Escondido: The ruling white minority

Escondido Arts Partnership artists paint a mural of the mandala tree at the Winter Shelter.
  • Escondido Arts Partnership artists paint a mural of the mandala tree at the Winter Shelter.

If you want a peek into the demographics and politics of the typical midsize American city in the year 2035, take a look at Escondido’s current situation. Whites are significantly outnumbered but still dominate government. Minorities and the poor feel they are getting shortchanged politically and economically and want to wrest power from the business-friendly old boys’ network. “There is going to be a fistfight,” concedes an Escondido civic leader who is part of the white establishment.

According to United States Census data, Hispanics make up almost half of Escondido’s 146,000 population. Non-Hispanic whites are 40 percent. Median household income in the 2007–2011 period was $51,000 versus San Diego County’s $64,000 and California’s $62,000. Fully 16.5 percent of Escondido residents live in poverty, compared with San Diego County’s 13 percent and the state’s 14 percent.

There are five people on the city council, including the mayor. Four are white Republican males. Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz is the only female, only Democrat, only person of Latin background, and only self-professed Latin person elected to the council in 125 years. Despite the city’s demographic profile, voting tends to be conservative. One reason, some say, is that at various times, a high percentage of the population may be in the country illegally.

Deputy mayor Olga Diaz is the only woman, only Democrat, only person of Latin background on the city council of Escondido.

Deputy mayor Olga Diaz is the only woman, only Democrat, only person of Latin background on the city council of Escondido.

A lawsuit may alter the makeup of the city council. In late 2011, a group of Latino residents filed suit, claiming that Escondido’s citywide council elections are discriminatory and violate both state and federal voting rights acts. One result, according to the suit, is a council that “has pursued economic policies contrary to the interests of working people in Escondido, including Latino workers.” Under a settlement proposed late last month, Escondido would be divided into four districts, although the mayor would still be elected by the whole city.

In the Great Recession, Escondido suffered a string of steep budget deficits. Now there is a surplus, thanks in part to the comeback in the auto industry. The city’s ten new car dealerships pump up retail sales, generating tax revenue.

During those recession years, the council cut spending and raised some fees. Formerly, 70 percent of cable TV revenue went into recreation and 30 percent into the general fund, says director of finance Gil Rojas. But in the recession, the council decided that 100 percent of that money would go into the general fund and “a recreation program would be self-sustaining — what is collected would pay for the service.” For every recreation activity, the question is “raise revenues or lower expenses.” The council calls it “full cost recovery.” Last year, $770,000 that would have gone to recreation went into the general fund, says Rojas.

In 2008, Escondido’s two public swimming pools were open a total of 42 hours a week. Last year, that was down to 14 hours.

In 2008, Escondido’s two public swimming pools were open a total of 42 hours a week. Last year, that was down to 14 hours.

In 2008, Escondido’s two public swimming pools were open a total of 42 hours a week. Last year, that was down to 14. Such changes “are a burden on the people of lower income,” says Pat Mues, an activist who is the writer of a website/newsletter called Escondido’s Future.

The city closed one library. “They sold the books for 25 cents to a dollar. Now the main library is exceedingly crowded,” says Dollie McQuiston, activist with Escondido Chamber of Citizens. Charges for the Tiny Tots Preschool Program now price some poor families out. The council’s four-man majority “doesn’t give anything to the general population. It feels that people have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but when everything is taken away from them, it is pretty hard.”

The History Center in Grape Day Park and the Escondido Arts Partnership were defunded. “At the History Center, people can see what the old buildings were like — for example, the blacksmith shop,” says Mues. “People can take out large chess pieces and play. The Escondido Arts Partnership provides space where community artists can exhibit.”

The gymnasium at the East Valley Community Center now costs $2 per player, but groups with a prepaid rental card have first dibs, says McQuiston.

It’s not just activists deploring recreation cutbacks. Dick Daniels, a Republican, was a council member and ran unsuccessfully for mayor. “My feeling is, don’t cut recreational programs,” he says. By cutting, “You have kids on the street, so you are transferring the cost of those recreational programs to the police. Recreation is a good investment because it minimizes the need for police resources.”

