Dillard studies community’s priorities

LA MESA SPECIAL ELECTION: On Nov. 2 La Mesa will hold a special election to fill the vacancy left by former councilwoman Akilah Weber

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Patricia Dillard

Businesswoman Patricia Dillard is one of six candidates running in a Nov. 2 special election to fill a La Mesa City Council seat that will term out in about a year and has already filed paperwork in advance of the 2022 race for the same seat.

Akilah Weber, who left the council dais to serve in California State Assembly District 79, endorsed Dillard for the job, and La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis and city council member Bill Baber both donated to Dillard’s campaign.

Dillard, 62, said she is running on a platform for increased public safety, criminal justice reform and homelessness issues. During a Sept. 29 interview, Dillard discussed what approach she would take to address those issues in the community, if elected.

She currently serves on the La Mesa Community Police Oversight Board (formerly the La Mesa Police Oversight Task Force) that was established in October 2020 to advise the Chief of Police, Mayor, City Council, and City Manager on the administration of the La Mesa Police Department and on matters of public safety within the city.

La Mesa received national attention earlier that year when a peaceful Black Lives Matter-affiliated protest organized for downtown La Mesa ended in violent unrest with buildings burnt to the ground, storefronts shattered and looted, and a crowd of protesters fired upon with rubber bullets and tear gas.

However, Dillard said, the CPOB requested a community survey last year that produced surprising results.

“On that survey, the number one concern for La Mesans was actually homelessness. It rose right to the top,” Dillard said.

Since receiving the survey results, she said, she has started reaching out to nonprofit organizations to address the situation “because it’s a multifaceted issue,” and there is no catch-all solution for the different levels of homelessness.

Although rhetoric suggests homeless individuals might be dangerous, Dillard said the homeless community is actually “so vulnerable” with individuals often sleeping by day to avoid getting robbed or assaulted.

“I think that if you work with groups of people who already know about these issues and already have solutions that they need to just be supported, and I think that the city could provide that support to make sure we can get that homeless number down here in La Mesa,” Dillard said.

“You have people with mental health issues that are also homeless, people with medical issues that maybe in addition to that have lost their jobs. We have the compound effect of COVID. You want to work with people that are professionals in that field… You can’t just count on one way to deal with homelessness,” Dillard said.

Potentially, she would like to see churches funded through American Rescue Plan Act funding in a way that would benefit homeless outreach programs.

The ARPA, signed into law in March, provides $350 billion in funding for state and local governments to assist with economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We could create a situation where they’re actually receiving funding for homeless people as well. We have some churches that have very large buildings where they can already come in and people can take showers. They have facilities where they could actually, you know, set up cots, a safe place to sleep and bring stuff, maybe get funding so that they can have lockers for them when they come in,” Dillard said.

Every night, she said, she has been walking La Mesa, introducing herself to voters, asking about their community concerns.

“One of the top concerns that they mention is they want La Mesa to be more like what it used to be. We have a lot of people that have seen changes over the years and it’s not that they’re unhappy with La Mesa because I think that they still have the same love and care as I do but they just want to make sure that the changes that are made in the city include the people that are moving here,” Dillard said, possibly through a beautification process on the west side of La Mesa, nearest El Cajon Boulevard.

“Back in the Renaissance, you know, you have the shops at the bottom and the apartment living at the top and maybe more of a modern feel, an urban feel, another walkable place,” Dillard said, wanting residents to have other options for shopping and socializing in La Mesa besides the Village, other neighborhood options for parents who want to “throw the kids in the stroller and walk to get ice cream or stop at a restaurant for lunch or dinner, feel like it’s a community”.

She would like to see the community feel of La Mesa preserved by being more open to change. While she says that might sound contradictory, one example might include moving forward with public transportation solutions while seriously considering how trolley placement might affect parts of the city.

“I think going forward with La Mesa, we must find a way to still stay the beautiful community that we are by continuing to meet the needs of the city, but at the same time paying attention to change and just addressing it head on,” Dillard said.

She also believes a new library in La Mesa should be designed around the community so it is “more than a place where people can go and check out books” and also offers a place for children to go before or after school, a library with a kitchen and cooking classes, possibly union-based training programs.

“If you meet the needs of the community, they will come and meet you back,” Dillard said.

Dillard studies community’s priorities

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