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Friday, January 20, 2006 | The neighborhood of San Ysidro is so cut off from downtown that, unless you’re a political guru or cartographer, you’d never know it is, in fact, part of the city of San Diego.

Two other cities, Chula Vista and Coronado, stand between the little border town and the heart of San Diego. And, judging from conversations with a couple of local do-gooders and voting data, its residents feel pretty isolated, too.

It is not that the people of San Ysidro don’t vote in elections; it’s just that their community doesn’t produce a large number of voters when it comes to city elections.

Actually, when the vote is about education, they get very involved.

According to the San Diego County elections results Web site, 9,008 people voted in the special City Council election Jan. 10 for District 8, which covers roughly 23 neighborhoods, only a part of which is San Ysidro.

On the other hand, during the November 2004 general election, which included the election of school board members, the official results for just San Ysidro show that 7,172 residents voted. That’s not much fewer than the total for the entire District 8 election a few weeks ago.

Granted, it was a presidential election, but it appears as if people in San Ysidro mobilize for the most localized elections much more than those for the distant City Council.

Tim Allen, superintendent of the San Ysidro School District explained it perfectly: “The vote is much better for the schools here than it is for the city because the board candidates really go out there to get the votes. It’s a really super-active group that does whatever it can, including house-to-house visits.”

Unlike in a typical small town, San Ysidro school board elections produce multiple contenders competing for the same position – candidates rarely run unopposed.

“The school board is the only political body for San Ysidro that is elected for the area, by the area,” Allen added. “The city does impact them a great deal, but there isn’t that immediacy because we are far away. Nevertheless the school board does. “

Andrea Skorepa serves as executive director of Casa Familiar, a San Ysidro community development and services program. She has found a similar reason to explain why San Ysidro residents not to vote in city elections. “Voting is a really important issue, however convincing the residents that it is an important issue is harder, because we are physically removed from the city of San Diego. What goes on downtown doesn’t necessarily affect the people here, since we aren’t there.”

She reiterates Allen’s views, stating that what really matters in San Ysidro are the school board elections.

Skorepa said that one-third of the residents in the community of San Ysidro are not homeowners, possibly prompting them to be less vested in the politics of their district or county. “Our families tend to be bigger, the culture and the language tends to impact us. Campaigns don’t tend to reach us; a lot of mail goes to people with a history of voting, so if you don’t vote, you don’t get it, and if you don’t get it, you just don’t know who to vote for and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

“If it doesn’t get played up, people forget,” Skorepa said. “For the recent elections, [the candidates] came, they did their candidate forums, but who knew about it? The chamber announced it to their members, but they lacked the grassroots efforts to get the lady next door to come.”

She has also found that there has been a feeling from many community leaders and members that they are ignored, leaving residents thinking that it doesn’t matter if they vote because no one pays attention to them either way.

“I don’t think this feeling is as accurate as it used to be,” Skorepa said, “but District 8 is a district that has many, many needs. Not the same needs like in a wealthier area where a pocket of poverty can be focused on and fixed.”

While nonprofits such as Casa Familiar are busy promoting and advocating for the people, aiding in everything from social services, education, recreation, housing and community development, they just don’t have the capacity to change voting trends while changing the lives of their residents.

Serving as one the world’s busiest border crossings, San Ysidro has only been a part of the San Diego community since its annexation in 1957. Language is a barrier in San Ysidro, just as transportation is for the many residents who do not own vehicles. Non-native speakers encounter problems becoming a citizen and, even when they do become citizens, voting.

“The people see becoming a citizen as costing money, and why would you pay money to become a citizen?” Skorepa said.

The average median income is $29,000, according to the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. Skorepa said residents often weigh the cost of citizenship with other daily needs, such as a new set of tires.

But Skorepa hopes to equate politics with the everyday things people need and use.

“What we have not been able to convince them of is that everything is political. We are still here with a 4,000 square foot library, with street corners without lights because they have not voted, we have to be better at that,” Skorepa said.

betsy.fritscher@voiceofsandiego.org

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