Saturday, February 25, 2006


Last month Costa Mesa, California Mayor Allan Mansoor put on display what the city’s latest immigrant crackdown proposal really is all about when he became a Minuteman and unveiled his desire to deport every “illegal” immigrant in the city.

As a result of the anti-immigrant policies of the Costa Mesa city council's ruling troika (Mayor Allan Mansoor and Eric Bever are the others), Latino residents of the city are reportedly avoiding normal activities like going outside or shopping for fear of being harassed swept up by Costa Mesa police. Some local business owners report that business is down by 30 percent.

Those who oppose the anti-immigrant and racist plan have called on local residents and businesses to fight against it and to refuse to cooperate with the police. They threaten a boycott.

"There is no neutrality where there is injustice," said Nativo V. Lopez, an activist from neighboring Santa Ana. Lopez said he would tell business owners: "If I consume from your establishment … I call upon you to stand with me when I become the target of a discriminatory, racist policy."

From the LA Times:

Costa Mesa's Border Heat Puts a Chill in Its Latinos
By Christopher Goffard
Times Staff Writer

February 25, 2006

In a Republican county known as a cradle of border enforcement zeal, Costa Mesa has long been celebrated — and maligned — as a city that offered immigrants a generous embrace.

Though perhaps best known for its shopping mecca, South Coast Plaza, the city of 110,000 also spawned a soup kitchen, a long-running charity with a free medical and dental clinic and a pioneering day-labor center.

But in its treatment of its Latino residents, currently a third of the population, the city's heart has always been riven, a fissure more evident now than ever.

Last year, the city shut down the dayworker center after 17 years. It abolished its human relations committee after 18 years. And as the city now moves to train local police in immigration enforcement — the nation's first municipality to do so — it has become a flashpoint in a national debate.

Outsiders have rushed in, hailing or condemning the city's efforts. There are demonstrations at City Hall, shouting matches, floods of e-mails, threats of a boycott. But nowhere is the turmoil felt more keenly than in the city's heavily Latino Westside.

"Everybody's afraid," said Sherry Chavez, 23, a day-care worker and mother of two, as she pushed her baby stroller toward her Shalimar Drive apartment. "They're scared to go out of their houses. I have family that don't have papers, and they're scared of taking their children to school."

Chavez grew up in the city's barrios and considered Costa Mesa a nice town, blessed by sunshine and ocean breezes. Since police blocked off her street with concrete pylons a few years back to stymie drug traffic, it has also felt like a safe place to raise children.

Now, she said, the city seems meaner, less like home. Mayor Allan Mansoor insists his immigration plan, if implemented, will target only serious criminals. But Chavez and many others are convinced that roundups of undocumented workers — and the potential harassment of Latinos in general — are imminent.

A few miles from Chavez's block, in a neighborhood of modest tract homes called College Park, another longtime resident worries the city he loves is slipping away.

Ken Rasmussen, 64, a retired restaurateur, moved to Costa Mesa in 1968 and had his two children attend the public schools. He wouldn't do it now; he thinks an unchecked influx of Latino immigrants has ruined the schools.

"All of a sudden, it isn't the same city," Rasmussen said. "I want my city back."

The hubbub mirrors much broader anxieties. Like California, Costa Mesa is an increasingly diverse and expensive place to live. Costa Mesa's Latino population has grown to about a third of the total, with blacks and Asians accounting for about 10%.

The city flourished after World War II, drawing troops from a military base in the city and workers from the Boeing plant in adjacent Huntington Beach and absorbing part of the white flight from Los Angeles.

Today, along with its high-end mall and its teeming Westside, the city features pockets of million-dollar homes, a symphony orchestra, a respected theater and a 3,000-seat Performing Arts Center.

"It's one of the most split-personality cities I've ever seen," said former Mayor Peter Buffa. "If you're south of the 405, it's a small-town community. If you're north of the 405, it's one of the most vibrant commercial areas in the country."

The city is wedged between two radically different cultures. To the north is predominantly Latino Santa Ana, with many low-income and crowded neighborhoods. "Guess what's coming south," said Rasmussen, worried his city increasingly resembles its northern neighbor. "Guess what's coming this way."

To Costa Mesa's south is wealthy, showy Newport Beach, with beachfront mansions and a harbor full of yachts. Costa Mesa's median home price in 2005 was more than $710,000, but in Newport Beach the median topped $1.5 million.

