By Chris Lavin

LA MESA - City officials will turn on the mic Thursday night and sit back and listen.

The topic is officially La Mesa's future - a broad topic to say the least - but as with all public hearings, the pundit (that would be me) is predicting that the latest hot topics will still dominate. Speakers can be expected to rail against the mega-project in its early stages of consideration for downtown La Mesa.

Others may raise green issues, including whether residents should be allowed to keep chickens on smaller village properties.

But hiding behind these hot topics may be this real issue that will limit the near future for this Jewel of the Hills: Exactly how hard will the recession hit city operations.

With the State of California fighting for its fiscal life and its tax revenues still foundering, it is quite likely that moves the state makes to right its ship will take some fiscal ballast from towns and cities.

It is happening to the schools already with predictions of massive teacher layoffs as state support for districts declines.

In some ways, La Mesa delayed some of that impact when it raised the local sales tax last year, but with another round of state cuts looming, an honest discussion of La Mesa's near term future may involve a variety of bad choices.

Cut police or parks?

Dark furlough days at city facilities?

No one is proposing these yet but as the impact of the recent recession surges through the government ranks, none of these are far-fetched at all, city officials will acknowledge.

Record declines in local sales tax revenues and the many senior-owned properties in La Mesa also give city leaders little room to move if state fiscal moves squeeze cities as expected.

With that sort of financial cloud on the horizon, some might think a proposal to add a multimillion dollar facility to the tax base would be met with a marching band and red carpet. Don't expect that for the Park Station proposal.

The project was trotted out last month and proposed as much as 18 stories towering over a quaint downtown La Mesans like to call "The Village."

"La Mesans don't like change," one city official said. "And they don't necessarily trust the government process, but we have to hear the land owners proposal with an open mind or the owners could sue the city."

The "chicken in every yard" debate is a whole different kettle of fish - to mix metaphors.
The city has tabled the proposal first brought up by a young resident in search of sustainable living in the form of homegrown eggs. Yet the rural and agrarian roots of this issue may speak more to residents who like to see themselves as semi rural suburban and as resisting the urban feel that arrives just over the La Mesa line in the City of San Diego.

Bringing cows back may be a bit too much homage to our prairie past, but what's wrong with a few chickens?

Plus, this reporter won't out the culprit here, but there is one La Mesa resident with a healthy gaggle of ducks already living in their side yard and no one seems to be kvetching.

The council meeting is Thursday at 6:30 p.m., at the Dale Middle School auditorium 4370 Parks Ave., La Mesa, CA

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Tags: City of La Mesa, Government, La Mesa City Council, La Mesa Public Hearing, La Mesa Today, The Village

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Comment by Russell Buckley on January 25, 2010 at 8:07pm
Three thoughts from a La Mesa resident who wishes he had fought against Prop L: First: Lemon Grove taxpayers continue to pay the "employee portion" of pension costs - and that employee portion is much less than the 50% that social security participants pay. WHY??? In a city that is broke, why should taxpayers who receive much less generous benefits than city employees, continue to pay the pension costs that CalPers originally intended that employees pay. The Social Security system, with its much less generous benefits, prohibits employers paying employee portions.
Second: pensions given city employees are much more generous and start at a much earlier age than Social Security. If a social security recipient wants to augment his payment, he will likely have to save through a 401k type of plan - and the risk for the money in that plan is totally on him. In contrast, taxpayers take 100% of the risk for the guaranteed pensions City employees receive.
Third: here is what I recommend to you: Insist that any tax increase be part of a larger plan that includes employees paying the full employee portion (8% and 9%) and, that new hires, revert to the pre 1999 pension program.
Russell Buckley
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on January 24, 2010 at 1:36pm
History, in the form of fiscally manipulative/mendacious municipalities, appears to be on the verge of repeating itself in Lemon Grove, our neighbor to the south. The UT points out that:

"The template is familiar. A small city (El Cajon, La Mesa, National City) with a costly, generous pension program asserts that a sales-tax hike is crucial or else services will disappear, gangs will invade and potholes the size of sand traps will proliferate. Bamboozled residents buy the sales pitch and go along with the tax increase."

The story points out that, unlike our leaders, at least Lemon Grove's have attempted to restrain spending:

"In some crucial ways, this doesn’t fit what’s now going on in Lemon Grove, where city officials are considering asking voters to raise the sales tax. City Manager Graham Mitchell makes a persuasive case that Lemon Grove has responded aggressively to its revenue problems with furloughs, renegotiation of union contracts to eliminate previously authorized raises and reductions in staffing. He notes that top city officials make among the least of those with parallel responsibilities in other city halls around the county. He touts the city’s move to consolidate its fire services with its neighbors.
Many local governments don’t have nearly as good a record in dealing with the revenue crisis.
Nevertheless, in other crucial ways, Lemon Grove’s push for a sales tax hike is precisely reminiscent of the tax-hike scams seen around the county, particularly the one executed by La Mesa officials.”

This is unfortunate, to say the least. Tax hikes are, at best, a stop-gap measure. Though they may provide instant monetary transfusions to badly anemic city coffers, they ultimately do more harm than good by sucking the life-blood of profit away from the very businesses on whom they depend.
Citizens of Lemon Grove would be wise to reject this proposal.

Craig S. Maxwell
Maxwell's House of Books
La Mesa, Ca
Comment by Chris Lavin on January 6, 2010 at 9:32am
Actually, I started looking at my own hillside up above Lake Helix and pictured chickens scurrying across the landscape. And then I pictured Coyotes jumping in and dining on our egg producers. I had coy in a pond for a bit and saw them disappear on the talons of hawks and the beaks of Egrits. It's a wild kingdom up here!
Comment by Ken Soto on January 6, 2010 at 8:57am
Chris - thanks for this, unfortunately I won't be able to attend. I'll check back after the meeting to see if anyone has posted a recap.

Re: chickens. It's amazing to me how many friends have started keeping their own chickens - and then devising strategies to keep them from coyotes.

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