Kirk Effinger: It’s how leaders react

A conversation I had with Escondido City Councilman Ed Gallo regarding the public perception toward that city’s school districts left me thinking about how cities get the way they get. 

In his rationalization of the situation, he made the claim that, in his view, the primary reason for all of the ills of low test scores and other reported problems that, while improving, have left a difficult to overcome stain on Escondido’s reputation are the result of that city’s being a “dumping ground” for illegal aliens.

I can’t help but feel the continued use of this kind of rhetoric and the ill-advised attempts by city leaders to eradicate the perceived miscreants has proven to be a bigger stain on Escondido’s reputation than any imagined negative effects brought by their presence.

That brought to mind the thought that there are several cities in the region with similar demographics to one another that, for whatever reason, address their challenges differently and the results are often strikingly different.

Escondido, Vista, and San Marcos have Hispanic student populations that are near-majority. Yet Escondido and Vista continue to struggle with performance scores, even when compared to schools with similar demographic makeup.

Likewise, Escondido’s political climate is fractious, with an increasingly vocal crowd of people openly hostile over a variety of questionable council-majority decisions or, in the case of the firing of former police chief Jim Maher, acquiescence’s. There seems to be a climate of “us versus them” in the air and I’d hazard a guess that if an opinion poll were taken regarding voter attitude toward the City Council, it would be 50/50.

The last public opinion poll taken of voter attitudes regarding the San Marcos City Council, meanwhile, revealed approval levels of 70 percent or more. Things are not all rosy in the “Education City,” but residents seem to feel the future is bright and headed in the right direction.

In Vista, Hispanic activists are demanding an all-Latino commission be formed to examine public safety issues and what some believe to be abuses by Sheriff’s deputies in recent years. San Marcos and Vista are both policed as contract cities with the Sheriff’s Department. There is no such controversy in San Marcos.

What these three cities have in common is an agricultural heritage which means, since we are talking about Southern California, quite a few people of Hispanic origin have likely been here longer than you or I, or came here recently to find work. That they have stayed should come as no surprise — so did you.

What it also means is that what is different about these three cities is how they have reacted to the challenges they have faced and are facing.

Leaders who spend their time pointing the finger of blame have no business calling themselves such.

If you ask for my vote, tell me your vision — give me a reason to believe you have a viable solution to a problem rather than demonizing an opponent or a group in hopes of winning it.

Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger


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