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Coffee with a supervisor

County Supervisor Joel Anderson, who represents East county, is hosting a Community Coffee from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 17 in Alpine.

The town-hall style events, Anderson said, provide a chance to hear how district neighborhoods relate to each other and where policy needs to be applied.

“I go to El Cajon and they say all the homeless are from Lakeside and I go to Lakeside where they say all the homeless are coming in from El Cajon. At some point, my solution is to say ‘if they’re in your ravine, they’re your homeless and we can’t be pointing fingers at each other.’ It’s not that Lakeside doesn’t want a homeless shelter, or El Cajon does want them, they’re both looking to make a difference in their community but we have to work together,” Anderson said.

Often, he said, that work starts happening about 90 minutes into an event. The town halls have a pattern: about five or six issues usually come up at each event and the most heated topics are usually due to something misreported through social media, often from outside the immediate community.

“It’s interesting, if you watch videos of the community coffees, you can see an evolution over the course of an hour and a half, two hours. Anyone who shows up to a coffee is usually fighting for their own community and we get hundreds of people at the events,” Anderson said.

Another topic Anderson often brings up at community coffees: what local projects are being funded and how they’re developing.

“I think it’s important for people to understand how much money is being spent in their community but also what it is being spent on and when things are happening. Lakeside is going to get a brand-new library but Lindo Lake park is opening first,” Anderson said.

They also offer residents a chance to bring up items of concern that are easily addressed on the spot. Many residents have very specific questions, Anderson said, whether it is about gun violence or a pothole on a certain street.

“Oh my gosh, if there was only one issue I’d remember it but generally, somebody says they have an issue and my staff will fix it right there,” Anderson said, although staff can also take down complaints and suggestions to address in a more resourced setting, such as a recent request to connect paved sections on a rural emergency access road.

Other events, he said, quickly get heated.

“At one meeting, over 300 people raised their hand to speak. That’s when I shifted from calling on people from the right and the left sides of the room and told them I was just going to go row by row until everyone had a chance to speak. We all have to be patient because someone has to be first and someone has to be last, and I try not to call on the same person twice until everyone has been heard,” Anderson said.

The coffees also provide a chance to advise residents on which tier of government agency might best help solve a local problem. For example, Anderson said, when he worked in California state government, he’d divert issues like roads and infrastructure to then-Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Now, serving at county level, he often refers residents with complaints about the Department of Motor Vehicles to State Senator Brian Jones, as the DMV is governed at state level.

Most of the meetings involve some amount of supplying facts or letting residents know what process will work for their particular concern or idea.

“We had one coffee event in Julian where somebody said they wanted a community pool so we walked them through what it would take to get that done. In two weeks, they’d collected enough signatures to move forward so now we’re going back to Parks and Rec to look at putting in a pool. It came directly out of that meeting,” Anderson said.

Generally, more than half the attendees leave and shake his hand, a win in his book, especially when people say they’re lifelong critics and will remain critical but got something out of the event.

Finally, he said, the community coffees have the power to amplify messaging: a couple hundred constituents can activate a community faster than he can as one person.

Residents can register for the Sept. 17 community coffee event at or by calling (619) 531-5522.

Coffee with a supervisor

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Source: East County Californian

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