Mark Papenfuss, a 45-year-old Democrat who works in telecommunications, is running for a seat on city council in La Mesa. He has lived in La Mesa for 25 years and said he knows that he is at a huge disadvantage in this campaign because he is doing it alone.
“I don’t have a committee, I don’t have people telling me what to say, where to go or what to do,” he said. “Realistically, it is me and I am running it from my heart. I don’t have big corporate donors, real estate people backing me up, political parties backing me. But I think that not having the support of the party and the endorsements is actually a good thing. What that means is that I don’t have commitments to them. The only obligation I have is to the people of La Mesa and I think that is how it should be. I want to bring the voice of La Mesa’s residents back to the city council.”
In 11th grade, Papenfuss lived in Los Angeles and was in the middle of the Rodney King riots. He said seeing that, and then facing the riots in La Mesa affected him to the point of heartbreak. He said that neither the city of La Mesa or the La Mesa Police Department took any ownership of the actions of May 30.
“All of these things kind of rolled up and made me want to become more involved,” he said. “I want to help the city and listen to the people. Take ownership, take responsibility and actually listen to the people.”
Papenfuss said overall, La Mesa is a pretty safe city and overall, he believes the police are doing their job, and the safety of the city speaks a lot about the people that live there.
“But, there were a few things that led up to it,” he said. “There was the report of police targeting African-American people at a much higher rate than other people. Then the lawsuit with Amaurie Johnson versus the city, and in that lawsuit he claims between 2106-20 the La Mesa Police Department had 142 use of force incidents reported. Out of the 142 reports, only 23 of those resulted in a discussion of the officer. In those, only two prompted further investigation.”
Papenfuss said this causes issues on different aspects. Mistrust by the public, no repercussions or explanations of use of force, and the city’s response that they have no control over what the police department does. He said his position is that you can still have an open conversation with the chief of police, and if that is the case, then the city can say they tried.
“I really feel that with everything that has happened, since that incident, the riot, their main focus is what can they do to say that they didn’t do anything wrong,” he said “I don’t see them saying that things weren’t handled correctly. Realistically, anyone can see that.’
Papenfuss said getting a new police chief is the first step, and an opportunity. He said hopefully, the new police chief is open and willing to work with the city and the people and be transparent with what is going on. And that is a “huge step.”
“The police need to become more involved, more open, more transparent. A lot more community engagement is strongly needed. With the new Police Oversight Committee in the process, I think that is a good step. But if at the end of the day, if they can’t say you need to change this, we are kind of at the same spot.”
Papenfuss said outside groups coming into the city after the riots caused more harm than good.
“I fully support a person’s right and ability to protect their home or business. This is something that is done at your home or at your business,” he said. “I support the business owners that were forced to defend their business during the riot because the police just were not there. But I do not support groups that go out and harass people and violate other people’s rights while making the claim that they have a right to do so.”
Papenfuss said La Mesa is dealing with two different types of groups. The ones who are truly out here trying to help people and the ones that are only out here to start trouble.
Papenfuss said with the COVID pandemic, he thinks everybody is trying to do their best and he understands why people are frustrated.
“It is not just about you,” he said. “Even if you are not happy with it, for the sake of other people, protect other people.”
Papenfuss said that City Council mishandled CARES Act funding, with the debate of who gets what shares between residents and businesses. But what he really disagreed with, was the City taking $200,000.
“The city has a huge reserve fund. The $200,000 they took could have went to help more people and more businesses. This is an emergency. If this doesn’t qualify to tap into the reserves, then I don’t know what does. I think 100% of that money should have gone to La Mesa residents and small businesses.”