Trying Hard To Look Different

LA MESA -- On his third attempt at winning a City Council seat, Patrick Dean (speaking in photo above) has clearly decided it is time to stand out.

On a warm October evening, with election night just a few brief weeks away, Dean injected an element of energy and tension into a candidate's forum at La Mesa's First United Methodist Church that might have otherwise felt like kabuki theater, that is, lacking in spontaneity of any kind.

Dean started the evening with an almost barked "I am different!'' from the other City Council candidates. He went on to suggest the current council -- there were two members on the dais and two in the audience -- represented only a small slice of La Mesa. Later he repeated his belief that the Village merchants get all the focus of the current council and that he would represent "everybody -- all of you.''

Later, when answering a question about homelessness, Dean pointed out that this issue comes up every two years and "then the council just goes on and nothing gets done.''
(Later as the crowd turned out, City Councilwoman Ruth Sterling said she had taken notes on Dean's comments. "He insulted us twice!'' she said. But who's counting?)

Dean also offered the only nuanced answer to a question about the attempt by a local landowner to bring high rises to downtown La Mesa. While the other candidates directly or indirectly played it safe by pointing to the Planning Commission's opposition to the Park Station project as currently proposed, Dean noted that the city might be able to get the open green spaces it needs in the city's vacant core by smartly managing the project in a way that might give more height than the "no more than four" stories crowd would like. The city's need for a growing tax base and the market's desire to trade height for open green space could result in a compromise as the city continues to confront development pressures. "Can we remain a Village?'' Dean asked at one point. "I don't think so.'' But he went on to say an engaged city could shape the development that is inevitable to serve the city's interests and goals.

But other than Dean's efforts to rattle the cages a bit, the remainder of the evening found the other candidates hardening the staked out, middle-of-the-road positions that have become familiar at these gatherings this election cycle. The mayoral candidates -- City Councilman Mark Arapostathis and Mayor Art Madrid -- sat at opposite ends of the dais and hit the usual notes. Madrid emphasized his experience -- all 44 years of it, including years in leadership of state and national government organizations. Arapostathis outlined his life-long commitment to the city and its people, emphasizing his collaborative nature and his understated nature at meetings.

"I know the streets, I know the people,'' Arapostathis said. "I listen. I don't talk first. I listen first.''

Council candidates Guy McWhirter and Pete Gregorovic continued to introduce themselves to the voters with reminders of their long lists of public service performed over decades. Candidate Mary England continued to stake out the "business candidate,'' reminding all of her work with the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce.

However, even though the good church people tried to bring up substantive subjects with pretty pointed questions, this group of candidates proved pretty adept at avoiding any of the perceived third rails of La Mesa politics.  When asked point blank if they would propose building a homeless shelter to support the local churches' efforts to help the homeless, most sidestepped the issue, saying they preferred to partner with church groups and others who address this issue. In other words: No.

Dean and Gregorovic clearly stated they would support a shelter, but both acknowledged public opposition would probably keep it from happening and looked to the county to show more effort on this front.

Council candidate Bill Baber currently serves as a member of the La Mesa-Spring Valley Board of Education. That board was meeting Tuesday evening so Baber addressed the early arriving crowd, asked them for their support and promised to deliver written answers to the church members' questions.



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Tags: Art Madrid, Bill Baber, City Council, City of La Mesa, First United Methodist Church, Government, Guy McWhirter, La Mesa, La Mesa City Council, La Mesa Today, More…La Mesa newspaper, La Mesa-Spring Valley Board of Education, Mark Arapostathis, Mary England, Patrick Dean, Pete Gregorovic, Ruth Sterling

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Comment by Lisa Moore on October 10, 2014 at 4:17pm

Why would candidates want to soften the discussion on a homeless shelter? Stop sidestepping the question when asked!   As a tax paying, property owner citizen of La Mesa, it is very important to me to hear what they have to say.  I remember a number of years ago when Mayor Madrid and the City Council voted to have a temporary winter homeless shelter in the location of what is now the Torrey Pines Bank.  It was not very well received by a lot of the citizenry, but happened anyway. 

Comment by Jimmy Sanders on October 8, 2014 at 2:24pm

Sounds like Susan is offering a location in her neighborhood for shelter.

Comment by Susan Taylor on October 8, 2014 at 1:09pm

The provision of housing for chronically ill homeless people, with substance abuse and mental health issues have proven to be cheaper than leaving them on the streets of America.  Let's save tax dollars AND demonstrate humanity for our downtrodden.

Comment by Aaron Seth on October 8, 2014 at 9:33am

I'm not sure if i'd categorize the candidates opposed to Park Station's high rises as "playing it safe". It seems to me those candidates are doing what people would like to see from their council members - listening to the people of La Mesa who have overwhelmingly come out against it, as well as the thoroughly researched EIR that came out against it and the planning commission (whose job it is to understand and make decisions on matters like this) who came out 6-1 against it. 

Even Mary England, who has been on record several times as a supporter of the Park Station high rises, has "seemingly" changed her tune and is now aligned more towards what the citizens and experts have agreed is best for the city.  

I hope Mr. Dean as he "represents everybody"  would listen to the citizens in this matter more as his apparently "safe" opponents have,

And of course the Mayor once again cited legal reasons for not having to give any opinion whilst his opponent was able to give a satisfactory answer while still staying within "legal bounds".

Comment by La Mesa Today on October 8, 2014 at 7:22am

To the Readers:

After completing his work with the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, candidate Bill Baber submitted these answers to the four major questions asked by the church moderators of the evening:

Question 1 On Affordable Housing: 
We can encourage private developers to build affordable housing if we give them the proper incentives. For example, offering them a streamlined development process.

Question 2: Dealing With Homelessness And The Need For A Shelter:
I could support a permanent shelter in La Mesa for those who have gone through screening by a reputable private or public agency if we can find a suitable location. 

Question 3: Public Safety

 Our firefighters and paramedics should have the resources they need to save lives. I am proud to be endorsed by the La Mesa firefighters. Our trolley stations need to be safe and clean. We should consider closing the village trolley stop or the Grossmont stop if MTS does not improve safety. 

Question 4: Park Station And Development Issues. 
I hope the developer and city staff will work out a proposal that meets these three goals.
1. We should not have our gateway to La Mesa be an RV parking lot -  that sets the wrong image to visitors.  2. The property owners have a right to develop their property and make a reasonable profit. 3. The project must be consistent with the neighborhood and at a reasonable height.

Comment by Batman on October 8, 2014 at 12:06am

Different? Stand out? Mr. Dean would blend right in down in San Diego, or Chicago or New York... or Havana or Caracas. I see nothing unique here.

Before you poo-poo our downtown businesses remember sales tax is a mighty big chunk of the city's revenue stream. Think about that when you talk about an expensive project like a homeless shelter.

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