By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
2017 was a busy year in La Mesa, and a busy year at La Mesa Courier. In addition to participating in local events like Taste of La Mesa and Oktoberfest, we continued our hyper-local coverage of our “Jewel of the Hills.”
We looked back at our year of coverage and have decided to share the Top Five news story topics, based on the number of related articles that appeared in the paper, as well as a subjective determination on which issues affect, or will affect, our readers the most.
New businesses and growth
Unless you have been living in a cave the last year, or just awoke from a coma, it would be impossible to not notice the pace in which La Mesa is growing and changing.
Housing continues to be expanding and in October we ran two stories that highlight the different kinds of residencies being built in the city. We reported on how the city partnered with private developer Westmont Living to build a 130,000-square-foot, three-story retirement community on the property at 9000 Murray Drive, adjacent to Grossmont Hospital [“Briarcrest breaks ground,” bit.ly/2kyjT1i]. We also reported on a development by The Phair Co. that will soon break ground [“Hilltop housing development in the works,” bit.ly/2A4XSk9]. La Mesa Summit Estates will be an upscale development of around 30 four- and five-bedroom homes on 10 acres at the top of Eastridge Drive.
But housing developments are often controversial and the Little Flower Haven project was a prime example of how a desire for growth is often at odds with maintaining neighborhood character.
In August, we reported on a contentious City Council meeting where Porter Hill residents voiced strong opposition to the 130-unit, three-story housing project proposed for the Little Flower Haven site at 8585 La Mesa Blvd. — a former home for the elderly run by the Carmalite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus [“City Council rejects Little Flower Haven,” bit.ly/2ABzrbB]. In a 2-2 vote, with Councilmember Colin Parent abstaining, the project did not have the votes to pass, prompting a threat of lawsuit from developers Silvergate Development.
The result was the council reversing its decision the very next month under advisement from City Attorney Glenn Sabine [“Housing project approved with second vote,” bit.ly/2yMbcWf]. Even though the project is now a done deal and will be built, the Little Flower Haven ordeal lives on as it caused the City Council to re-examine how projects get approved in the future.
But it is not just housing where La Mesa saw growth — new businesses are setting up in the city as well. Looking back at our coverage, there was a noticeable pattern of art businesses and restaurants moving in.
In January, we reported on the opening of Nainsook Framing + Art and how owners Roz and Dan Osersin are creating a space to bring back La Mesa’s arts community roots [“Couple aims to revive La Mesa’s artistic heritage,” bit.ly/2ou5dFQ]. In April, we ran a story about another arts studio opening on La Mesa Boulevard called Idea Field [“A big idea,” bit.ly/2ziz1bY]; and in June we covered the opening of Re-Animated Records, a hipsteresque music shop in the Village that solidifies the city’s new cool image [“A spin with a twist,” bit.ly/2BCKu80].
One of the biggest changes La Mesa has seen this past year is the transformation of the city into a foodie mecca. February saw the opening of the now-popular Farmer’s Table [“From farm to Village,” bit.ly/2BnDUQl]; a story on how Brew Coffee Spot brought a much-needed upgrade to the coffee scene around Lake Murray ran in our April edition [“New neighborhood coffee shop picks up steam,” bit.ly/2km8q5W]; and our June edition covered the opening of the short-lived BLVD Noodles [“Slurps and twirls on the boulevard,” bit.ly/2CpGzbm]. And looking ahead, 2018 is poised to bring even more culinary hot-spots to the city.
In addition to the housing and new businesses, La Mesa also saw growth in the development of nonprofit service centers for residents. The opening of San Diego Oasis in Grossmont Center brings classes and programs for older residents [“An Oasis at Grossmont Mall,” bit.ly/2jc5GXV and “Oasis Learning Center celebrates grand opening,” bit.ly/2AIbAqJ]; and a new Boys & Girls Club center will do the same for the city’s youth [“Boys & Girls Clubs of East County breaks ground on La Mesa clubhouse,” bit.ly/2kDEGAE].
Although officially held in San Diego with money raised through the San Carlos Recreation Center, the Lake Murray Fireworks and MusicFest is a popular Fourth of July event shared by both communities and its return from a five-year hiatus makes our list of top stories.
