Retired businessman Jim Stieringer is one of six candidates running in a special election for the La Mesa City Council seat formerly filled by Akilah Weber, who departed to serve in California State Assembly District 79. There is about one year left in the term and the seat will be up for re-election in November 2022.
Stieringer is no stranger to public office, having previously served five terms on the Grossmont Healthcare District Board of Directors from 1992 to 2010 and as a Grossmont Union High School District Board member from 2012 to 2016.
He also made an unsuccessful run for the 53rd Congressional District of the United States in 2014, as well as an attempt in the 2018 primaries for the California State Board of Equalization District 4.
A former La Mesa City Treasurer and Vietnam-era Air Force captain, Stieringer said he has always been interested in local politics and believes he would bring collegiality to the dais.
“I don’t believe in being adversarial and although I suspect that philosophically, I might disagree with one or more members, I’ve shown my ability to get along. I believe looking back at all the people I served in 18 years on the Grossmont Health Care board would consider me a friend,” Stieringer said.
If elected, his top three priorities— in no particular order, he said— would be to enlarge the La Mesa library, fully fund La Mesa Police and La Mesa Fire departments, and improve the quality of housing throughout the city.
He believes fully funding the police and fire departments would be a straightforward task, with little pushback from any city council member.
Housing is a bigger challenge because “the city is under an obligation to provide low cost housing but low cost housing and quality housing don’t always go together,” he said, which is a challenge for local leaders.
“As a teenager, I remember the city of El Cajon doing some good things like harnessing Forrester Creek but they also built some very shabby apartment complexes. I want La Mesa to avoid that.
Fifty years from now, he said, he would like the community to have a positive feeling about anyone currently serving in a public office.
“I’d like to think that we left the city in a good position, that we have not built housing that is less than high quality,” Stieringer said.
However, it is the library project that brings out his passion.
A long time ago, he said, he remembers La Mesa had a plan for the area near Allison Avenue that included City Hall, the fire department, and the library.
“Under a prior plan, the city is obligated to the county to enlarge the library and I would like to honor that. I think it might be appropriate, especially, to create some meeting space for groups in La Mesa, and it could be accomplished easily and economically,” Stieringer said.
Although there are facilities nearby, he said, he believes the city should have its own performing arts area and that one could easily be combined with a library redesign.
“A lot of people might agree with me that it’s something we lack as a city and it’s something we could do. The city is probably better funded this year than it has been in quite some time due to American Rescue Plan Act funding,” Stieringer said.
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.
“That will give the city around $10 million to offset some lost revenues. I envision something like the Grossmont Healthcare District conference center,” Stieringer said, referring to a 65-person capacity theater with a full audio-visual system. Named for Stieringer, the center works alongside the Herrick Health Library that has meeting rooms, private study rooms and conference space.
“I love the tiered seating and the symbolism that the public sits above the elected body,” Stieringer said.
Overall, he said, his goal is to ensure that 50 years from now, descendants don’t look back on 2021 as the time when La Mesa began a descent into mediocrity.