LA MESA -- Art Madrid has been mayor for 20 years and active in city government for more than a decade before that. He is a retired government affairs specialist. His tenure with the city has involved Madrid with virtually every level of local, regional, state and federal government. He and opponent Laura Lothian were asked to comment on the same issues in this "Six Questions'' feature. His answers:
1. Could you please list what you consider to be the three most pressing challenges facing La Mesa today?
First. The state's politicians annual raid of local government revenues to balance their own dysfunctional budgets:
During the past eleven years, the state has taken $18,700,000.00 dollars from La Mesa's budgets; this year they took $1,200,000.00 of redevelopment funds.
These raids have a negative impact on our ability to enhance our essential services including: Fire, police, transportation, streets and road improvements, youth and senior services, recreational programs and other important services.
Second. The lasting financial impact of the 2007 recession:
Five national brand companies and several small local businesses have closed their doors because of a depressed economy. Leading this decline is a severe reduction in residential construction and other real estate activities. This has caused many local residents to lose their jobs and homes (a tragedy in itself) but the continued downward spiral has had a negative impact on property tax receipts and sales tax revenues for the city.
Third. A court mandate to the state to release 40,000 additional prisoners, of which 2,176 will be relocating to San Diego County:
A significant number of recent criminal activity in La Mesa, and the region, has been committed by individuals on parole or recently released prisoners, this pending release will exacerbate the problem.
2. Given La Mesa's central location and its public transportation assets, how do you think the city should approach the development pressures that are arising even amid an economic downturn?
Housing development of any type is a function of the economy! Financial institutions play the most significant role in new housing projects; today the construction industry is at a stand-still because lending institutions are unwilling to fund new projects given the current economic climate.
La Mesa has long standing, well defined opportunities for mixed use development along its transit corridors. The recently completed Fairfield Apartment Project on Fletcher Parkway, with inclusionary housing, is a prime example of intelligent planning that addresses three issues, market rate housing, access to public transit and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, several mixed use housing projects are planned along El Cajon Boulevard, a key bus transit corridor, that are waiting a more favorable financing climate. The proposed "Park at the Crossroads" project is currently undergoing an environmental impact review. It's uncertain when it will be reviewed by the city's appropriate departments and commissions or when it will come before the city council.
3. La Mesa recently partnered with surrounding cities to form a consolidated fire service. Should the city seek similar consolidations in other services, for example police services?
The recent partnership with the cities of El Cajon and Lemon Grove fire services merger is the latest in a number of cost cutting practices La Mesa has championed for a number of years.
The bulk of these additional cost savings are the results of collaborative purchasing savings by our city and numerous other agencies of "big ticket items" including vehicles, materials and equipment. In addition we are always exploring the potential for outsourcing of selected services.
Merger of other services is something I have publicly discussed, including police dispatchers, animal control, and selected public works services. Like the fire services merger, the criteria continues to be, cost savings, equal or enhanced services to our residents, no decrease or elimination services and each agency will retain the autonomy of its operations.
4. The cost of public pensions has been receiving a lot of attention recently. Do you support proposals to reduce pension benefits for new city employees? Why or why not?
Public Agencies, like individuals, institutions and organizations have to live within their respective means.
The second wave of the 2007 financial tsunami is gaining momentum via the unsustainable ability of state and local governments to survive with the current employee retirement and pension benefit system.
Economic circumstances have forced local governments to focus on more realistic models when dealing with the future retirement and benefits of new employees. Under this "new normal," budgetary change have been made through the implementation of a new two-tiered system for future employees with two of our three bargaining units.
In addition, all La Mesa city employees recently stepped up to help address this problem by agreeing to pay a larger portion of their health care benefits.
5. How do you distinguish the role of mayor from that of the City Council members? .
The Mayor is the chief elected official for the City of La Mesa, he signs all official documents, contracts and covenants made or entered into by the city. He is the official head of the city for, all ceremonial purposes and performs all other duties as prescribed by city ordinance or by the council consistent with his office.
Besides the Mayor's specific duties and responsibilities as outlined in the city's government code, the mayor's persona is further enhanced by his extensive business background, effective leadership, keen knowledge of issues, and standing in the community. These characteristics frequently distinguish the difference between an elected mayor and his fellow council members.
6. La Mesa is approaching its 100th birthday. How would you describe the city it has become and what would you hope the city's legacy will be at its 200th birthday?
Communities are defined by shared values, ideals and goals of individuals who choose to reside in a place they call home.
From its beginning as a farming community, with vast acreage of citrus, our founding fathers promoted a sense of belonging through the first 100 years that continues today as La Mesa's hallmark.
In addition to being a full service city, La Mesa is home to 26 churches of various religious denominations, renowned schools, civic, service clubs and organizations who place the well being of the community above self.
This principle is further demonstrated by a voluntary culture that has saved (cost avoidance) the city $11,000,000.00 in the last ten years by thousands of volunteers who have generously contribute their time, energy and talent for the benefit of their fellow residents.
With this legacy in place, the next 100 years will continue to be one where everyone cares for the well being of their follow resident and jealously protect its character. Our unofficial motto is not about "you, I or me" but us!
This is the final installment in the Six Question series for City Council and Mayoral candidates. All parts of the series can be seen by clicking on the Government tab above.