Saying that they are “affordable and gorgeous,” city council candidate Kristine Alessio said she would welcome more mobile home parks in the City of La Mesa in an effort to increase the number of affordable homes for low-income residents, at the latest in a series of council candidate pubic forum, held Wednesday night at La Mesa First United Methodist Church.
Speaking to a crowd of about 75 citizens, most of whom were senior citizens, Alessio and the other candidates tackled some of the pertinent issues on voters’ minds as the Nov. 6 election approaches.
“I’ve actually identified a site here in La Mesa where you could put a mobile home park,” said Alessio, a member of the city’s planning commission and a real estate developer. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh no, we don’t want mobile home parks’. Well, the reality is that mobile home parks can be quite nice. My grandmother lived in a mobile home park in Carlsbad for 30 years. It was gorgeous. And I don’t think we should oppose them. They are gorgeous and affordable.”
See also: 2012 La Mesa City Council Election Central | Patch Election Guide
Art gallery owner Shannon O’Dunn said that she thinks the city has done a good job providing affordable housing, but can do better. She cited the old police station as one area where low-income or Section 8 housing could be developed.
“That site was originally developed with a dedication to lower income housing, and we need to see that that promise is carried out,” she said. “We need to ensure that lower income housing options are available in a major transit corridor.”
Catering manager Patrick Dean, who also ran for city council in 2010, said that it’s important to take advantage of “density bonuses” provided by developers when thinking of affordable housing options.
“We can get density bonuses where the city can get tax credits and lower interest rates for buildings with higher density,” said Dean. “And parking requirements, especially around the transit zones, need to be eased up a bit, to make it more advantageous for developers. Primarily around the transit corridor is the best place to do it, because you can build bigger buildings, higher density, more cost effective, and it has to be cost effective for it to work.”
Laura Lothian, a local realtor, questioned what offering high-density units might bring to the city.
“Affordable housing is one of those things that always sounds so wonderful on paper, and you definitely want to be able to help families out,” she said. “But what often happens is that you see a neighborhood where affordable housing is put in, you see it become very crowded. And then you see neglect on that building. And then you see too many people living in a unit, and then you see crime in those neighborhoods.”
Ruth Sterling, the only incumbent in the race, said that more high-density projects would only upset residents.
“Longtime residents have paid their taxes, and have had a certain quality of life. And when you come in there with in-filled projects and it is overbuilt, it doesn’t make the existing neighborhood very happy,” she said. “The traffic is also a problem with that.”
Much like the two previous candidate forums – on Sept. 13 and Sept. 27 – one of the main topics of discussion was the homeless issue in La Mesa. All of the candidates said that the issue needs to be addressed, but that there is no real solution. Lothian and Alessio opposed building a “homeless shelter” in the city. Sterling and O’Dunn praised the police department and first responders, who O’Dunn said “are ground zero” on addressing homeless individuals and finding out what they need, and pointing them toward resources for help.
Also similar to previous gatherings, the forum, which lasted a little less than 90 minutes, also brought up the PBID effort in the city.
Nearly all agreed that the scope of the project simply became too large in its current form, and needs to be modified.
Alessio said it was an effort, “that kept pushing taxes down people’s throats who don’t have any benefit from it, and have no interest in it.”
Dean agreed, adding, “I’ll never support a plan that takes money from churches and schools,” referencing that the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District would have had to pay $38,000 over five years for the plan.
Lothian, who serves on the city’s parking commission, said that she likes the idea of improving downtown, but that the city’s abundance of parking meter revenue should be used to fund part of the improvements.
“We need street sweeping and power washing in the Village,” she said. “But property taxes shouldn’t go up. There’s more than enough parking meter money to pay for maintenance of the downtown Village.”
Sterling called the PBID effort “another bureaucracy,” adding that the PBID committee “went hog wild,” during the planning.
O’Dunn, who supports the PBID and served on the PBID steering committee, said that it’s pretty clear that the project will go back to the drawing board, and that she was fine with that. She said that the project got to the point where no one really knew what it was, and likened it to the story of the blind man and the elephant.
“Is it a wall? Is it a rope? Is it a snake? No one really knows,” she said. “Anything that is designed by a committee tends to get that way. But what we need is a public/private partnership here, folks. I hope that you don’t demonize the good people, with good intentions, who spent lots of time and energy working on this.”