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Roundtable: Escondido Proposes Bridge To Ethnic Minorities

Aired 8/19/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Escondido Proposes Bridge To Ethnic Minorities.

Guests: Eric Anderson, KPBS business reporter

David Garrick, reporter, North County Times

Ray Huard, reporter, North County Times

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: So Escondido is a sort of a poster child of the tensions that exist in a community where many residents are immigrants. The City Council has been accused of trying to take national issues, immigration reform, into its own hands. This week, the council though discussed ideas to try to bring more cohesion to the community, which is smarting from initiatives that have alienated some of the Latino population. We want to know a little bit more about these initiatives, David. But first of all, tell us, what percentage of the city of Escondido are Latino?

GARRICK: According to the latest census, it's 49% Latino, 40% white, then another mix of smaller groups.

ST. JOHN: Give us a bit of background.

GARRICK: The biggest one that made national news was in 2006, and they tried to pass a ban that prohibited landlords from renting to people without checking their legal status. That was challenge indeed court and they gave up on that because fighting that would cost a lot of money. They didn't stop. They talked about a day laborer ordinance which would site people for standing on the corner hoping to get picked up to go do yard work and that kind of thing. Then they did something that was not directly related to immigration, but a lot of critics said that it was. They were going to pass an over night parking restriction, similar to Pasadena, so each house would only be allowed to park two cars on the street. The theory was illegal immigrants sometimes lived 12 to 14 in a house, and they wouldn't be able to function anymore because they wouldn't be able to park on their own streets. Those are the three main ones.

ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727. And the number. Do you have an opinion on what role local government should play in this ongoing debate against immigration? And are traffic checkpoints a veiled attack on immigrants or a way to maintain public safety? So David, just to sort of bring us up-to-date to this week, what is the City Council talking about to try and sort of pure oil on the waters?

GARRICK: The City Council has a brain storming session in February and said what should we make priorities? And the new mayor Sam Abed, said embracing diversity was something he wanted to make a priority. There's a chunk of the population that would like the city to go back to the '50s and 60s where you knew even you saw on the street and it was mostly white. And they've chosen to ignore the fact that the percentage of Latino has continued to increase. And that's a chunk of the population who say this is almost like Apartheid. It's two separate cities, and you need to try to bridge the gap. So they asked city staff to come up with some initiatives. It's an interesting list, but I think most people said it lacked substance and wasn't that deep. They called it a first draft. They started their own Facebook page, tried to increase communication and encourage Latinos to go onto the city web website. The city has the Facebook page. So you might say maybe they're flimsy. The a couple things they did of substance, they were going to try to plan a city community holiday to try to draw everyone there. It's going to be called fiesta Escondido, I believe. They initially were going to schedule in September. But the city has grape day park celebrations, so they're going to move that. I'm in the sure if that's going to happen. The harshest criticism though, they also talked about working closely with the Mexican council general which has been a controversial issue. But the sharpest criticism against the staff's efforts was that they didn't meet with Latino leaders and run it by them. And that did seem odd. In other words if you're going to come up with a list of things that'll be part of embracing diversity, it seems like you'd want to even if you didn't have the Latino leaders play's role in creating the Lat least run it by them.

ANDERSON: Does it seem odd to anyone else but me that the mayor is kind of championing these efforts? Because wasn't he also one of the ones who was really pushing for this renter ordinance?

GARRICK: He was part of the trio that supported it. But shortly after that, he has decided that federal government handles immigration, and he's kind of made that less of a priority. Waldon and Ed Gallo, who were with them, and they're still on the council, they don't talk about it as much as they once did. But they moved more in the direction he has. And also as the mayor, I think he feels like he wants to have a legacy, and that might be bridging an ethnic gap between the community. So I think he's softened on that issue.

HUARD: Why is Escondido such a hotbed on immigration? It's this little city up in the north. You think you'd be something closer to the board like Chula Vista.

GARRICK: Have a great answer. There's really two factors that the people point to. Will one is that a bunch of housing and apartments were built in the 60s and '70s in the center of the city, and they've all gotten older now. And they rent for cheap. So there's lots of cheap housing in Escondido. I think everyone in the City Council will tell you they wish they had less of that. And Escondido is the agricultural capitol of North County. And those two factors have dramatical increased the population of Latino. And I think that's just the reason, I don't think there's necessarily more agitation there. That's just more Latinos there.

ST. JOHN: Has Oceanside taken any of these same steps?

HUARD: They don't even talk about immigration. This is not on the radar screen at all.

ST. JOHN: So affordable housing might be one of the issues. Let's take a call. Ian is calling us from Pacific Beach. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: I think that the checkpoints, the landlord policies, it seems like permitting where day laborers can sit around, those are being bought up by the immigration situation in San Diego. But I still definitely fundamentally see those as civil rights and liberties issues that go way beyond the immigration debate. When we're talking about punitive actions like that that are so spectacular, police have a hard enough time staging DUI checkpoints and passing constitutional muster, it'd be interesting to see what these other ordinances holdup to as well.

ST. JOHN: Fu for that call, Ian. Is that one of the things that gets discussed at the Escondido City Council? The constitutionality?

GARRICK: I have to say after they got really hammered in court in '06, they really have tried to stay away. That's the over night parking ordinance, it didn't really touch on anything that involved Latinos in particular or rights. It was everyone has a right to park their car in front of their house. If they've cleverly or safely gone about it in a different way since then.

ST. JOHN: Now we have a call from Pedro who also as a perspective. Fu for joining us.

NEW SPEAKER: My name is Pedro, I'm with the American friends service, and I've gotten the opportunity to work with a lot of community members in Escondido. From my point of view, this represents the thinly veiled approach at trying to correct so many tensions, so much tension that's been created over the receipt years because of the anti-immigrant legislation. The most recent one being the passage of the E-verify, which it seems now that the City Council is trying to modify it, because they're realizing that it's affecting small business owners. And I think it's incumbent upon City Council members in Escondido to really address the concerns of migrant community members and not to try to address immigration with knee jerk reactions. It'll just keep creating much more tension.

ST. JOHN: Fu for that input. And David, did the City Council get that kind of feedback? And ray, how much do you think they're ready to go further?

GARRICK: Pedro is actually boated in my story. And that's definitely one point of view. Another is that the two council members said that people are making too big a deal out of ethnic differences. Waldon, who launched the campaign this year, said she grew up in the south Bronx and people didn't focus on their different ethnicity ares. Everyone just focused on -- they didn't care as much about that. It was not -- it wasn't emphasized. And so I don't get a sense the council is willing to maybe go very much. There's five different members of the council, and they may all have different opinions. But she and her colleague, Ed Gallo, said the idea is, if we focus it, then we're endorsing there's a difference between them. Why doesn't everyone just act like we're all the same?

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