By JEFF CLEMETSON
With a background in city government and a history of volunteering, La Mesa City Council candidate Kathleen Brand is campaigning on her “very practical approach” to decision making.
“My attitude is that I bring a lot of experience, a lot of city planning, public sector experience to the City Council that a lot of the other candidates don’t have. I think I also bring very logical implementation strategies that I don’t think a lot of the other candidates have. I’m kind of a nuts and bolts kind of a person,” she said. “It’s not just about setting policy, its also about well how do we do it. I would say La Mesa is great at preparing master plans and planning documents but we have no way of implementing them and that’s where my strength is.”
Brand grew up in Wisconsin where she attended University Wisconsin Madison and earned Bachelors degrees in Landscape Architecture and German Literature. She moved to Northern California in 1989 where she got married and had a son before moving to Missouri for a few years for her husband’s job. The family moved to San Diego in 1999 and bought a house in La Mesa in 2000.
Professionally, Brand has worked in business for herself as a landscape architect; was employed by environmental planning firm Helix Environmental; worked as a horticultural therapist with foster youth in Chula Vista; and worked for Civic San Diego, the former redevelopment agency for the City of San Diego. Brand now works for the City of San Diego in the Development Services Department Urban Division.
“Our role is land and permits and implementing the Downtown Community Plan for San Diego,” she said.
Brand also has volunteered for various school and city organizations in La Mesa. For the past three years, she has served as a Community Services Commissioner.
“We oversee the improvements on parks and trying to implement the Park Master Plan. We’ve been looking at the plans for MacArthur Park recently, but we also promote the different opportunities in La Mesa and events that are happening through the city,” she said “Prior to that I have volunteered extensively with the city and the school districts.”
Brand lists her accomplishments as a volunteer to include expanding the school garden and garden curriculum at Lemon Avenue Elementary; developing the library garden at LMAC; and volunteering at local high schools as needed.
For the city, Brand said that along with her husband she worked on La Mesa’s sidewalk improvement plan, bicycle master plan and parks master plans.
“I’ve been out there volunteering and participating for the 20 plus years that we’ve lived here,” she said.
In addition to promising a practical approach to governing the city, Brand is also running on a three-part platform of: equity, infrastructure and transparency.
To achieve equity, Brand said she will “view La Mesa comprehensively.”
“We have some great neighborhoods in the city but I think we can develop our neighborhoods throughout the community even more,” she added. “We have a great, vibrant Village. We have a successful mall, but I would like to see our University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard, Lake Murray Boulevard, I’d like to see those neighborhoods so that they become our Fern Streets, our Adams Avenues. We need to create a city that is comprehensive for all residents. It brings business and opportunities for all residents.”
Viewing the city through a lens of equity will also help the city meet its Climate Action Plan by making all neighborhoods within walking distance to shops and restaurants, Brand said. Equity also ties into implementation of Parks Master Plan.
“I’ve been incredibly adamant about not focusing on one or two single parks in La Mesa, but that we need to be doing work in all of our parks,” she said, adding that all parks in the city could use some improvement that is “way beyond overdue.”
Brand’s strategy to implement her equity plan is through the land use code.
“With the mixed-use neighborhoods, we have these specific plans for different areas in the city, but in our land use code we are not enforcing. It is not codified to make sure the bottom floor of these new housing units is actually set aside for retail or commercial,” she said. “This is my experience working with City of San Diego, this is exactly what I have experience in. We need to make sure our land use code says ‘Yes, you must implement this. It is not a suggestion. It is part of the design guidelines, part of the municipal code that you actually have to implement that.’”
Brand added that La Mesa needs housing developments with bottom floor businesses “not to just invigorate the neighborhoods but also to bring revenue into the city.”
In order to implement improving La Mesa’s infrastructure, Brand pointed out that the city doesn’t have enough revenue. Her plan is to raise developer fees in the city.
“Right now they pay $1,100 a unit for park fund fees or park in lieu fees for all this new development. Last year we brought in $200,000 with all the development going on. That’s it. It is a tiny amount of money. In the City of San Diego that fee would be $5,000 a unit, and the City of San Diego is thriving right now with development,” she said.
Brand added that she doesn’t see increased fees hindering development or having any impact on cost of rental units.
“If they can charge market rate for these units, they can pay a little bit more because we need a funding source,” she said. “It can’t all come from the residents and bond measures and increasing our taxes. It’s got to be an equal distribution.”
Brand said going after other funding sources, such as grants or though public-private partnerships like the new housing project on old police station property, is important, but will not be enough to meet the city’s needs.
“We can’t implement our sidewalk improvement plan, or build ADA ramps at all our intersections, or implement our bicycle master plan unless we have funds and there’s just not enough SANDAG grants out there to make that happen,” she said.
In her final campaign plank, Brand wants to bring more transparency to La Mesa government.
“I think the city started a great project in the Police Oversight Board, but I believe that level of transparency has to be seen at all levels of our city government,” she said.
For an example, Brand said she recently made a public records request to find out whom the city selected to develop the old police station site and also why they were selected. She said she received the RFPs (request for proposals) from different developers and who was short-listed and interviewed.
“But the city did not write down any type of analysis as to why they selected that developer,” she added. “They did all the deliberations verbally and the previous City Manager and the City Attorney were part of that team reviewing that and doing that so they knew exactly what they were doing. There is no accountability to the community when they do that. There is none whatsoever. That has to stop. We need to have accountability because when you work in public sector you work for the citizens.”
For more information about Kathleen Brand, visit brandforlamesa.com.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.