Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Change Happens - Adapt or Drown

Over the past decade or more a group of long time residents of this city, the self -anointed "improvers", have preened, pontificated, postured and protested before council and commission meetings about how the
city was declining - and clearly blaming that decline on what they perceived to be the reason - the Latinos among us. In recent years that description has morphed into "illegal aliens", because it struck a chord with the broader community. Yes sir, brown and illegal - how much worse could it get, right?

When I first began writing about issues in our city a half-decade ago the hot button subject was the decline of the Westside. I've recently gone back and re-read some of my earliest contributions to the Daily Pilot, composed and published several years before I began my blog. I've also kept some of the respo
nses to those essays, most of them written by members of that "improver" group.

I re-read their complaints from a few years ago and hear them speak and read their
words published more recently and must, at least in part, agree with some of what they say. They complain about the crime in their Westside neighborhoods - rightfully so. They complain about the shoddy condition of some of the dwellings in their neighborhoods - I would, too. They complain about overcrowding of homes and apartments, which tax our social and physical infrastructure - valid observations.

Each of those things are certainly reason for concern. And each of them have solutions under our current laws and cod
e enforcement regulations. And, each of this issues are not exclusive to the Latino community. If you read the Costa Mesa crime logs you will see Latino names, but you'll also see names that are not Latino. When you drive the neighborhoods of the Westside you'll certainly see some shoddy homes occupied by Latinos, but you'll also see many run down dwellings that are occupied by mostly older anglos - some of those very folks who complain about the condition of their neighborhoods.

Many, if not most, of the folks who have become activists in the "improver" movement are people my age or older - much older. They've listened to the strident voic
es of the radical right, who promised quick solutions. These folks - part of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" and their children - are among those who founded this city and shepherded it's amazing growth over the past half century. But we, myself and those folks, don't represent the future of this city - we represent the past. I can tell you from personal experience, when you reach a certain age you're not particularly enthusiastic about change. You're happy to find some fog on the mirror when you breathe on it! The only change you want to see is a new date on the calendar each day. At my age and beyond you like to find your newspaper exactly where it should be, your slippers beside the bed and your robe within easy reach. You like to find the same products with which you've become comfortable for most of your life still available in the markets and drug stores. However, that's not the real world... life is change.

The folks of the "impro
ver" group don't like the change they are seeing in their part of town. They don't like the fact that they cannot communicate with some of their neighbors, nor share the same cultural values. I don't blame them for being uneasy. However, as I've said many times in the past, the Latino immigrants are the wave of the future for, at least, this part of our country. If we don't find a way to manage that wave we are destined to be overcome and drowned by it.

I don't think anyone honestly believes that it is possible to round up and deport all 12 million (or
more) illegal immigrants in this country. Even if it was possible, it certainly isn't practical from an economic standpoint. Instead of trying to find ways to expunge them from our city - and our country - lets find a way to make their presence work better for all of us.

Many people in this country react in horror when the word "amnesty" is mentioned. They are offe
nded that those "criminals" who crept across the border will actually be allowed to stay in this country - perhaps with a path to citizenship - while others wait patiently in line to become legal residents. They scream at the top of their lungs that amnesty should not happen - that it will only encourage more illegal immigration. Well, with the open borders that we have now, that's probably true. In my view, once our borders are secured, a form of earned amnesty should be adopted. Back taxes and other fees should be imposed to those eligible and crime-free.

I have gotten to k
now many people who took advantage of amnesty the last time it was offered. Without exception, they are honest, hard-working, cheerful, family-oriented people, grateful for the opportunities available to them. They jump in their cars and head to distant places - Portland, Chicago, etc. - to visit family members, just as my family used to do in the middle of the last century. They are proud of their heritage, just as my parents and grandparents were. They encourage their children to achieve good grades and attain higher education so they can make a better life for themselves and their families - just as my parents and grandparents did. These folks have become valuable members of our society - just as my parents and grandparents were.

Many so-called "improvers" have used low test scores in schools which educate the children of Latino immigrants - most of those kids are American citizens like you and me, by the way - as an example of the financial dra
in of the immigrants on our society. Well, recent upticks in some of those schools have demonstrated that those children, who may be brown, are certainly not dumb. They may not speak English in the home, but they certainly do speak it in school, and their test scores demonstrate their comprehension. These are, for the most part, cheerful, bright children who are thriving in circumstances most of us cannot imagine.


The so-called "improver
s" better wake up. These children - the ones whose parents they are so eager to castigate, incarcerate and deport - are going to be registered voters in the very near future. If they think Benito Acosta gave them nightmares with his activism, they had better renew their valium prescription, because during the next decade these kids are going to begin voting in large numbers. They and their anglo peers, not you and me, are the future of this city, so we'd be much better off trying to find ways to integrate them into the mainstream of our society than to waste precious energy and resources trying to alienate and anger them.


