Escondido Faces Ultimatum Over Latino Representation
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Aired 12/9/11 on KPBS News.
Half of Escondido’s population - and a quarter of the city’s voters - are Latino, but there's very little Latino representation on the City Council.
The Escondido City Council was faced with an ultimatum this week: Change from citywide to district elections, or be sued.
The council has adopted policies, such as traffic checkpoints, that some say target Latinos.
Long-time Escondido resident Demetrio Gomez told the council it’s time to change the way city councilmembers are elected in order to give Latinos a better chance at fair representation.
“Such a small percentage of the voters in Escondido are controlling basically the fate of everyone in the city,” Gomez said. “All the checkpoints that are set up, all the negativity against Latinos in the city.”
Gomez is a member of the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council, which is threatening to sue if the city doesn’t consider the change at its meeting next week.
Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said it’s not going to happen: “We are not going to be intimidated by threats,” he said.
Abed said he is totally opposed to splitting cities under a million people into districts - he calls it divisive. He said minorities are well represented on the council: Olga Diaz, a Latino, was elected in 2008.
“They elected me as mayor,” Abed said. “I am a minority, so what’s the problem? The problem is very simple: It’s political. They disagree with our policy on the checkpoints. We are not going to change that. We are supporting the traffic safety checkpoints because of public safety. “
Several dozen Latino workers attended the council meeting to demand the city consider district elections at their meeting next week - or face a lawsuit.
Attorney James Finberg, representing the state’s Building and Construction Trades Union, said a change is needed to bring the city in compliance with federal and state voting rights acts. He said the change should be made before the 2012 election.
“The next election is a presidential election,” Finberg said. “It is a critically important election; there will be a big turnout and we would like the Latino voters to be well represented in it.“
Escondido’s school district has already decided to change to district elections next year to improve minority representation on the school board.