Love where you live!
LA MESA -- Sitting through a four-hour public hearing is a test. A challenge to the spine, the legs and, as 11 p.m. approached, a test of will.
Still, as the Park Station hearing played out slowly in the council chambers Wednesday night, I had to admit feeling a bit of pride for the Jewel of the Hills.
These types of public issues can so easily fall into a stereotypical trap. David vs. Goliath. Evil developer against the sainted little man.
Throughout the long Planning Commission hearing, La Mesa was better than that. The advocates on both sides of this issue were clearly endeavoring to understand the other. There was virtually no disrespect, even as various lines in the sand were openly drawn and defended. Common ground -- a desire to improve our city -- was expressed by virtually every speaker before the hesitations or downright disagreements were visited.
And perhaps that was out of respect for the Kitzman family. They have a long history with La Mesa and all of it has been good. For generations, the family has been civic-minded, the sort of rock-ribbed business people who show up at Chamber meetings and work quietly side-by-side with fellow citizens.
That Joseph Kitzman left Wednesday's meeting saying, with some humility, that the family had some work to do was also a good moment. It was clear that the height of the buildings and the intensity of the proposed project parameters made some of his friends and fellow La Mesans nervous.
I found myself wondering, with some political leadership, if the goodwill and common ground that was so evident throughout the hearing, might in fact be the basis for rethinking how the city might best benefit from the Kitzmans' engagement.
Much of the density of the project Urban Housing Planners and Carrier Johnson have sketched out is driven by the size of the acreage the Kitzmans have to apply to this project.
I couldn't help but wonder whether a true public-private partnership -- executed with transparency throughout -- couldn't find a way to let the Kitzman effort and the city's own ambitions for the open four acres that the city owns south of the Park Station project be combined creatively for the greater benefit of all involved.
The Kitzmans talked openly about their desire to follow on their grandfather's hopes for helping the city that launched a family fortune. That doesn't mean they should donate the land for a city park.
But if you combined the Kitzman land with the city's open acres to the south, could you come up with an area that, well planned and executed, could generate housing, jobs, entertainment and public spaces without forcing so much development onto the Kitzman's four plus acres? Could creative development be shaped around a Central Park that would give La Mesa a signature that goes beyond its quaint Village?
City planners have always talked about the open area around the current City Hall as a home for a new City Hall or a grander public library. That feels like 20th Century thinking. The city's struggles in recent years to cover its own expenses may be a sign that it can no longer afford to spend its little open land on large public buildings that may be becoming anachronistic in the Internet age.
A new City Hall doesn't generate jobs, tax revenues or sales tax. Is it reasonable to ask our political leadership to think whether the answer to our cramped and aging City Hall isn't something more innovative and less expensive. Perhaps a small public services office on Allison with the Council Chambers and the rest of the city's work force, linked by the Internet, but located outside the expensive core?
Imagine a seamless project extending from I-8 straight through to the Old Police Station land (pictured below). I wonder what the clearly impressive talents of Urban Housing Partners and Carrier Johnson could come up with if given a chance to spread their vision across all nine or so acres of open land yet moderate the height that clearly was at the heart of the citizen's opposition to the Park Station effort so far?
There are cities of 60,000 population all over America that would love to have a family like the Kitzmans and open land like La Mesa.
The upcoming election could easily devolve into a big debate about Park Station. I personally am hoping that the discussion is broader -- that the candidates are judged by the ability to express a vision that is more creative, more thoughtful, that reflects the greater care for the community that was clearly expressed by both sides of Wednesday night's debate.
There is an opportunity here. Can we seize it?
Gina Garcia is publisher of La Mesa Today. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.