At last Wednesday’s Mayoral Candidate Forum, many questions were asked. There were a few that I feel really provide us with a chance to consider how the two major candidates approach important issues so I have transcribed their answers. I will have a few observations at the end. I encourage you all to reach your own conclusions.
Question: What is your view on our current mix of business and social services And what is your vision for the future in Escondido regarding these matters?
The problem of the past, Escondido, you remember used to be the hub of North County. Why? Because we had a balance between businesses, social services, immigration and you name it. We lost this balance because of political correctness. We lost this balance big time, we had an overconcentration of social services in Escondido. We had as much social services as North County cities combined. We had a lot of low-income housing in Escondido at one time as much as all the North County cities combined. And I think our goal is to create a balance because the businesses will struggle if you have a poverty incubator. Escondido had a poverty rate in 2000 of about 12% that was the average poverty rate in North County cities, Escondido was at 12% pretty much…Fast forward ten years our poverty rate went up to 20%… Why did we jump from 12% to 20% when the average of north county cities has stayed the same? We cannot afford to be a magnet for poverty, that’s not good for business we need a balance in everything we do in policy we need a balance. We are compassionate, we need social services, we need low-income housing, we need those things in our city, but other cities have to take care of themselves. You know Mayor Desmond [San Marcos] and Mayor Nicholson in Poway we talked to them about opening homeless shelters and they say we don’t have homeless in our cities. Well guess what they’re in our city. So we need to create this balance, be compassionate, provide these basic services. Interfaith Community Services is doing a great job, the churches are doing a great job so we need to have a balance where every city can take their fair share and take care of the poor, the needy people, the social programs. [garbled] …we refused to open more homeless shelters unless the north county would…and they did.
Deputy Mayor Diaz:
I think we all wish that people didn’t have the struggles that they do sometimes. But Escondido is a blue-collar, working class town and as such we don’t necessarily need to feel that our incomes need to match La Jolla or Carlsbad or San Diego. You know we don’t measure our community by its wealth, we measure it by its people. And I. Full disclosure I work for a social service agency and I spend my days with homeless people and people struggling and people trying to get a job. In fact, I’m the Director of Employment Services for my agency. That’s economic development by building people into qualified jobs and I do that knowing that I’m helping the economic development of the City. Non-profits in general are funded several different ways. Some government grants, some private donations and quite frankly, from foundations and some from private donors and churches. And so the agency I work for has roughly a ten million dollar budget. Those ten million dollars that our agency brings in. A third of it is from government, and that third is spent mostly on veterans’ services. So it’s not charity, it’s taking care of the people that sacrificed so much for all of us to be able to sit here. Churches and foundations give us the rest of the money and that money funds jobs. A social service company is a company; there is employment and economic development. It’s part of building people up. In Escondido one of the things we could do is help education, focus on education because that is the great equalizer. We have the lowest number of college educated people in our community and that’s because once they have a degree or resources maybe they don’t come back. We want them to come back and for that we need to build a community. I believe in building people up to their greatest potential. And I roll up my sleeves and I do it every day because it is important. And I don’t think this city is going to necessarily improve by getting rid of them, I think we need to embrace them and help them overcome.
First thing I like to do with speeches is see if I can find the numbers/statistics quoted. For the Mayor’s poverty numbers, that proved elusive. (This chart from the Economic Policy Institute, shows national poverty numbers through that time period but none of that is broken down by city.) Poverty rates are hard to pin down and differ by source, but I couldn’t find the poverty rates he quoted — 12% in 2000 and 20% in 2010. The only numbers I was comfortable with for Escondido- those from the US Census — report a rate of 13.4% in 1999 and a rate of 18.3% for the census period 2008-2012. (The census stopped the long form in 2005 so information after that was collected and analyzed for a 5-year period.) The difference between the Mayor’s numbers and the ones I could verify, are fairly dramatic. While the Mayor’s would mean an increase of 66% in those living in poverty over the period from 1006 – 1012, the numbers I could find put the change in the poverty rate at 37%, not great but a much smaller difference. And his statement “Why did we jump from 12% to 20% when the average of north county cities has stayed the same?” is totally confusing. My numbers show the 2005-2012 poverty rates from the 5 cities are: Carlsbad 9.7%, Oceanside 11.8%, San Marcos 14.8% and Vista 15.2%. Yes our 18.3% is higher but why would you average all those cities rather than just looking at your number compared to each of them? I think it might be because the story’s not so dramatic when you do that. As to his statements about Escondido having more social services and low-income housing than all the other North County cities combined, well that is so vague I didn’t even know where to start.
Deputy Mayor Diaz mentioned only one set of numbers, those for the agency she works for, Interfaith Community Services. Their 2012-13 Annual Report (page 12) verified her numbers.
But I’m willing to put numbers aside and just look at the tone of the two statements — and they couldn’t be more different. Mayor Abed blames poverty on “political correctness” which is one of the odder statements I’ve ever heard. And his use of the terms “poverty incubator” and “magnet for poverty”? As the Mayor of Escondido, I don’t think either of those turns of phrase help to address the needs of our community — but they certainly provide ammunition for those who want to show Escondido in a bad light regardless of whether they live here.
The Mayor’s last statement about homeless shelters and how he refused to open more homeless shelters was in stark contrast to the first words from Deputy Mayor Diaz. She began by saying “I think we all wish that people didn’t have the struggles that they do sometimes.” I happen to agree with that statement as well as her closing comment: “I think we need to embrace them and help them overcome.” In between she talked about the fact that social service agencies bring money and jobs to Escondido. I was especially struck by her observation that if we want those who become college educated to come back to Escondido — rather than moving elsewhere — we have to build a community that welcomes them.
I came to Escondido 17 years ago because it was an easy-going community with all sorts of people. If I had wanted to live in an Orange County sort of town I would have moved there. I chose Escondido because it seemed like folks here got along and had some compassion for each other regardless of their differences. I hope that we can get back to that attitude and Deputy Mayor Diaz’s words about those who are struggling give me hope for the community. The two candidates could not be much further apart on this issue. It’s up to each of us to decide which vision suits our own desires for Escondido’s future.
I will be out for a good part of the day. If you comment after 9:30 it will be held for moderation until very late in the afternoon.