already boast, but he has grander visions. He considers the trolley and bus lines too expensive to coax people out of their cars and he thinks millions being targeted at future highway projects should be redirected to execute new public transportation.
"Light rail on El Cajon and University Avenue,'' he offers when asked for examples of such transit improvements.
Though he has long-term visions, he is a pragmatist, especially when compared to environmentalists who simply oppose virtually all growth. He sees the demographic predictions of continued population growth for a place as beautiful and strategically located as San Diego as realistic. He thinks La Mesa's Police Department is too small for the size of the city and believes that issue needs to be addressed as inevitable growth occurs.
"The question is not will that growth happen, it is how we can control it and make sure we do it right,'' Dean said.
So as he meets with some constituents, including some long-time residents who lament any signs of change in the city, he knows he has a hill to climb with them to explain why he won't reflexively oppose all proposals that bring more density and some more height.
Showing signs of growing his own political roots here, Dean has raised more than $3,000 in donations to help pay for door-hangers, printed materials, a few advertisements and a share of a tent at Oktoberfest. Most of his campaign is knocking on doors, particularly in precincts he believes are most likely to appreciate his approach.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Dean, 49, works with a catering business and as a waiter for the last five years at the Americana Restaurant in Del Mar. He lives with his two daughters, age five and 10, in downtown La Mesa -- within walking distance of City Hall.
Below is Dean's official ballot statement:
You can click here to see Dean's official website.