Latino residents in Escondido, CA, who make up 49 percent of the population, are demanding a bigger voice in local government. Demetrio Gomez, a 40-year Escondido resident, stood before the Escondido City Council and demanded that they change from citywide to district elections or be sued. Gomez and other Latino residents feel as if they are disenfranchised in the current system and want a system in which they have some say in local policies that directly affect them. From the North County Times:
“Half of Escondido is Latino, but in 123 years Escondido has elected only one obviously Latino candidate to the City Council,” said Demetrio Gomez. “There are no representatives from our large Latino neighborhoods, and this council is elected by —- and caters to —- wealthier non-Latinos.”
Gomez is a member of the Building and Construction Trades Council and has their full support. After standing up and demanding action be taken at the meeting, the three dozen union members in the audience wearing matching orange “Local 89 Political Action Team” T-shirts erupted with cheers. Olga Diaz, elected in 2008, told the North County Times she has been lobbying for geographical districts since last spring.
“Quite frankly, it was just a matter of time before somebody decided to take this action against the city,” Diaz said.
It is no surprise that labor would be interested in the Escondido City Council. This fall the city began pursuing a “charter city” amendment that would exempt the city from paying union wages for construction work, an industry that employs many local Latinos. Gomez told the North County Times that the labor dispute is not the primary reason for his public stand:
“For more than a century, city politicians have run Escondido with no concept of the Latino experience, or an understanding of the issues our community struggles against,” he said.
The proposed changes would create a more representative council in regards to the cities demographical breakdown. The letter handed to council was signed by three civil rights attorney and recommended that the city immediately comply with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 by switching from city to district elections. San Francisco attorney James Finberg told SignOnSanDiego:
“Properly designed, such a system would provide Latino voters with an adequate opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and to influence the outcome of City Council elections,” wrote Finberg
Finberg also told the North County Times about other injustices being done to the Latino community in Escondido:
“Unfortunately, the city of Escondido has been and continues to be unresponsive to the needs of its Latino residents,” Finberg wrote. “Rather than addressing the needs of Escondido’s Latino community, the City Council has repeatedly pursued policies perceived in Escondido and throughout the rest of San Diego County as illegal.”
Those policies include a failed attempt in 2006 to prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, a day-labor ordinance proposed in 2008 but never adopted and an abandoned effort to restrict parking in inner city neighborhoods where many Latino families share houses and apartments.
Mayor Sam Abed, however, has expressed contempt toward the idea:
Mayor Sam Abed said it’s not going to happen: “We are not going to be intimidated by threats.”
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.”