In March and April, we reported on the fundraising efforts of volunteers dedicated to bringing the festival back [“News Briefs: Lake Murray music festival seeks donations,” bit.ly/2BnTZpl and “Final funding push for festival,” bit.ly/2i7fVff].
In June, we were happy to report that the funding drive was a success and the festival would go on as scheduled [“Fireworks show is a go,” bit.ly/2ziLP29]. The success of the event, and of the extra fundraising effort in 2017, has ensured that the festival will likely be back in 2018 and beyond.
On Jan. 1, 2017, medical marijuana was no longer banned in the city of La Mesa. Citizens’ initiative Measure U was passed by voters in 2016, overturning earlier City Council decisions to ban medical marijuana and took effect at the beginning of the year. However, there were still two important issues regarding medical marijuana the city grappled with — what to do about the proliferation of illegal, non-permitted marijuana businesses and how to implement Measure U, as well as new state rules that were passed in 2016.
At the annual town hall meeting put on by the City Council at the beginning of every year, a major concern brought up by residents was the number of illegal marijuana dispensaries [“Dispensaries, climate, crime top town halls,” bit.ly/2k6SELS]. In March, the City Council began drafting the local ordinances that will govern how La Mesa will deal with the selling, growing and possessing of medical marijuana and by October those rules were refined and voted on [“Council clarifies city rules on marijuana,” bit.ly/2ziKqsg and “Medical marijuana regulations finalized,” bit.ly/2BxKXZj].
Although the rules are now in place, and medical marijuana is permitted in the city, there are still unknowns about how these new businesses will affect life in La Mesa, a story line that will surely be followed by the Courier in 2018. A preview of the what might lie ahead ran in our August issue — a story from our media partner Voice of San Diego about marijuana businesses paying day cares to shut down to make room for code compliance that says dispensaries cannot operate within 1,000 feet of child-related centers. [“Pot businesses want to relocate day cares,” bit.ly/2CNiTPt].
In June, we reported on the closing of La Mesa’s municipal golf course, Sun Valley [“Goodbye Sun Valley Golf Course,” bit.ly/2kGqeYW]. Mary Jane and Johnny Gonzalez, who had operated Sun Valley since 1997, had been hit with a double-whammy of declining interest in golf and rising operating costs and requested an early departure from their lease with the city.
The city took over on June 30 with plans to convert the 13 acres into open park space as part of MacArthur Park, which already houses the city’s aquatic center, community center and the baseball ballfield.
Short-term planning for the former golf course took place at a Community Services Commission meeting in August [“Planning for MacArthur Park underway,” bit.ly/2BpuQdy]. Residents weighted in on what they’d like the park to include such as a community garden, dog park and hiking trails.
The golf course-turned-park opened in October and is still a work in progress as the city looks for funding to meet the goals set out by residents. In addition to the golf course area, the city is also considering renovating other parts of the park — a story we will follow as it further develops.
By California law, La Mesa must enact a climate action plan (CAP) that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to standards set by the state. It is a task the city has struggled with after an initial draft of the CAP was rejected.
So, the city set out to create a new plan and pass it by the end of 2017. In July, the draft of the new plan was released [“City’s draft climate plan is released,” bit.ly/2yJIoBf]. In it, the city set lofty goals for energy use, including adopting a community choice energy program that would ensure most of the electricity used in La Mesa would be from renewable sources. Other aspects of the plan include efficiency standards for new and remodel construction and adopting a policy to promote mass transit over individual car trips.
In November, the city’s Environmental Sustainability Commission held a meeting to present another updated draft [“Climate plan faces scrutiny,” bit.ly/2op9qdK]. Environmental advocates gave public comments on what they liked and didn’t like about the CAP. The commission found several of their concerns important enough to have staff revise parts of the plan.
Although the city did not make its self-imposed deadline to pass the CAP by the end of 2017, it appears that it is likely to pass it in early 2018. The plan still needs to go in front of the city’s Planning Commission along with an environmental impact report that the public will have 45 days to comment on. If the Planning Commission votes to approve the plan, the City Council will then get to vote.
2018 is already shaping up to be another busy year in La Mesa.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.