By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
Laura Lothian is a successful realtor and businesswoman who hopes to bring a business perspective to La Mesa’s City Council.
“The current balance of our City Council is three attorneys a medical doctor and a teacher. And I think if you had a private sector business voice on the City Council, you’d have better balance,” she said. “I think the businesses in La Mesa are crying out for some support.”
Lothian hopes to be that support for businesses if she is elected to the Council in November — her third attempt at a seat in City Hall. She ran for mayor of La Mesa in 2010, coming within a few hundred votes of unseating incumbent Art Madrid.
“Then two years later I ran for City Council and did poorly,” she said. “This time, I’m actually going to invest a lot of energy, financial resources and time. When I ran before, I was just doing so much real estate, I didn’t try hard enough.”
Background of a businesswoman
For those that know Lothian, “not trying hard enough” would be abnormal.
Lothian was born in Hammond, Louisiana and lived there for 12 years before moving to New England and then to Southern Californian when she was 20 years old.
Her father was a physicist for NASA and her mother, a Guatemalan immigrant, was a real estate agent — a role Lothian would later step into herself, but not right away.
Before launching her own real estate career, Lothian was a stay-at-home mom who with a degree in journalism who thought she would pursue her passion for writing and newspapers some day. But after a divorce at age 40, she decided to go into real estate where she discovered she had a talent for sales.
“In my first full year of real estate, I sold 101 houses, so I’ve had a phenomenal career in real estate and I think it’s helped me with a million other things,” she said.
Lothian is now hoping to take those million other things that her business experience helped her with and help La Mesa businesses get some “love” from City Council, which she said has stifled the local economy with too many rules and regulations. In her work as a realtor she said she witnessed how homeowners struggle with doing things like remodels because City Hall doesn’t take a “customer-friendly” approach to permits.
“That’s one problem,” she said. “The other problem is all the businesses and the permits and the licenses and the regulations and the inspections. I think we forget that our businesses is what fund our schools, our fire and our police and our neighborhood parks and our infrastructure. I’m going to be more about what we can do to make it easier for you open your doors and keep your doors open, instead of being constantly an obstacle.”
Regulatory obstacles are especially intrusive right now, she said, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This COVID has magnified every thing that has been wrong for a long time,” she said.
As an example, Lothian described a recent outing walking down La Mesa Boulevard and seeing makeshift patios with seating full of customers — made possible because regulations stopping restaurants from using sidewalks for seating and rules that don’t permit alcohol sales there have been temporarily revoked during the pandemic.
“To me, it was like seeing the moment the government says, ‘Hey let’s loosen up the rules and regulations,’ business is born,” she said. “Because of COVID, which is an emergency, you’ve had governments saying maybe we shouldn’t be so draconian and let’s lighten up a bit and businesses can breathe and its been a beautiful thing.”
Lothian said she would like to see the outdoor seating, and other loosened restrictions, remain in place after the emergency is over.
Regulations and riots
In addition to seeing burdensome regulations hampering business, Lothian also points to their effect on personal liberties — and she sees a correlation between recent rules passed by City Council and the protests and riots of May 30. Specifically, she pointed to an ordinance passed unanimously by the council in January of this year to ban smoking in the city.
“It was like the City Council was in search of a problem,” she said. “We don’t have a huge smoking problem in La Mesa.”
Before the ordinance was passed, Lothian said, there weren’t many people smoking cigarettes out in public spaces, except for the occasional worker taking a smoke break out back. But once passed, the ordinance then created a way for police to hassle people for smoking.
“To me, what makes hostility between the community and the police department, is when they hassle people,” she said. “If you got cops showing up because of an assault or a robbery or vandalism or arson, they are heroes. But when they’re going around harassing people because they’re smoking a cigarette next to a trolley, there’s where your conflict happens.”
Many observers point out that that Black Lives Matter protests in La Mesa on May 30 that devolved into riots were brought to the city’s doorstep because of video showing a La Mesa Police officer pushing and then arresting a Black man at the trolley station. Although charges against the man were later dropped, the police officer said his initial reason for approaching the man was because he was smoking.
“I would like to see our police be more about protecting and serving and less about hassling,” Lothian said. “And the way for them to become less of a hassler is for them not to have stupid ordinances that they have to enforce. To me, this whole debacle that happened in La Mesa was because of an overreach by the government to create an ordinance about no smoking anywhere in La Mesa.”
When asked what the city should look for in a new police chief following the retirement of Chief Walt Vasquez, Lothian replied, “The new chief should be looking at what the City Council is going to be like.”
Lothian also has criticism for the City Council’s handling of the Friday Night Farmers Market. Lothian was on the board of the La Mesa Village Association (LMVA) that spearheaded the effort to bring the market to the Village.
“The plan was to use farmers market to bring people to the doorsteps of businesses in the Village and to use money raised to promote La Mesa and hold other events,” she said.
Although widely popular among residents, the businesses in the Village itself were sharply divided on their support for the move. In deciding its fate, the City Council eventually voted to keep the market in the Village but to take control of it away from the LMVA.
“We created all these enemies and the one thing we promised to deliver was we were going to be able to spend thousands and thousands promoting Downtown and we lost all of it. It was the worst of all worlds,” Lothian said. “The locals that could have used those proceeds were robbed.”
As a Council member, she said she would continue to seek a compromise that keeps the market going but is less intrusive to the businesses who have issues with it.
If she is elected to the City Council in November, Lothian said she will take a conservative approach to the city’s budget, which will be facing steep cuts because of the COVID crisis.
“I know that every person in this country gets hit with budget shortfalls in their lives – money dries up. And what you do is say, ‘OK, gotta say goodbye to cable.’ And all the things that are nonessential or luxury have to be back-burners,” she said. “So if you get right back down to the basics of government, our government is meant to be safety and infrastructure. The focus to me has to be safety, security, infrastructure. And everything outside of that has to be on a priority basis.”
For more information about the Laura Lothian campaign for City Council, visit www.LauraForLaMesa.com.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.