At a September 18 candidates’ forum sponsored by the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, two mayoral hopefuls and five candidates for two city-council seats spoke to an audience of about 100 people. Topics included their first action after election or reelection, Grossmont Center, development, motivating residents, the homeless, and panhandlers.
Not mentioned were ballot items that include a term-limit initiative and a medical-marijuana dispensary ordinance. Both are opposed by mayor Art Madrid, who was elected to the council in 1981 and served in that position until elected mayor in 1990. He is running for a seventh term and challenged by Mark Arapostathis, a teacher elected to the council in 2006. Neither Arapostathis nor councilman Ernie Ewin sought reelection this year.
Council contenders include Bill Baber, the attorney who wrote the initiative setting a limit of three consecutive terms for people elected on or after November 4. Also running are catering manager Patrick Dean, chamber president Mary England, business attorney Pete Gregorovic, and Guy McWhirter, a retired insurance-business owner.
The council convenes at 4 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and at 6 p.m. on the fourth. Dean said his first post-election plan is changing the earlier time to 6 p.m., allowing working people to attend meetings. Some people applauded.
Dean also offered an alternative to turning off parking meters during downtown streetscape construction. "Instead give free Wi-Fi there." He added, "I'd like to see a possible partnership with [the Metropolitan Transit System] to increase transportation" for seniors.
Baber said he would meet with the winner of the mayor's race and the other successful council candidate to discuss "common goals and figure out how to move forward."
Gregorovic said, "I think we're in a drought. We have to look forward." He spoke about using water wisely and visiting Phoenix "to see what they did with parks."
McWhirter said he would "approach" churches and organizations to get more volunteers in the city. He would also "encourage shopkeepers to be successful," providing tax benefits for the city.
England proposed getting "more seniors involved" as volunteers. As a councilwoman, the chamber president said, "I would love to promote the city more."
Arapostathis said volunteering was "a big part" of life for him and the other candidates.
He and Madrid spoke about the use of technology in the city. Madrid also said a new civic center was a high priority and could be built with a "private-public partnership." (Earlier, Baber and McWhirter spoke against a new city hall.)
Furthermore, Arapostathis didn't respond to Madrid's two calls for a debate lasting from 90 minutes to two hours. Madrid said he was concerned about voters getting a "maximum of 13 minutes of sound bites."
A question about the homeless brought remarks from Arapostathis and England similar to Dean's statement about "hounding the County Board of Supervisors" for help. Dean said he fed the homeless through La Mesa's interfaith shelter. He also discussed services for the homeless.
Madrid said 65 percent of the homeless need to be institutionalized and that homeless veterans needed services. Baber said homeless veterans, widows, and orphans needed help.
McWhirter said maybe merchants could work on activities such as distributing secondhand clothes.
Gregorovic recommended going to organizations like churches where there is "passion is to help people." He questioned whether some panhandlers were "in need."
Arapostathis said he worked with police chief Ed Aceves and state senator Joel Anderson on legislation to ban median panhandling. The legislation died in the Assembly.
The question asking for opinions on issues including a shopping mall and a mixed-use project drew varied responses. Some candidates spoke about Grossmont Center, which opened in 1961 on land leased by the Cushman family. That lease expires in January 2015.
Arapostathis said he heard that plans for the land included "everything from a new Charger stadium to condos. Grossmont Center is a landmark. I learned to drive" in the parking lot.
England said the Cushman family took over center management and chamber members there were signing leases. Baber called the mall an "economic hub."
McWhirter and Gregorovic referred to merchant leases, and Gregorovic said, "We need to train people to shop in La Mesa." (He and other candidates spoke about getting young people outdoors.)
Candidates also discussed Park Station, a mixed-use development proposed for the southeast corner of Baltimore Drive and El Cajon Boulevard. A June 18 planning commission hearing ended after commissioners learned that the American Legion (which is on the site) didn't want to be involved in the plan that raises La Mesa's height limit to ten stories.
Gregorovic said he initially opposed the project, but he attended the meeting and thought developers would lower the height proposed to "maybe seven stories."
The revised plan is on the commission's October 1 agenda. England called it a "work in progress." Dean said La Mesa development "doesn't have to be a monolith."
While Arapostathis said, "Development needs to fit in our city," Madrid said it was "inappropriate to comment" on the issue on the commission agenda.
The Republican Party of San Diego County endorsed Arapostathis, Baber, and McWhirter. The San Diego County Democratic Party endorsement of Dean included this request: "Please vote only for Patrick."