Our present leadership seems to advocate an "enforcement only" policy toward our gang proble
m. That's a huge mistake, in my estimation. Any program that has no element of intervention included is doomed - recent history in Los Angeles has demonstrated that for us. You'd think our young jailer/mayor - a law man - would know that, wouldn't you?


In my view, it's critical that we work harder to educate, motivate and integrate the children of the immigrants among us. If we don't do a better job of providing alternatives to gangs, that insid
ious sub-culture will take over large numbers of our youth, just as they have in other parts of Southern California.

Things change - got it? Those geriatric activists my age will not be around to harvest the bitter crop they are planting, but your children will. It's time to get our collective heads out of th
e sand and find solutions that will work instead of trying to turn the clock back a half century, because that's not going to happen.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - that might be the best thing you've ever written (on my birthday, no less). Life's too short to sit around and be bitter and complain. Having lived in Costa Mesa the better part of my 41 years, I too remember 'the good old (white upper middle class) days,' but it's time to move on and make the best of the existing situation. Acceptance and tolerance are what will make Costa Mesa continue to be a great place to live, so instead of complaining, accept it and start working together instead of tearing apart. Bravo, Geoff. Glad to see all of you old guys aren't content to wile away your days being pissed off (hopefully that's acceptable language here)!

10/09/2007 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very thought provoking essay.

While I am against illegal immigration in no uncertain terms, I am by no means anti-hispanic.

There is no way to ship all 12 million, or more, illegals back south of the border, or the Middle East for that matter, but certain measures need to be taken to deal with those already here, to facilitate the expulsion of criminal elements, and the eventual citizenship of those worth allowing to stay.

Certain measures need to be taken to severely reduce the number of illegals sneaking in in the future, from making it impossible for future illegals to benefit from coming here in the 1st place ( With little/no incentive to come the hope would be they would stay in their homelands, and work to change them for the better. )

The willingness of those already here to assimilate into the American fabric as those who came before have done is important, and we need to do more to encourage this.

10/09/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A couple of observations. First, the federal government is working on solving a labor shortage that the crackdown on illegal immigration has started to create. I think that is an interesting turn of events and should give pause to anyone who is an advocate of the “round-em-up and ship-em-out” method of immigration management. (See LA Times article here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-farmworkers7oct07,1,7969394.story )

Second, I agree that the iron fist approach, alone, is not workable in solving the problem of gangs. I honestly wish I knew the correct approach; I don’t. I do know that people join gangs for very complex personal reasons and those reasons vary. Some join because it is a welcoming group that being a member of provides a feeling of importance, respect or at least a feeling of being wanted. Others join out of self preservation, as a member they are protected from being targeted by that very gang or other gangs. Others join because it is family tradition. Some join because of the exciting activities or economic benefits. I am sure my list only scratches the surface.

You can’t fix a gang problem that fills some or all of those “needs” without having an alternative that does at least a reasonable job of meeting the same “needs.” Suppression alone will only frustrate those looking to fill their personal needs. One side effect if you fail completely at discouraging gang affiliation while stepping up enforcement is to fill the already overcrowded jail system. Again, as a Deputy Sheriff working in the Orange County Jails, as I understand our Mayor is, you would think he would have a better handle on this. Maybe he is just playing to the “Law and Order” crowd and doesn’t really feel a need to solve the problem as much as hold himself out as the one with the solution.

Even Police Chief Christopher Shawkey recognizes the need for intervention programs. According to a DP article, The Chief was quoted as saying “[The intervention specialist] was just one piece of the puzzle, and we'll just work without that piece," Shawkey said. "I think long-term, it's still important that we add an intervention piece at some point." (See Daily Pilot article here: http://www.dailypilot.com/articles/2007/04/23/politics/dpt-shootreax21.txt )

As for the blight on the Westside, it is true that over-occupied rental units are not good for the neighborhood. Then again, when the council majority had a chance to encourage low income housing recently, they decided that “The Market” would do all of the providing our city needs. I am quite confident that they really were thinking, “We don’t want low income housing because that attracts low income families.” From an economic standpoint that is horribly short sighted. A vibrant economy requires workers on the full spectrum of incomes, not just high income earners. Someone needs to work at the fast food restaurants and clothing stores.

10/09/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very few civil organizations have had as a powerful an impact on Costa Mesa as the Improvers. This group brought together the most intractable, most politicized and especially the most radical individuals of the city. Although “your neighbor” (666) was the most influential actor and star of the group, he was never an official member. Since the improvers did not schedule regular meetings, the Internet played an important role in getting its people organized. Cyberspace turned into a sophisticated instrument for them to get the word out (just like ‘your neighbor’ does it today), to pose their opinions online, to raise consciousness and to affect the policy making process in the government, especially on issues concerning the Westside revitalization. The improvers worked real hard to make it happen, and, whether we like or not, they have been quite successful. But, I think their final days are getting closer, as local residents and the people in the country are getting tired of seeing ultra-radicals like “your neighbor”, Mansoor and especially Bever in positions of power. As you say, let’s bring all of those Latinos and U.S.-Latinos into the system.

10/09/2007 08:27:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home