By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
Mark Papenfuss wants to bring “the voice of the people” back to La Mesa City Council.
“I feel that voice has been missing for quite some time,” he said.
Papenfuss was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to SanDiego in 1993 to go to school at SDSU and local technical schools, eventually earning a degree in internet and information services and has remained in that field of work ever since. This is Papenfuss’ first run for public office, although he said he has been watching politics and researching the issues closely.
“I don’t like where the direction of the city is going. I felt like the people were not being listened to,” he said of his reason for entering the La Mesa City Council race.
Papenfuss specifically pointed to the issue of the farmers market where he said polls showed a majority of people supported the market on La Mesa Boulevard but the city council “dragged their feet” over solving the issue.
“And we almost lost the farmers market because of certain interests city council had and that was very frustrating to me,” he said.
The ADU ordinance was another issue he said a “vast majority” of people opposed to it, but was still passed by the council.
“Those two things were frustrating to me because I felt the city council was doing its own thing and not listening to the people,” he said. “I think the city council should listen to the people.”
Policing in La Mesa
Papenfuss also shared his criticism for what he describes as the council’s inaction on police matters. He cited a report that LMPD had well over 100 use of force complaints against officers over a four-year period, but only a handful garnered any discussion or action. He said La Mesa Police could have taken these reports more seriously.
“After the Helix incident, the city council and the mayor made a very strong stance that we can’t talk to the police, we can’t tell the police what to do. So we didn’t talk to them, we didn’t meet with them — and I don’t like that response,” he said. “I think, even if you can’t tell the police department what to do, you could still take ownership of and have a conversation with the police — sit down with the police chief and say, ‘These are our concerns. What are you doing to address these? This is what we would like to be looked at.’ And that wasn’t done.”
Papenfuss has similar concerns about the proposed citizen oversight committee.
“I definitely support the oversight committee, but at the end of the day if they can’t tell the police what to do, then if you go by the city council’s logic, then what’s the point?” he said. “But I support it because, if nothing else, it brings more attention to the police force. It brings more accountability. It brings more responsibility and it brings up the questions I think need to be asked.”
Papenfuss said he would support a move to make La Mesa a charter city to give more teeth to oversight.
“To me, the city council should be the ones with the power. The mayor and the city council should be the ones that make the decisions and make the calls so I would support a change in the charter to reflect that,” he said.
When it comes to hiring a new police chief, Papenfuss said he wants a chief who is open to working with the oversight committee and the city council and is “community focused.”
Papenfuss is less critical of the city’s response to the COVID pandemic, which he said has been good, pointing out that La Mesa must comply with county and state guidance on dealing with it.
“I understand people want more freedoms, they want less rules and restrictions,” he said. “I get that, but at the same point and time we need to be responsible. We need to take steps to protect people as much as we can.”
Papenfuss said the city allowing for dining areas to be extended outside onto sidewalks is an example of a good policy because it helps businesses and still offers some protection to people.
“It’s a very hard line to navigate because you don’t want to go to far one way or the other,” he said. “If you go too far with the protections, you really hurt the businesses, but if you go too far the other way it can really hurt some people. But I do think the city is doing everything they can in this situation.”
In dealing with the coming economic and budget fallout from the pandemic, Papenfuss said the city needs to shelve “pet projects” like MacArthur Park and fund help for businesses and public safety
“I think we really need to focus on the safety of the community — the first responders of the city. Things like that really need to be the focus,” he said.
Papenfuss also shared some ideas he has for economic growth in the city. He said he would use the success of the farmers market to bring people into the city and would like to get businesses outside of the Village involved by making space for them to have booths. He added that local businesses should be able to access money from the Village Enhancement Fund (which he described as the city’s “fun fund”) to offset the cost of offering coupons to visitors.
To bring new businesses into the city, Papenfuss would like to see lower startup fees and taxes.
“Because anything you lose upfront, you’re going to make up in the long run from tax revenue,” he said.
One area of growth Papenfuss wants to see slowed down is housing.
“I am opposed to the direction the city is going in allowing these large apartment complexes, and I do not agree with the deals that are being made for these developers,” he said.
He said the large-scale housing plans put a strain on not only parking, but on schools as well.
“La Mesa already has a much higher than average class size and these new large apartment complexes will only make this worse,” he said. “I think we need to protect our children and give them as much opportunity as we can for them to succeed and overcrowding our local schools more than they already are is not a good thing.”
Papenfuss is also against selling any city-owned property, and that he is “disappointed with certain members of the council who are doing everything they can to sell off city-owned land.”
“I’m not a politician,” Papenfuss concluded. “I don’t have the obligations of career politicians. I don’t have big corporate donors. I don’t have people I have to listen to when it comes time for voting. I’m a citizen who wants to do the best I can for the city and I have the ability to listen to the people of La Mesa.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.