Generally, the community activists believe quality of life is being sacrificed for economic policies that include the kinds of corporate welfare deals that line private pockets.

For example, the council is now making a deal in closed session to prop up the Escondido Chamber of Commerce. The city would buy the chamber’s building, then rent it back to the chamber. After 20 years, the chamber would be given the building free. The council votes on the proposal this Wednesday. “It’s a terrible deal,” says Roy Garrett, who is an attorney.

Earlier, the chamber’s building was on city property that was leased to the business-boosting group for a dollar a year. In the year 2000, the chamber bought the property from the city at a sharply reduced price and, in 2005, constructed the new building on it. Today’s four white male council members have been tied to the chamber in one way or another. “Apparently the chamber doesn’t know how to do its finances,” says McQuiston.

The city is also talking with a Texas amusement company, Hawaiian Falls Waterparks, about putting a water adventure park on nine acres of Kit Carson Park. The admission would probably be about $20 per person, thus putting it out of reach of poor families. The council is debating a big subsidy for Hawaiian Falls but in return would want a slug of the revenue. It might donate the land. That could cause problems. Hawaiian Falls’ parent, Harvest Family Entertainment, boasts that it is “faith-based.” Hawaiian Falls sponsors such events as a “prayer walk.” Giving a subsidy and land to such an organization would invite a lawsuit from civil liberties groups, not to mention nearby neighbors expected to object to possible park noise. The Texas company might propose taking over the Escondido Sports Center and skatepark, which aren’t meeting the council’s full cost recovery standard.

The council is also plunking $500,000 into a fund to subsidize businesses that prettify their storefronts.

At least, a cockamamie $50 million scheme to build a stadium for the San Diego Padres’ AAA affiliate effectively died last year as California killed local redevelopment agencies.

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OOPS. Pat Mues is incorrectly identified as writer of Escondido's Future. She is content manager of that one. She is writer of This is my error. Best, Don Bauder

"Whites are significantly outnumbered but still dominate government. Minorities and the poor feel they are getting shortchanged politically and economically and want to wrest power from the business-friendly old boys’ network."

OH TEH NOEZ, not a "business-friendly" government!

The more these so-called "minorities" (which are nothing of the sort) take over, the worse things get. THIS IS NOT RACIAL, it's cultural. Anyone who moans and cries about government being too "business friendly" has a crappy culture of welfare dependency and crime and laziness and interminable poverty, no matter what color their skin.

Take a look around Escondido. Look at how it's decaying. Look at the proliferation of check cashing joints, crappy strip malls, graffiti, dollar stores, etc. We need less hand-holding for that type, and more "business friendliness".

jnojr: I complain about business-friendly governments and I do not live in poverty or engage in crime. As someone almost 77 years of age, I receive Social Security and Medicare, but I would not consider myself "welfare dependent." And I don't think I am lazy. Best, Don Bauder

Escondido has a huge population of non citizens, both legal and illegal ... they can't vote but it appears they are manipulating our political system anyway ...

JayJzz: I don't think this is a case of non-citizens manipulating the system. To me, minorities who are legal voters are getting their rightful portion of voting power. Best, Don Bauder

Oops. I meant to say that minorities who are legal voters are NOT getting their rightful portion of voting power. Mea culpa. Best, Don Bauder

Business friendly is just code for corporate welfare. It's ok if the rich get welfare but not the poor.

Dennis: I agree: a "business friendly" government is one that hands out corporate welfare. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I need to tell the carwash story - it is the best example of how this and past council majorities with the chamber of commerce as an unofficial arm of city government operates.

