Newest La Mesa City Council Member Colin Parent brings a progressive stance to council
Sworn in on Dec. 14 La Mesa City Councilmember Colin Parent is the first Democrat in more than two decades elected to City Council. This is largely due to the changing demographics in voter registration over the past decade, but mostly due to his hometown way of thinking and his progressive commitment on several platforms. And East County is home for Parent, going to Valhalla High School, celebrating birthdays at Collier Park, Learning Mr. Benjamin’s Cotillion dance and etiquette at the La Mesa Women’s Club and a lot of youthful skating at Aquarius.
“I grew up in East County,” he said. “So it was a natural fit in moving back to East County, to live in La Mesa. And La Mesa is changing.”
A difference in the powers of incumbency and a lot of demographic shifts in La Mesa, the registration flipped, moving from a plurality Republican town to a plurality Democratic town. And Democratic registrations grew substantially. In the last report from the Registrar of Voters there was a 10 point voter registration advantage for democrats. And in addition to the raw registration numbers, the voter performance numbers are even better, said Parent.
Parent works at Circulate San Diego, a land use and transportation think tank. It does extensive research and advocacy related to public transit and street safety. It does consulting for cities on planning efforts, works with a city or school district working on its Safe Route to School programs, identifying the need for crosswalks and sidewalks so people make it safely to school.
“I focus more on the research and advocacy,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy with MTS in updating its Compass Card. We’ve made this a big priority. It’s great for people like me that use it all the time and can get a monthly pass, and it’s a good deal. But most people do not use transit and those that do use transit use it sparingly. For those people, they cannot load their Compass Card and let the balance go down as needed. This is very unusual as most large city transits have that ability.”
Parent said this is important for La Mesa because of its great walkable downtown. He chose his home in La Mesa, checking first that his needed destinations were within walking distance or close to public transit.
“It’s transitable, has a lot of great places to eat, with two Cohen restaurants within two blocks, and have drinks with friends,” he said. “I live in the Village. In the morning I can walk to my gym, then walk to the trolley station that I take to work most mornings that is just two blocks from me.”
Parent’s strong loyalty to trainability in La Mesa and East County is partnered with his belief that everyone and every city large or small should do its part in lowering greenhouse emissions. In part, he ran to ensure that La Mesa prepares a viable Climate Action Plan, something it agreed to do as part of its General Plan a few years ago. La Mesa prepared a plan and it lacked very basic requirements that the courts say have to be in there, he said. So La Mesa went back to the drawing board.
“One of the things is that is that we adopt a plan that has those enforceability measures,” said Parent. “In sitting in the many council meetings, with its members, it was very unclear it the council was going to vote for an enforceable plan.”
He said Ruth Sterling said many times she wanted a voluntary plan, but during the course of the campaign both she and Kristine Alessio said they would vote for an enforceable plan.
“I think we will have an enforceable plan and it will meet state requirements,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that we follow through with that. That doesn’t mean that we are going to cure the greenhouse problems ourselves, but as a city, we have to do our part. And if we don’t, we get sued and our General Plan gets thrown out.”
Parent said although the Climate Action Plan has not gone smoothly so far, there are many things in La Mesa that are going well and making a constructive difference in the city.
“I think the progress we are seeing downtown is very positive,” he said. “I think the Streetscape project, by and large has been a success. It hurt some of the incumbent businesses, but that being said, the market response to that has been positive. All types of businesses have decided to invest in that area because they have seen the city invest on the front end. The small town and approachable of both the city staff and the city council is a great asset for La Mesa. This is can only be possible in a city this small. These are things I believe are positive for the city and would like to see them maintained.”
Parent talked a lot about public safety. He said in an August report to City Council from the La Mesa Police Department showed a significant increase in crime in La Mesa. The report showed a 30 percent increase in robberies as well as an overall increase in crimes in every metric.
“That’s a problem and it is happening while we are still having retention issues in the police department. People are starting their careers with us, and then going somewhere else. We have to address those retention issues,” he said.
Parent said part of this is paying benefits and the city made some progress in that with the last contract, but this needs to be taken seriously and see what can be done to encourage people to stay with us. He believes one thing needed to be brought to the table is longer contracts with the Police Officer’s Association. Right now the city does two year contracts and has been for too long to remember. “We need to look at three or four year contracts to give those folks a little more certainty, especially for the new folks that are starting out,” he said.
Parent said that the Civic Center, still in planning, the analysis show three components according to the current thinking. A new Civic Center, a parking garage and a residential or commercial space that would help subsidize the other. This parking structure would contribute to the availability of parking in the Village. But he believes that the downtown area needs to be looked at as a whole, like a neighborhood. He said that this is important as all people and businesses can share resources, like parking. New businesses can come in and not have the need to build its separate parking. He said there is nearby parking that is walkable and that they need to be made more accessible and easy to use. But he said crossing Spring Street detours people from utilizing off the downtown parking.
“We should be talking about what improvements we can do for the timing of the lights, the infrastructure so people can cross the street easier,” he said. “Is there a pedestrian bridge we should be looking at investing in? I think there are ways that we can provide this so that there is better access. We have to keep in mind parking. We can’t pretend that it is not an issue. But we need to be looking at solutions beyond just parking.”
Parent said the city needs to address better ways for people to walk or bike to the village. He said while walking precincts there were not a lot of crosswalks, many streets without sidewalks and that more people would be willing to walk to the Village if they felt it was a safe route. He said the thinking needs to move outside of the village, providing safe pathways for the residents of La Mesa.
He said in the top seven issues when talking to people while campaigning was traffic calming solutions. “We do have a plan to do traffic calming around the city, one neighborhood at a time, over the course of seven years,” he said. “We need to make a larger focus on these sorts of facility improvements, especially in places where people are most vulnerable. That means schools, and where data shows injuries are occurring.”
Parent said that though he might have some expertise in some of these areas, it is not something he can do alone.
“It’s going to be incumbent on me to play well with my colleagues, make sure they know that I am eager to collaborate with them on many of our shared priorities for the city. And it’s not just my colleagues, it is the voters as well. I can be a fierce advocate when need but I am more interested in getting along with people and work with them on things,” he said.