LA MESA — There will be no official fair-trade designation for La Mesa.
The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday against a city resolution backing the fair-trade movement, which has found political approval in San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, Boston and other parts of the United States. Mayor Art Madrid and City Councilman Dave Allan backed the fair-trade designation for the city.
The movement aims to secure what it says are fair prices for products from developing countries, investment in people and communities, environmental sustainability, economic empowerment of small scale producers, direct trade and fair labor conditions around the globe.
Speakers in opposition to the designation said government should not be involved in determining what retailers offer, and others said the city should focus its attention on local matters first. The opposition took backers by surprise.
“We did not expect this — we thought it was a no-brainer,” said lifelong La Mesa resident Nancy Ryan, who had brought up the idea to Madrid months ago. La Mesa would have been the first Southern California city to be officially declared a fair-trade town.
Ryan and La Mesa resident Anne Pacheco both spoke to the council, asking the city to lend its official support to fair trade.
The two are co-chairwomen of a local steering committee that backs what Fair Trade Towns USA describes as an effort to “build demand for fair trade products, thereby providing increased benefits for farmers, workers and artisans in Latin America, Africa and Asia.”
The committee has been speaking to clubs in the city, including Kiwanis, Sunrise Rotary and Lions, to explain fair trade.
Some of the products involved are coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, spices, body care products, wine, crafts and apparel. Producers can obtain fair-trade certification for their wares if they meet standards set by Fairtrade International.
Scott Alevy, a Blossom Valley resident, spoke to the council on behalf of the East County Chamber of Commerce, of which he is president and CEO.
“The government should not be telling businesses what to sell, who to hire,” Alevy said. “When it comes to what goes on shelf and retail choices, we think that’s a place government is best off staying out of.”
La Mesa resident Russell Buckley told the council that the government, even at a local level, should not tell retailers what to sell nor influence consumers on what to buy.
“That decision what to buy, who to buy and where... that should be left to each individual without the influence of ‘Big Brother,’” Buckley said.
Councilman Ernie Ewin echoed that sentiment.
“I certainly appreciate the effort and issues (the fair-trade movement) bring to the forefront, but equally important is we still have to understand that there are choices to be made,” Ewin said. “We want to be fair and do good things, but the government has no business being engaged in economic processes in our city.”
Ryan said citizens and council members who voted down the measure were misinformed about what the movement, and that many stores in La Mesa currently carry a variety of fair-trade products.
“There were so many misunderstandings, things that were said that were totally not true,” Ryan said. “That is the worst part of this. That the city would dictate where people should shop, pitting one merchant against another? That is not what we were saying. We weren’t able to have a chance to clarify what was said by the opposition.”
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The city where I've chosen to spend the next 30 years. Oy vey.
La Mesa votes down fair-trade designation: