By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
Resident activists of west La Mesa are proof of the old adage: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
At the Sept. 24 La Mesa City Council meeting, members of Envision La Mesa — a group formed to clean up west La Mesa — presented the findings of their annual environmental scan of the west side and then witnessed the fruits of their labor when the council voted to approve two measures that would help fund their efforts to revitalize their side of the city.
Envision president Craig Reed presented the findings of two years of environmental scans, where Envision members tracked instances of blighted buildings, signage in disarray, trash, graffiti and even safety concerns like open electrical boxes along University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard — “things that cue people in that this is a neighborhood you want to drive through not shop, dine and explore,” he said.
The results of the scan show an area in need of attention.
Reed reported that from 2018 to 2019, blight has gone down, but trash has gone up along El Cajon Boulevard. Trash also increased along University Avenue, but graffiti saw a substantial drop, Reed said, and offered up a suggestion for the city.
“We want to address the trash issues,” he said. “We’ve noticed in our surveys time and time again, for example, there’s a lot of trash near the bus stops, but not a single receptacle near them.”
Reed also pointed to a Circulate San Diego report that shows University and El Cajon as the least safe streets in La Mesa, as well as the results of an Envision survey where west side residents reported not feeling safe in their neighborhoods.
“They do not feel like the west side is the best place to be walking alone at night or even down the main corridors a lot of times, there are other places they prefer to be, claim people who live in that neighborhood,” he said.
Help on the way
Making west side neighborhoods cleaner, and ultimately safer, is the goal of two proposals City Council unanimously passed at the Sept. 24 meeting.
The first, a program proposed by Council members Kristine Alessio and Akilah Weber, would fund mini-grants for businesses and property owners to access for beautification projects like new signs, artwork, landscaping improvements, power washing and painting buildings, etc.
“It’s just giving a nod to businesses in west La Mesa that need a little sprucing up and maybe it’s a public art program, maybe it’s something else,” Alessio said.
Alessio also found a funding source for the program.
“One of the things that came to our attention … is that people say there is no money for this,” she said. “Well [the businesses] aren’t asking for huge chunks of money and we identified a funding source, which is our own expense accounts.”
Alessio offered to put her $4,000 account toward the program, but if it is successful said the city should consider using general fund monies and expand the program. Baber offered his account as well, making the seed money for the program $7,000.
The other program, proposed by Council member Bill Baber, would directly address issues caused by illegal cannabis dispensaries that left some of the properties in west La Mesa in need of attention.
“[We were] witness to many illegal cannabis businesses that a number of them when they left in a hurry, left a mess, and some of that still needs to be cleaned up today,” Reed told the council.
In Baber’s proposal, businesses adjacent to shuttered illegal dispensaries can apply for up to $20,000 to repair damage associated with the blight created by their neighbors. In addition to businesses neighboring former dispensaries, new owners who purchase former illegal dispensaries can also apply — with a caveat. The money can be used to clean up the illegal dispensary properties by the new owners, but only if they are not affiliated in any way with any previous owner who allowed or operated an illegal dispensary on that property.
“The purpose of these provisions is to encourage new owners to clean up the mess left behind by the former owners, and not to benefit any former owner or operator who broke the laws of La Mesa,” Baber said.
Council member Colin Parent raised a couple concerns with the proposals. One, that the required paperwork for a grant for so little money might deter businesses from applying. And he also raised a concern about liability.
“We don’t want a situation where we pay for a power wash and someone gets power washed in the face and all of a sudden we’re liable and we have to fill out some paperwork,” he said.
City Attorney Glen Sabine said there will definitely have to be an implementation agreement that provides for all the legalities of the use of the money, but that the city already has those documents in place and they don’t take much time for staff to process.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to pass resolutions for staff to come back with formal plans to be adopted at a future council meeting, to the applause of the Envision members at the meeting.
“Thank you for considering this,” Reed told the council. “For our purposes, we’re just trying to see how we make the city a better place. Those blighted areas are not going to disappear on their own, there is going to need to be some effort or intervention, I understand there are many different options, and we support trying this out to eliminate some of the blight and engage those properties so they are being utilized property.”
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.■