LocalGal81: My computer couldn't pick up the copy. Can you resend? Sounds juicy. Best, Don Bauder

Illegal water dumping photo? Shall we instead wait for the mosquitos to hatch?

edprice: The government should have jumped on that illegal dumping of water quickly. Was this cronyism? Best, Don Bauder

The trend in much of the USA is toward a "latinizing" of the culture. Escondido is getting there faster and earlier. One interesting facet of Latin society is the very strong sense of family, but unfortunately, that sense does not reach beyond the extended family into a concept of the community as a whole. Why, I don't know. But the evidence is abundant. Latins participate less in civic affairs, support public charities as a lower rate, Latins are just not clamoring to do the "entry-level" political work (like water boards, school district boards, zoning advisory panels). But never fear, there are getting to be less and less "old white guys", so Latin/Hispanic majorities are inevitable. It will be interesting, if by that time, minorities suddenly cease to be important, or if a whole new set of minorities beset the Latin majority. From what I have seen of Latin society, there is a poor track record of how Latin majorities treat their own minorities. Will that attitude be repeated? We should watch how Escondido shows us the path ahead.

edprice: Whatever you think of the Latin culture, it will be dominant in Southern California within a couple of decades. Best, Don Bauder

Anyone ever try single-shot voting? It was used in the South to get over a similar situation that kept blacks out of government. It worked this way: In a crowded field of candidates -- like a city council race in which you get to vote for more than one person -- identify a candidate for your cause and vote only for him or her; don't vote for anyone else. That way you concentrate your voting power and don't add votes to to the total of any other candidate. In such a situation, a typical winning candidate only needed about 30% of the total vote to win a seat -- sometimes even less. Seemed to work in the South when I was growing up, even if it meant only a single black got elected to the city council. Better than zero. (The only way this method failed was when a candidate had to receive 50% + 1 to win. Southern segregationists tried to defeat the single-shot voting technique by going to runoffs that required a majority to win. Doubt that would be the case in Escondido just because it's too expensive to have so many elections.)

Bob McPhail: I would hate to see Escondido citizens resort to techniques used in the segregationist South in the Jim Crow days -- whether for non-whites to win at least one seat, or for whites to keep them from doing so. Best, Don Bauder

If "minorities" are the majority of a given population, are they still minorities?

I don't understand why all-city elections are considered discriminatory.

Joaquin_de_la_Mesa: If a minority group is a statistical minority in the large population -- say, San Diego County -- then it can still be called a minority within a smaller political boundary, even if it outnumbers other blocs therein. Latinos are still the minority in San Diego County, and can be considered a minority group in, say, Escondido or San Ysidro. Best, Don Bauder

So, since people of Anglo Saxon or northern European ancestry are a minority in California now, shouldn't they be considered a minority? They're more than a statistical minority, they're numerically a minority.

They're also a numerical minority in Escondido, a smaller sub set of the greater California, using your logic. So, as minorities, shouldn't they get special treatment just as the other "Minority Majority" set of people are asking for? C'mon Don, we need special districts in Escondido to protect the Northern European minority rights!

Michael Mulienniex: Should Americans of Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian descent get special rights? We could extend this debate for years. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, that's my point - Why don't we all vote as registered voters and leave it at that.

Just because a "special" group is a majority in numbers but lacks "fair" (what does fair mean, anyway?) representation doesn't mean we need to make special districts.

Michael Mullinniex: I don't think district elections are a bad thing, though. In the City of San Diego, I think they have been good, on balance. Best, Don Bauder

It seems to me that in any election for city council members, the candidate with the most votes wins. If the "minority" majority has more voters that come out to vote, why don't they have more representation? Because they can't or don't field qualified candidates? Because they don't vote? Why rig or skew the process to give a certain class of voters an edge - doesn't sound too democratic to me.

Olga Diaz got elected and is doing a fine job by putting Escondido's well being ahead of possible personal prejudices or personal agendas. If the majority wants more political power - vote!

Next thing we'll have to slice up our community on racial, socio-economic, gender, height or body type as some segment will always be under represented and have a gripe. The result would be constant battle of the factions with the city becoming (more) fragmented and ungovernable.

How about respecting the democratic process and work to make it a success?

Michael Mullenniex: You are raising the same kinds of arguments made when San Diego went to district elections. I respect your views, but I think district elections have worked well. Best, Don Bauder

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