Ann Welton, a volunteer with the Carlsbad Republican Women’s Club, greets new American citizens outside Golden Hall following a naturalization ceremony. / Photo by Jesse Marx

As a voting bloc, San Diego County’s Latino citizens may typically side at the ballot box with Democrats but they overwhelmingly registered to vote in 2018 as independents.

Given the attention around district-based elections and the ousting of Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, a Trump acolyte, I pulled the last year’s data to get a sense of how important the Latino vote really was in November. I was surprised by what I found.

Between January and December, more than 28,000 people who qualify as Latino in the eyes of election officials — because they requested Spanish-language materials or were born in a Spanish-speaking country or their surname appears on a list provided by the Department of Justice — registered to vote in San Diego County.

About 1,200 of those folks registered Republicans. Nearly one-fifth enlisted as Democrats. And a whopping 69 percent chose the no-party-preference label.

“We’ve gotten a lot of lip service from the Democratic Party on things like immigration reform,” said Ricardo Favela, communications coordinator for Universidad Popular, a civic engagement program in San Marcos. “And then the Republican Party is going more to the right. We just continue to see both parties leaving us out in the cold.”

To be clear, there are still more Latino Democrats than Latino independents throughout the region — 176,993 to 135,838. But the gap is closing, and it mirrors a demographic shift across California. No party preference is now the second largest voting group, and the fastest growing.

Every city in San Diego County experienced a growth in the Latino voter base this year, but none more so than San Marcos, Vista and Escondido. Countywide, the Latino voter roll grew by an average of 8 percent, but those inland North County cities saw increases of 10 to 11 percent. The unincorporated areas grew by 9.5 percent.

These communities were motivated in large part by the election of President Donald Trump, and the Democratic victories in traditionally conservative places should be viewed as a repudiation of his policies. Republicans actually lost Latino voters in Coronado and Encinitas in 2018.

Still, a closer look at the voter registration data would suggest that the GOP isn’t necessarily lost to those same communities so long as Trump is the party’s standard bearer. An older generation viewed President Ronald Reagan favorably because of his amnesty work in the 1980s.

Democrats and Republicans register new American citizens outside Golden Hall following a naturalization ceremony. / Photo by Jesse Marx

Benjamin Martinez, an Escondido activist, registered to vote this year as a Democrat but considers himself an independent. He stays within the party’s structure because he feels that’s the best way to affect change, but he doesn’t fault other Latinos who view the entire system with skepticism. He primarily blames the “corporate Democrats” who help elevate businesses above the working class.

Because there remain some shared ideals across the two-party divide, Martinez said, Latino voters — like any other demographic — will look to the candidates who “speak to them and work for them,” regardless of party affiliation.

Lilian Serrano, a research coordinator at the National Latino Research Center in San Marcos, said people just don’t want to be associated with a group that they don’t totally understand. And that not understanding stems from a lack of outreach in Latino communities, a lack of campaign literature in Spanish and the perception of immigrants as single-issue voters.

“We’re more complex than that,” she said.

She’s noticed an assumption among Democratic Party officials that “if only Latinos come out to vote, we’ll win more seats,” she said. “But you’re not taking the time to get to know them and hear what they’re about.”

Maria Nunez, an attorney, won a seat on the San Marco City Council’s District 1 as an independent. Without party support, she ran a truly grassroots effort. But convincing her neighbors that she had their best interests at heart took some serious work.

She did it by reminding, and in some cases teaching, those neighbors that the City Council seat is non-partisan. When talking to the people concerned that she wasn’t registered as a Democrat, she relied on her experience (and emphasized that she wasn’t a fan of Trump).

“I felt like I was able to connect with those individuals because of our shared history in the city, considering that I’ve been in the district almost 40 years,” she said. “I grew up in the district, and so in that sense I knew what their struggles have been.”

Going forward, she sees the question before her as, “How do I bring this silent majority to the City Council within the context of obviously the biggest issues that are facing the city, like housing, affordability, all of those things that are so prevalent?”

The Cost of Not Having a Housing Plan: $1M and Counting

A San Diego County Superior Court judge temporarily suspended an Encinitas law that gave voters final say over land-use decisions and prevented the city from putting a state-mandated plan in place for affordable housing. That plan was technically due in 2013.

The new court-ordered deadline is April 11. But the plan first needs to go to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for review, a process that could take as long as 45 days. That means the city is long past the point of creating a housing plan from scratch.

Instead, the City Council decided last week to submit to state regulators the housing plan that was rejected by Encinitas voters in November as part of Measure U, with some minor tweaks.

There was also a quick discussion last week about costs. Various interests for developers and low-income tenants have sued to get a housing plan on the books. They didn’t get everything they wanted, but the judge’s favorable ruling means Encinitas is now exposed to outside attorneys’ fees. The city’s own defense has cost more than $1 million.

City Councilman Joe Mosca asked Barbara Kautz, an attorney hired to help Encinitas with its housing plan, for some sense of the financial burden to taxpayers. Kautz declined to make any predictions but noted, “I guarantee you they will claim an hourly rate that is substantially higher than what we’re charging the city.”

Meet Your New State Assembly Rep

The first few days of a state legislator’s job mirror a lot of others. There’s an orientation, with the same old insurance and HR forms, plus meetings with new coworkers. And then, you know, the task of representing some 400,000 people really begins.

Last week, I caught up with Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, the newly elected assemblywoman for the 76th District, about what she’s been doing in recent days and what the public should expect from her in the coming months. We briefly talked policy, and two things stuck out to me.

First, she expressed a vision of development that’s becoming increasingly common among Democrats in coastal North County. They want to incentivize more affordable housing, on the other hand, but express skepticism over where it should go.

Boerner Horvath declined to comment on Sen. Scott Wiener’s headline-grabbing bill that would create denser housing near job centers and transit stations, but she noted generally: “I do worry that in areas where density is close to the coast, our coastal infrastructure can’t support it. I think our district needs a transit-first mentality, and I think his idea is a housing-first mentality.”

Second, she suggested that the chances of a single-payer health care are slim this year, but said she’d support smaller reforms efforts to promote “greater access to quality, affordable care.”

In Other News

  • An accident that left one of Encinitas’ leading bike and pedestrian advocates severely injured may result in the immediate launch of the long-debated Leucadia Streetscape project.  (Union-Tribune)
  • This is a good reflection on the political career of Darrell Issa, a man who probably arrived in Washington a generation too late and who leaves Congress undone by the very image he sought to craft. (Union-Tribune)
  • A Palomar College trustee voted to grant herself $10,000 worth of reimbursement money as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought against the board. (The Coast News)
  • From the library to sprawl development to marijuana to the budget review process — here’s all that could change as Escondido’s new City Council members take office. (Disclosure: Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz is a member of Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.) (Union-Tribune)
  • A horse rescue organization facing allegations of animal cruelty and fraud was evicted from its Valley Center ranch and sued for more than $4 million. (inewsource)
  • The Board of Supervisors is placing the No on Newland Sierra and Bad Development measure on the March 2020 ballot rather than repeal its earlier approval of the 2,135-home development. (Union-Tribune)
  • A Poway developer unveiled plans for 160 mostly single-family homes on top the same site where residents killed a plan for luxury condos. (Fox 5)
  • Officials are scrambling to stabilize the crumbling Del Mar bluffs. There’ve been four collapses since August. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Crossroads of the West Gun Show in early December could be the last on the Del Mar fairgrounds. Officials are re-evaluating the contract in 2019. (The Coast News)

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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