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‘Red-Letter Day’ on the Orange, Green Lines: Grossmont Trolley Elevator Opens

La Mesa, Santee and county officials praise $7.9 million project at least 22 years in the making.

A Chula Vista-based mariachi band serenaded dignitaries as 100 city officials, SANDAG staff, transit authorities, interested residents and representatives of the disabled milled about the Grossmont trolley station Saturday morning, trading stories with architects and contractors about the new elevator and skybridge.

Also watching the ceremonial opening was Mike Campbell, 52, a retired electrician who said he uses the station five times a week.

“I’m just glad it’s damn done,” said Campbell, who lives near Severin and Amaya drives.  “They’ve improved the crap out of this.”

In somewhat different language, that was the consensus of speakers at the tower’s ribbon cutting about 11:20 a.m. Saturday, with its 8-foot-wide dogleg skybridge to the parking lot of 24 Hour Fitness lot near Grossmont Center.

Mayor Art Madrid, joined by other city officials and Police Chief Ed Aceves, called it a “red-letter day in La Mesa.” 

Mall-goers and nearby residents who used to trudge up a long wooden stairway from the trolley station will call it a relief, especially at holiday shopping time.

City Manager Dave Witt noted that the project was first envisioned in 1985—back when he was an assistant city planner.  This was even before the trolley was built.  But it wasn’t until 1989 that it became a concrete goal as part of  redevelopment of the Fletcher Parkway corridor.

Expense delayed it, but the $7.9 million project came to fruition with the help of a $4 million federal stimulus grant and $540,000 from the city of La Mesa.

Santee Councilman Jack Dale and La Mesa Councilman Ernie Ewin traded friendly jabs as a small crowd huddled under a white tent to protect the ceremony from a rain that never came.

Dale referred to La Mesa as “Santee’s favorite suburb.”

Ewin replied later, referring to the showers coming from Santee.

John Camp, a work superintendent with La Mesa-based , chatted about the building of the two-elevator, 55-foot elevator tower and skybridge, recalling how his crews had to dig 13 feet deep to put down the concrete foundation after discovering 4 feet of broken up concrete already there.

“It took a couple weeks,” Camp said of the delay.

The tower also has a stairway—64 steps. The bottom half is made of poured-in-place concrete, the upper being lath and plaster, with the structure strengthened by steel. All connections were welded, not bolted, Camp noted.

Faramarz Jabbari of Encinitas, head of ARK Architects, told Patch of several challenges overcome—working around a storm drain culvert and having to build a dogleg into the skybridge to make it come out right.

Others spoke privately of having to relocate the tower three or four times during talks with Grossmont Center landowner Stephen Cushman. 

In the end, a ribbon was cut, and two wheelchair-users took the ceremonial first ride up—Terri Pinnell of the adjacent Alaterra apartments and Jackson Alexander, ADA coordinator for San Diego County.

Desserts and cake were served, and Fiesta Mexicana played guitars and trumpets outside the elevator, pocketing a check from SANDAG spokeswoman Helen Gao.

Taking in the whole scene from afar was a man in his 20s who gave the name Robert Mixon-Titskar.

“Kind of a roamer,” he called himself.

He said he does community service off Mission Gorge in San Diego and offered a critique of the elevator tower.

Why didn’t it have a walkway going in the other direction as well—toward the apartments?

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