Kristine Alessio is a 56-year-old attorney specializing in land use, a cat lover who helped found non-profit Savannah Rescue, and a board member of La Mesa Historical Society. The former La Mesa City Council member is running for the mayoral seat.
Her two largest donors are La Mesa Firefighters association and La Mesa Police Officers Association with $4,900 in donations apiece, and she is endorsed by Heartland Firefighters and current council member Bill Baber.
With “a unique skill set that could really help La Mesa,” Alessio said she would reduce homelessness in the city by first recognizing not every person faces the same challenges and “there is no one-size-fits-all approach” to homelessness.
“The programs the city is using are key. Really, we’re not always going to get people to go into housing and if they don’t want to do so, what do you do with them? On the other hand, we can’t have people who are addicted or with mental disorders vandalizing local businesses or scaring the neighbors,” Alessio said.
La Mesa, she said, does not have the capacity to deal with severe homelessness and has to look to the state of California for programs that might help.
“The state needs to change its policies on having people who are mentally ill off their medication, they need to be arrested and put in a safe place until they are back on their meds. When I mean change at the state level, I mean some people need to be forced into treatment,” Alessio said.
Society puts animals in shelters with warmth and medical treatment, she said, but won’t do so for people.
“Solutions will have to start at state level. Governor Newsom has started a CARE court to get people into treatment programs,” Alessio said.
According to California department of Health and Human Services, the Community Resistance Recovery Empowerment act focuses on people with schizophrenia spectrum or other psychotic disorders who meet specific criteria and CARE court is designed to provide participants with individualized plans for short-term stabilization medications, wellness and recovery supports, and connection to other social services such as housing.
Locally, she said, the Homeless Outreach Mobile Engagement program has been extremely successful, and she would like to see it permanently funded.
“The HOME program is grant funded and from my perspective, probably needs to be permanently funded. Nobody ever asks what happens when the grant money runs out— we’re going to need to fund that program,” Alessio said.
Additionally, she would like to see the city leverage its communication resources to connect with people who are about to become homeless.
“We should be extremely proactive, and that messaging should be all over the city’s website: are you on the verge of losing your home? There is help available,” Alessio said.
Finally, she suggested a staff member could be dedicated to homeless outreach.
“What good is the point of a program people don’t know about? There also needs to be a lot more education so people know what is out there,” Alessio said.
The city needs more housing, she said, but it has to be multi-family developments.
“The El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue corridors are starting to have housing built there, they’ve been zoned for multi-family for years now. It all comes down to this: if the builder can’t make a living on any of these, they won’t build them,” Alessio said.
Currently, there are commercial buildings “sitting around, unused” which could be turned into housing, she said, as La Mesa does not have ‘an extra hundred acres’ on which to build large affordable housing developments.
“We need to increase housing stock in areas that are ready for redevelopment. As we do this, we also need to be exceptionally careful of community and neighborhood character. Nobody opposes building homes, they oppose ugly buildings built with no notice,” Alessio said.
Referencing a possible five-story affordable housing development slated for La Mesa village, Alessio said she is “not in favor” of developments that do not appear to fit in with existing design values of any area.
“There are excellent projects like the Little Flower Haven that just bloomed with the community. If we get design guidelines in place, it would pave the way for projects that fit in La Mesa,” Alessio said, referring to a former assisted living facility redeveloped for affordable housing.
La Mesa, Alessio said, needs a mayoral council that understands land use and design guidelines, and is willing to push city staff to tight deadlines while shortening the timeframe for permitting.
“With my background in land use, I can see the problems and recognize them, say ‘no that’s not good enough’ because we can be doing a lot better of a job getting housing built that fits the unique character of La Mesa but we have to have someone at the top who understands the roadblocks,” Alessio said.
They can also steer housing to help hit some Climate Action Plan goals, but Alessio said the reality is the city might not hit all of their goals.
“The best way to hit those goals is to stop focusing on getting people out of cars and focus more on clean energy. If we’re going to rely on people not driving to hit our CAP goals, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” Alessio said.
She would rather see the city work with their own power organization or partner with San Diego Gas and Electric for solutions. Meanwhile, homeowners, she said, can install better windows or purchase new appliances that use less energy.
“An inefficient home is going to use more energy. There are other things we can be doing— we can get grant money for things that work toward CAP goals and offer it up,” Alessio said.
The longtime La Mesa resident said she doesn’t think the city will ever get cars entirely off the road because the neighborhood is hilly, not especially conducive to residents living a walking lifestyle. However, she does think some residents might replace some of their drive time with public transportation if Metropolitan Transit System made it more inviting.
“The best way to do that is for MTS to keep weirdos off the trolley. As mayor, I’d be pressuring them to install turnstiles and get tickets. That is the biggest deterrent. I would not want my 15-year-old daughter or son to go on the trolley, I’d tell them I’d drive them, or they can take an Uber,” Alessio said.
Where she sees transit systems in Boston and Washington D.C. policed with security, that is not true for San Diego County.
Although she sees an opportunity for San Diego State University students to use the trolley, or shoppers going from La Mesa to Fashion Valley mall, she thinks the ridership will only come with increased security.
“Until MTS starts to ask for the ticket, make you go through a turnstile, you’re not going to increase ridership, why would anyone go on something they don’t feel safe in,” Alessio asked.
Additionally, she does not think different people have the same transportation needs. There are no bus stops near any Little League fields she said, as an example, and “parents aren’t going to take their chairs and walk a mile with sports gear” when there’s a faster way, they’re comfortable with. “We need to be more realistic,” Alessio said.