Real Estate agent Laura Lothian, who won a special 2021 La Mesa election for the city council seat vacated early by Akilah Weber, is running for re-election to retain her seat on the dais. Consistently, she maintains elected officials need to focus on the city’s needs over state and federal issues.
“Because of bad government policies, every city is facing homelessness. It’s everywhere. We’ve got an unhealthy society and it goes all the way back to NAFTA,” Lothian said, referencing the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement which saw some manufacturing jobs shifted to neighboring countries.
Homelessness flourished, Lothian posited when potential for entry-level jobs shrank.
“Generations ago, you went to school, graduated, got a job, got married—we’ve eliminated all the manufacturing and factories with millions of people floundering. If you’ve got a homeless guy addicted to drugs or alcohol, they’re just going to get on the streets. Our society needs a one-eighty change. The secret, to me, isn’t more government programs but more private investments for a thriving economy,” Lothian said.
In a one-off backing, the real estate agent said she supports non-profit organization HomeStart which seeks to match homeless individuals with available housing located throughout local municipalities in participating cities rather than build a concentrated shelter or housing facility.
“Personally, I’m not big on a bunch of homeless outreach programs, getting them hotels, it just isn’t getting any better. However, La Mesa really only has about 50 homeless individuals and with this approach HomeStart can find someone a place on Lemon Avenue, one on Garfield, one on University— placement is scattered and it gets people off the streets,” Lothian said, an approach she backs because homeless individuals meld into established neighborhoods.
She has mixed opinions about La Mesa’s Homeless Outreach Mobile Engagement team which ventures out on service calls rather than sending law enforcement officers.
“The part I like about it is it reduces the need for police presence and lets law enforcement concentrate on public safety. What I do not like about it is the concierge approach with terminology like ‘clients’ and ‘client services’ with food and clothing, rides to go look for apartments,” Lothian said.
She worries that La Mesa will unintentionally draw homeless people from other parts of the county by adopting a client-service approach and inadvertently end up with more homeless residents. She also questions whether Metropolitan Transit Systems could change how many homeless people ride into town on the trolley by enforcing fares.
“I’ve heard from so many people that the trolley is an issue and everybody says the same thing: the trolley doors open, there are no ticket takers, you just get on and get off so I started thinking about it— I live in La Mesa, frequently take the trolley downtown to a nice restaurant then Uber back and no one has ever checked my ticket,” Lothian said.
She has since suggested to city council member and MTS board member Jack Shu that “MTS needs to enforce fares and announce they’re enforcing it” in an effort to “stop the homeless free express” so if people can’t pay they can’t ride, which she thinks would benefit taxpayers and tourism.
“I’m also finding out specifics on where we have to allow homeless individuals to cluster. So, okay, we’re required to allow homeless people since we don’t have a shelter but are we required to allow tents to spring up? Also, do we have to allow clusters? One homeless person in each of 20 parks is better than 20 in one park,” Lothian said, although she did not say how diluting visible homeless presence would reduce homelessness itself.
A self-proclaimed “limited government Person,” Lothian’s voice rose as she questioned the logic of building a five-story apartment building where the historically significant Randall Lamb building stood before it was brought down by arson in May 2020.
“The city of La Mesa has a website which currently features an announcement about Collier park but not a damn thing about this five story apartment building going in the heart of our 120 year old village. There was no sign on the lot, no information, no announcement— everyone was blindsided because Sacramento is desperate to have housing near trolley lines. It’s going to absolutely detract from the charm of the village,” Lothian said.
Meanwhile, everyday residents wait years for Accessory Dwelling Unit permit approval, a requirement for building single units which would bring their owners extra income and provide a small, affordable home for someone in need of a rental, she said.
“I hate hearing my fellow colleagues say we can’t do anything about Sacramento. If we can’t do anything, if we have no power to make decisions then why are we elected officials? Why not be administrators? We have people who can’t get a project built because of our city’s permit inefficiency. So no, I don’t believe in affordable housing, I believe in less government,” Lothian said.
She also stands “vehemently against” the Climate Action Plan, denouncing it as “the government finding an existential problem so they can now tell you where to live, what to drive, what to cook on and what to eat” as gas is phased out in favor of electrical power.
“Our climate changes. We’ve always had droughts and tornados; we once had dinosaurs and an ice age. I don’t think our governor should be saying we can’t have cars in 2035— who made him king? It’s ridiculous that Californians have to drive a Prius while India is cranking out billions in air pollution costs,” Lothian said.
San Diego, Lothian said, does not have the infrastructure of public transportation that older cities like her former hometown Boston built over many years of development.
“This movement to get people out of cars: we’re not built for it here. In Boston? Sure, everything is on the ‘T’,” Lothian said, referring to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority subway system which was built in 1897 and has 149 stops as compared with San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 63 stops in the trolley system.
She would prefer elected officials utilize technology to improve vehicle and systems efficiency such as developing a staggered workday, optimizing stop lights for smoother flow of traffic and implementing small changes on a personal level.
Lothian, who frequently drives for work and often commutes east to west in peak I-8 traffic hours, said she “would never want mandates or for our government to dictate business hours” but thinks business owners could take it upon themselves to stagger their work hours so commute times are varied and there are fewer cars idling in traffic.
“I want to be clear about how much I love the environment—I love science and zero waste. I went to EDCO and saw with my own eyes how they turn food waste into fuel for trucks so every Thursday, all my food scraps go in my green bin. I’m just not into mandates,” Lothian said.
During a recent Climate Action Plan meeting, she noticed every single person was drinking out of a disposable water bottle while she had a refillable bottle.
“It takes petroleum to make and ship those bottles and everybody has had permanent water bottles, just go fill your water bottle. I wrote a letter to city council and management and overnight, they stopped with the plastic bottles,” Lothian said, a practice she would like to see instituted at state level.
“If you’re Gavin Newsom and you’re talking about the climate, dude, lead by example for our entire state. Get a water bottle with a California bear on it, use some of that ARPA funding to put water stations in government buildings and require employees to use refillable bottles. You’re helping the ocean, keeping stuff out of landfills, reducing petroleum use and cutting down on shipping needs. How hard is that,” Lothian asked.
The incumbent said she didn’t run for city council during the special election to land on “a platform to espouse global talking points” but as a local resident who wants to represent the city.
“I’m not running for anything global, I’m running to benefit La Mesa.”