Seeing Dawn Through The Construction Dust

LA MESA -- It is, they say, always darkest before the dawn.
As the dust starts rising on the most intrusive stages of La Mesa Boulevard's renovation, it is probably good to keep that in mind.
Despite what might appear as a full blood-letting between the Village Merchants Association and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce over Oktoberfest, there is much to be optimistic about in the Jewel of the Hills these days.
The American taste for big, sprawling, often characterless shopping is gravitating back to the unique boutique just as the city is spending more than $5-million to upgrade what had become a pretty tawdry (okay I stand corrected "funky") downtown hardscape. A prediction: As the street is completed, rents will rise and the demand and quality of the Village retail sector will begin a quick improvement. Pierre Jeweler's eventual arrival already suggests this is true.

Mayor Mark Arapostathis is a collaborative sort of leader. He has spent much of his life leading an all-volunteer organization that has done for hundreds of La Mesa families through theater what sports used to do for the young. It would be surprising if Dr. A and his new team can't find a way to rationalize what has been a pretty haphazard way of stewarding La Mesa's charming downtown.

Housing prices continue to rise, fueling further what over time may be a major renovation boom in La Mesa's more modestly priced west side. Location, location, location is the real estate mantra and in many ways La Mesa is increasingly in the true crossroads of a growing county. Renovated homes bring property tax help to a municipality and better clients for local business.

Redevelopment of Grossmont Center and the continued development interest in the Park Station project area reflects the positive assessment of this crossroad's future and will further boost the city's ability to maintain services and shape the growth of the city.

At the heart of what everyone likes about La Mesa is its small town feel. Small towns, however, can be like big families - filled with tensions that rise from years of living so closely together and knowing each other so well.

The tensions over Oktoberfest can feel like a family struggling over an estate with competing senses of ownership of what the family has built. Some of the Village's current merchants can rightfully feel like all the work that goes into Oktoberfest, the car show, the antique faire and the Christmas in the Village events alone should assure their continued stewardship of these public/private events.

And the city, watching literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, pass through the streets it maintains, closes, and guards, should certainly not expect the rest of the city taxpayers to subsidize a largely commercial endeavor.

And so, as it is with big family fights, this is a time in which leadership is demonstrated. The scion's of the community -- perhaps some not currently deeply entrenched in this issue -- need to remind all of the greater good, the original reason and motivation and public purpose of deeds and efforts.

Oktoberfest is a great La Mesa tradition that could be better.

The La Mesa Village is a beacon of character in a San Diego landscape strewn with sunbelt retail mediocrity.

The street project will conclude.

The sun will rise and, hopefully, thoughtful leadership will lead.

Chris Lavin is the editor of La Mesa Today. He is the former senior editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Tags: Chris Lavin, La Mesa Today, Oktoberfest, On La Mesa


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Comment by Douglas Kenney on June 12, 2015 at 12:10am

I have been around for a while and I have seen the La Mesa downtown slide down.  Where there was once a busy downtown sector with bookshops and other nice boutique stores there is now thrift stores and second hand shops.  I think if they do complete the beautification it is possible to revitalize the town.  Rebuild it and it may come.  Many small towns face the same problem with the costcoization/walmartization that just kills the small stores that give a town character.  It is a phenomenom that is wide spread across this country.  Cities lose their individuality when the huge companies move in.  La Mesa downtown is not the only town that has lost a lot of its character.  One can only hope that the renovation leads to a more beautiful small town.  Just some thoughts... 

Comment by chris shea on May 31, 2015 at 12:43pm
Perfectly on point Frank.
Comment by Frank Robert Dittmer on May 30, 2015 at 9:57pm


Thanks for comment and RIGHT ON THE MONEY...If you built it they WILL come.  The village needs to be marketed wisely to surrounding communities, it is one of the most unique downtown areas outside of San Diego and needs to be shared.  This is partially the responsibility of individual business owners but not entirely.  The city needs to help and nurture its merchants, in particular its independent and small shops (I am somewhat bias here.)   The Village also needs to be treated as one village, not one split in two by trolley tracks.  The west side is continually viewed as ugly "step-child and treated as such.  Perhaps this will come to pass once the street improvements are complete-I hope.     

Comment by David Stanley on May 30, 2015 at 8:43am

I stroll and/or drive through the Village almost daily and remain in wonder of the massive "face lift". I see crews working seemingly everywhere in the down town area. I watch and listen and remember. I remember how the place looked, felt, sounded and smelled and in my mind I compare. The streets, even whilst torn apart in places, are still our Village streets. The sidewalks, likewise uprooted and reshaping, are still our sidewalks. I sit on the new benches and imagine how, when finalized and the trees set in place, how it will all look. Its still beautiful, a wee bit dusty here, and torn up there, but its still the place I love. I understand merchants becoming upset from time to time because of the construction but they are afforded the opportunity to live and work in Our Village with more beauty coming rapidly. Along with great gain comes the necessary occasional pain but in a short while, boy! Its going to be really nice again everywhere. Looking forward to the Christmas season with lights and all in those promised trees. Been a lot of places in my 70 plus years, seen a lot of Cities that are great but La Mesa, to Texas, I rather be nowhere else. 

Comment by La Mesa Today on May 28, 2015 at 2:37pm

We stay out of reorganization decisions, but some uber-stewardship -- some civic engagement that can rise above the individual and group financial issues while gaining the public trust with transparency, would be a good goal. There is a purity to what the Boys & Girls Club team is achieving with plans for the La Mesa Middle School campus. Public/Private -- all good. There is a model there.

Chris Lavin

Comment by Lisa Moore on May 28, 2015 at 10:55am

Yes, welcome back Chris!  Was missing the energy and thoughts of my fellow La Mesa residents!

Your piece is right on and I would agree with Stephanie.....let's call La Mesa funky :-)   John Schmitz, I would also be interested in knowing why there is a  Village Merchants Assn. and the Chamber.  As John suggests, couldn't the Village Merchants Assn,. be a subcommittee of the Chamber.  Maybe someone out there has the answer.

Comment by Gregory Spire on May 28, 2015 at 10:24am

Now, if we can only get the police department to enforce basic safety such as speed limits in residential streets, that would be great.

Comment by John C Schmitz on May 28, 2015 at 9:23am

Yes, welcome back Chris.  I have missed your insights into our fair city.  I would love to think that your commentary coupled with the sale of the UT signifies a renaissance of journalism for the region.  Maybe someone can do a story on why there is a Village Merchants Assn. and a Chamber.  Seems like the village group could be a subcommittee of the Chamber so there isn't so much duplication of effort and waste of resources.

Comment by La Mesa Today on May 28, 2015 at 8:02am

Okay, so let's say "funky" instead of tawdry. Okay Steph?

Comment by Stephanie Murphy on May 28, 2015 at 7:31am
The streetscape is nice. I can't wait to see the trees. But, La Mesa was never tawdry!

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