Costa Mesa means "coastal tableland," and the city seal features a sailboat on picturesque blue water. Yet although it is cooled by the ocean breeze, it has no coast, no docks. Those are in Newport Beach.

What Costa Mesa has are high-profile charities, such as Share Our Selves. All week long, immigrants stream in for medical care, clothes and bags of groceries — workers who clean the city's big houses, keep its yards hedged and oil the gears of its humming economy. They know the 36-year-old charity is a friendly place that won't ask about their citizenship.

The charity helped forge Costa Mesa's incongruous reputation as "a city with a heart" — to use the words of a former county supervisor — in a county that has been a caldron of border-enforcement sentiment. Orange County was the birthplace of Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to curb public services for illegal immigrants. And it is the home of Jim Gilchrist, cofounder of the Minuteman Project citizen patrol.

To some Costa Mesa residents, the immigrant-friendly facilities were a drain. "Costa Mesa has always been super socially liberal, always wanting to take care of anybody who comes down the street," said Roger Carlson, a retired sportswriter who lived in Costa Mesa for 40 years. "You feel sorry for them, but does one city have to take care of them?"

Latinos live throughout the city, and in some crowded Westside neighborhoods around the intersection of West 19th Street and Placentia Avenue, they are the vast majority. Mayor Mansoor said he does not know how many people are living in the city illegally, but he pointed to statistics showing that of Orange County Jail's average daily population of 6,000, about 10% are illegal immigrants.

For decades, Costa Mesa's treatment of its swelling immigrant population has ranged from warm receptiveness to icy suspicion.

In 1989, amid cries that Share Our Selves was a beacon for crime and illegal immigrants, the city evicted the charity from its original site in a residential neighborhood, and it reopened elsewhere.

The next year, the city had a headline-grabbing spat with Jack Kemp, then secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The City Council had decided to bar HUD grant money from agencies that assisted illegal immigrants, but Kemp called the policy "un-American" and issued an order against it.

Costa Mesa has never had a Latino council member. Council members are elected citywide, rather than by district, diluting Latino voting power. Just over 10% of its registered voters have Spanish surnames.

The city's treatment of immigrants is regularly determined by a single vote on a divided council. Last year, with a series of 3-2 votes, the council shut down the job center, which was intended to prevent loitering by day laborers; abolished the human relations committee, which was meant to quell prejudice; and endorsed the mayor's immigration plan.

The plan ostensibly will target only serious criminals for deportation and remains in the planning stages. But fear and confusion are pervasive in the city's barrios, and the conversation keeps turning to what is perceived as an ominous alliance between la policia and la migra, the Border Patrol.

"There's a lot of people thinking that on Jan. 1, police officers were allowed to arrest anyone who is walking, driving or riding a bike who looks Hispanic," said Paty Madueno, who manages apartments on the Westside.

At the Vista Center on 19th Street, which includes the El Metate market and a panaderia, or bakery, merchants say business has been suffering. "People are staying inside, in the house," said Nelson Lopez, 36, a Guatemalan immigrant who works the counter of the Dollar Mart.

Opponents say the plan threatens to erode the already tenuous bonds between the city's police and Latino residents, some of whom refuse to report crime for fear of harassment or deportation.

Costa Mesa Police Cpl. Doug Johnson, who patrolled the Westside for more than two years, said he found Latinos wary of his badge long before the mayor announced his plan.

"The majority of the people, unless you make contact, they turn away or look away," Johnson said. "People who got beat up on the streets or even robbed, they were hesitant [to call]. It would have to be someone who witnessed it who called it in."

At City Hall, immigrant-rights advocates are converging from across the Southland to denounce the immigration plan. And border-crackdown activists are coming to hail it, hoping it portends broader change.

"This will be the testing ground for the country," Gilchrist said before a recent council meeting.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who voted against the plan, said she thought outsiders had hijacked city politics. Foley said her constituents wondered why the city was taking on a federal issue. They are more concerned, she said, about getting lighted fields and breakfast eateries in their neighborhoods.

"People outside of Costa Mesa have taken over the discussion, so reasonable-minded residents have been taken out of the discussion," she said. "Unfortunately, our city has become the lightning rod for a political issue that is consuming all of our resources and time."


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