By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
This year’s annual La Mesa City Council town hall meetings brought out larger than normal turnouts and a mix of usual and unusual concerns from residents.
The two meetings, held Jan. 31 at Lemon Avenue Elementary and Feb. 2 at Rolando Elementary, continued a tradition of the council offering the public an open forum to bring issues before them at the start of the year.
No. 1 on the list of concerns among the residents who spoke up at the meetings — other than the usual traffic issues in various neighborhoods — was the proliferation of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Donna Valerie, who owns a veterinarian hospital on University Avenue, said an illegal dispensary next to her business has resulted in increased trash, loitering, smoking and noise near her business. The dispensary is also located near a preschool. Several other residents at both town halls also complained about dispensaries along University.
Valerie asked the City Council why the dispensaries can’t be shut down.
City Manager Yvonne Garrett replied that the city can only use the civil courts because the District Attorney’s Office won’t pursue criminal cases for dispensaries. Civil cases take a long time to prosecute.
However, because the voters of La Mesa passed Measure U in November that legalized marijuana dispensaries, Garrett said the city is now pursuing a “carrot and stick” approach by only offering permits to open a legal dispensary to business owners who don’t operate legal ones, in addition to filing civil cases against the illegal shops.
City Attorney Glen Sabine added that more than six illegal shops have been shut down and every illegal shop will “eventually close.” Sabine also said that in addition to not operating an illegal shop, applicants for a permit to operate a compliant dispensary must:
- not set up within 1,000 feet of a school, church, park or other family-oriented business — including sites that are in other cities;
- not set up within 1,000 feet of another dispensary;
- and not operate in a residential zone.
Climate activists spoke at both town hall meetings to encourage the city to adopt a strict Climate Action Plan (CAP). Resident Kris Murphy said passing a CAP is “urgent and extremely important as long as it is an effective plan.”
La Mesa is required under state law to have a plan that reduces greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Local climate activist residents who spoke at the meeting said the city should adopt a plan that was enforceable and suggested it adopt a community choice aggregation model that allows the city and its residents to purchase power from green energy sources.
Additional suggestions included adding more and better bike lanes and continue supporting more urban walking trails.
Garrett said the subcommittee that is drafting the Climate Action Plan is active and the city will adopt a plan by the end of this year.
“[The CAP] will absolutely be vetted publicly when it is done,” she said.
Several residents spoke up about a disturbing crime trend in the neighborhood around Stanford Avenue and Pomona Avenue — gunshots. Neighbors wanted to know why they haven’t seen increased police patrols. Other residents wanted to know why they were just finding out about the gunfire.
Police Chief Walt Vasquez said it is unusual for shootings in the area. In the two reported instances, no one was hurt, but he assured the residents that the police are not taking the incidents lightly. The reason no one has seen increased patrols, he said, is that police are patrolling the area in unmarked vehicles in hopes of finding a suspect.
Other crime problems brought up at the town halls included increased graffiti problems and home and car break-ins. One woman said her home was burglarized twice and she now plans on moving.
Mayor Mark Arapostathis suggested that the city might post a police blotter to keep residents informed about crime. Chief Vasquez urged residents to always report suspicious activities and assured residents that the police will respond to every call.
Several residents voiced support for a new library. Friends of the La Mesa Library president John Schmitz said the city needs to stop giving the plan “lip service” and incorporate a new library into the Civic Center Master Plan, which is currently being revised.
La Mesa’s lack of sidewalks was a concern of several residents. Director of Public Works Greg Humora said sidewalks in many neighborhoods are impossible for the city to make because the city doesn’t own the land to build them on. In those areas, residents may have to build their own. Humora said La Mesa has been very aggressive in getting grants for improving roads and sidewalks in the city.
Perhaps the most unusual, if not topical, issue brought up at the town halls was the suggestion to make La Mesa a sanctuary city. At the Jan. 31 meeting, resident Jack Shu asked the council to declare La Mesa a sanctuary city “for moral reasons.” At the Feb. 2 meeting that sentiment was echoed by resident John Michno.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.