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Antonio Villaraigosa held an event at Friendship Park as part of his campaign for governor. / Photo by Andrew Dyer

In the midst of an election year in which border and immigration issues are taking center stage, San Diego has found itself at the center of the optics game. Several local, state and national figures have dropped in for photo ops at various locations.

Some groups are starting to feel the fatigue.

A campaign visit this week by Antonio Villaraigosa, who’s running for governor, was originally planned for Chicano Park, but moved to the border after a Barrio Logan community group organized a last-minute protest.

Villaraigosa is one of three Democrats running for the state’s top job to visit San Diego this week, the last before the June 5 primary. State Treasurer John Chiang was in town Wednesday, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — the frontrunner — was here Thursday.

Villaraigosa was invited to speak by Border Angels, a local nonprofit best known for conducting water drops in the desert for migrants. A group of eighth-graders from a school in San Jose, on a trip arranged by Border Angels, stood behind the former Los Angeles mayor during his speech.

Enrique Morones, executive director and founder of Border Angels, said the protest was not why the event moved.

“We have a group of students here,” he said. “We had thought about going to Chicano Park, but they decided they wanted to go to Friendship Park, so we thought this would be a better location.”

A Facebook event, since deleted, had been organized by Unión del Barrio, a group that, according to its website, “has dedicated ourselves to struggle on behalf of ‘la raza’ living within the current borders of the United States.”

A tweet from the organization’s Twitter account accused Morones of being an “opportunist,” and Villaraigosa of being a “Hispanic sell-out,” and said both were “disrespecting” the park and “misleading” the Chicano Park Steering Committee.

“It is only in recent history that Chicano Park (has) been recognized for its historical and cultural significance,” Benjamín Prado, undersecretary for Unión del Barrio, said in a statement. “We find it rather opportunist of politicians to use Chicano Park in an attempt to pander to the sentiments of the Chicano Mexicano community.”

“We don’t get involved in politics,” said Tommie Camarillo, chairman of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, in an email.

In his appearance at the border, Villaraigosa talked about the border, immigration and what he saw as the governor’s role in pushing back against President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have each made stops in town this year, and Vice President Mike Pence recently toured the border fence in Calexico.

On Sunday, another candidate for governor — Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen — also held a rally at the border.

California state Sen. Kevin de León, who is from Barrio Logan and is running to unseat U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, held a news conference in Chicano Park in April.

Chicano Park has also been targeted by activists on the right in two separate provocative events over the last year.

Morones was unmoved by Unión del Barrio’s critique of using the park for political theater.

“They’re one of many groups,” he said. “We don’t ask for permission to visit the park. Nobody does, so we’re not really concerned about that.”

Andrew Dyer

Gonzalez Fletcher Bill to Stop Schools From Debt-Shaming Students Moves Forward

San Diego Unified announced back in February that it would no longer send collection agencies after parents who could not afford to pay school bus fees, following a Voice of San Diego report that revealed the practice.

But Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said schools still shame and punish families who can’t afford the bus, school-provided meals or other fees, and her bill to stop such penalties passed the Assembly this week.

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill had originally included language that would stop districts from sending parents to third-party debt collectors, but she amended the bill after San Diego Unified’s decision to stop. It now targets schools that single out students with unpaid fees by doing things like withholding diplomas and transcripts, or barring participation in extracurricular activities or field trips.

Such treatment “can affect a student’s academic experience and their social well-being,” Gonzalez Fletcher said at a committee hearing in March.

Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, director of government affairs for the Children’s Defense Fund California, shared another San Diego story in testifying for the need for the bill. She said a student who’d long been in special education classes was finally placed in a traditional classroom for his senior year, and was excited for his graduation ceremony until he got a notice saying he couldn’t participate until he paid a debt for a missing fourth grade book.

“He was heartbroken because he had worked so hard to get there,” Stillwell-Parvensky said. “Children should simply not be used as a tool for debt collection, or shamed or marginalized from school activities because of a parent’s inability or unwillingness to pay a debt. That adverse action toward students contributes to a hostile environment for low-income students.”

Other San Diego Bills on the Move

Friday marks the so-called House of Origin deadline in the Legislature, which means it’s the last day for Assembly bills to pass through the Assembly and for Senate bills to pass through the Senate, before they get sent to the other chamber.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the measures from San Diego legislators we’re keeping an eye on that made it through their house of origin this week:

  • AB 3131 by Assemblyman Todd Gloria adds an extra layer of approval before law enforcement agencies can acquire surplus military equipment.
  • Sen. Joel Anderson’s SB 1094 would speed compensation to the wrongfully convicted.
  • SB 1367 by Sen. Toni Atkins gives the San Diego River Conservancy the ability to create panels aimed at improving local watersheds – the Otay, Sweetwater and Tijuana rivers.
  • SB 1338 by Sen. Ben Hueso helps protect the medically vulnerable from gas and electricity shutoffs.
  • AB 3080 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher would prohibit employers from forcing new employees to sign arbitration clauses.

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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