By JEFF CLEMETSON
Jim Stieringer has both a long business career spanning several fields of work as well as a long career in public service spanning several areas of community governance. He is hoping that his unique level of experience and expertise will propel voters to elect him to La Mesa City Council in November — even if it is not a dire hope.
“If I weren’t elected, it wouldn’t be the end of the city. It looks like we have some pretty good candidates,” he said. “I just feel that I would add more to the city and bring more to the table than they would. But no matter what happens in this election, I think the city will survive and thrive.”
Business, personal background
Stieringer was born in San Diego and lived briefly in Pacific Beach and then University Heights before moving to El Cajon where he attended El Cajon Valley Junior High and Grossmont High School. He attended California Western University where he earned a BS in business before joining the Air Force and attending officer training school. Stieringer spent most of his four years in the Air Force constructing test sites for NASA at Cape Canaveral, where he met his wife, an Air Force nurse.
Stieringer started his civilian business career when he moved back to California, working for a plethora of companies including Ford Motors, a small construction company, the San Diego Regional Employment and Training Consortium and Teledyne Ryan Electronics before landing a contracts manager job at Brown & Root, which was later acquired by Halliburton.
When he retired from Halliburton, Stieringer served on the board of directors of the Grossmont Healthcare District (GHD).
“It was probably the highlight of my life,” he said. “I managed to, after a while, gain enough seniority to affect their decisions.”
One of those decisions he affected was to sue SHARP Healthcare over a bad lease deal it had for Grossmont Hospital. Eventually the courts ruled in favor of the GHD, agreeing that there was a conflict of interest in the $1-a-year lease because the healthcare district had the same attorney as SHARP.
“At that point we settled with SHARP Healthcare, they paid us $5 million and we allowed the 30-year lease to continue,” he said, and added that GHD used the money to build the Bill Herrick Healthcare Library.
“Realistically — and I’m patting myself on the back here — there wouldn’t be a Grossmont Healthcare District if it weren’t for me,” he said. “So I can make a difference. But you don’t make a difference right away.”
Stieringer retired from the GHD board after 18 years, and set his sights on public service. He was elected as La Mesa City Treasurer and also elected to the Grossmont Union High School District board.
“That was kind of an eye opener itself,” he said. “I was an incumbent member of that board, registered Republican, I think I had been endorsed by the Republican Party but they decided to run somebody against me. Interestingly, we both lost.”
He ran again in 2020 to regain the seat but lost and admitted it “did not do very well.”
“I’ve since discovered, there is no such thing as a non-partisan race. For example, in the current race [for City Council] I’m a registered Republican, I donate some sums of money to the Republican Party and I did not get their endorsement,” he said, adding that Carl DeMaio called and “plead” him to drop out of the race. “I declined to do it because I think I have a pretty reasonable chance to win. Consequently, I’m probably the only person in there that hasn’t drank the Kool-Aid of either party.”
One issue Stieringer said he wants to emphasize is public health.
“I don’t see how any reasonable person could forgo the therapeutic benefit of the COVID vaccine,” he said, adding that he doesn’t like the politicization of public health on both the national and local level.
In his 2020 race for the GUSH board, that politicization of health was front and center in his platform as an opponent to school closures.
“I stand by that statement. I think we would have been better off had the children gone back into school, even though the people who said follow the science — which is not a bad idea — all agreed that children didn’t seem especially vulnerable to the illness,” he explained. “Probably, had the schools reopened, we’d be in little a better position today, we might have achieved some herd immunity. Who knows?”
Stieringer said schools closed because teachers did not want to go back to work, either for health concerns or “they enjoyed staying home and being paid to work on their computer screens.” He said his ultimately position was a moot point because even if he had been reelected, he wouldn’t have had a majority on the board to reopen the schools.
Stieringer describes himself as an “enthusiastic” supporter of police and fire departments. “I don’t see how anybody could be opposed to them. But I do see some folks who want to defund police departments,” he said. He also doesn’t see any problems with La Mesa Police Department or its response to the May 30, 2020 “arson and violence” in the city. “There’s no way they could have known that was going to happen. Overall, I think they did the best they could.”
He added that he currently does not oppose the Community Police Oversight Board and only “time will tell” if the board is supportive or antagonistic of police.
Stieringer said La Mesa is under pressure by the state to increase the number of affordable units and that following through with SB 9 would be a “pretty bad error” to tear down single-family homes and replace with fourplexes. He pointed to the history of the Huffman fourplexes that replaced single-family bungalows in University Heights between El Cajon Boulevard and Polk Avenue where there are “tremendous parking problems” now.
“It’s actually sort of a ghetto, although it’s an expensive ghetto with the price of housing going up. Even those units are selling well,” he said. “I don’t want the people in the 2080s or whatever to come along in future years and look back and say ‘Jim Stieringer and city council really screwed up.’ Right now they’re on a path to screwing up.”
An example of screwing up, Stieringer said, is the plan to transform trolley station parking lots into housing because it will create bad housing and also discourage people form using the trolley, which he described as “still the long-range solution to a lot of transportation problems in San Diego.”
Stieringer does support building ADUs in the neighborhoods, as long as they conform to standards.
“I really encourage ADUs but I don’t think exactly what the city has in mind,” he said. “They should be small … I think 800 square feet is about right.”
Another issue Stieringer sees as a wrong path for Las Mesa is the city’s adoption of the San Diego Community Power plan. He said it will only save residents about 1% on their energy bills.
“I hate what they’ve done to the California deserts. I hate the thousands of acres of photovoltaic devices laying on the desert floor. I dislike the windmills. It’s kind of an unusual situation where you have so-called environmentalists ruining the environment,” he said.
Programs to implement
If elected, Stieringer said he would like to see La Mesa spend more on capital improvement projects, such as a new library.
“I think that would be a great addition to the city,” he said, adding that another long-awaited wishlist item — a performing arts center — could be added to the library project. He also said he would push to create a tree promenade along Allison Avenue.
“The city is in a pretty good position to do it right now,” he said of the capital investments. “As I look at their numbers, it wouldn’t be wrong to say the city is awash in money. They’ve got pretty good reserves and also the federal legislation … will be giving them five or six million dollars this year.
“So, the city can do this. Now, will it be done? I don’t know,” he added. “A lot depends on the mayor and the other three council members, but I’m all for capital improvement. You do it one time and they last a long time.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.