Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Real OC Part II: Racism Has Its Day In Court

Racism Has Its Day In Court Tomorrow

She asked me to not use her name. She is a Mexican mom and she treats all the guys who have come over the years to the Laguna Beach Day Worker Center like her kids. As the day-to-day operations manager of the Center, she makes sure that the rules of the Center are followed. She is proud of them when they work hard and annoyed with them when they spend time playing cards. Today I saw pain in her eyes. She knows that the Center may lose it’s funding soon. “It will go back to the way it way it was ,” she said. The guys would be swarming the cars of would-be employers, there would be accidents in the road and fights might break out. Residents would again complain. She wants the Center to stay open but she repeated, “I don’t know what else I can do. I have been here working for 8 years……….” The problem for her, for the guys, for the residents who want the Center to remain open came here in the form of Eileen Garcia. She came here from Lancaster.

Lancaster is a town northeast and just outside of L.A. It is hot, dusty and dirty, somewhere unfortunate people are stuck. Eileen Garcia, small, fair and with whitish blond hair and a pixie persona became known in Lancaster as the homerun queen of women’s baseball. Then she married money and moved out to Laguna Beach, California.

Now too since moving into her sleek contemporary home, Eileen Garcia is known as a slugger. She started slugging the city 2 years ago for it’s support of a day worker center. Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist’s right hand moll, and a member of Gilchrist’s Angels, she led a brigade of mostly ANGRY WHITE PATRIOTS, a group that strengthens itself by consuming the verbal poison of Barbara Coe, to Laguna Beach city council meetings where week after week they condemned the city for supporting the Laguna Beach Day Worker Center and demanded that it be closed.

Most of the angry people who have joined her at council meetings have been from outside of the city of Laguna Beach.

Two years ago she began to lead, along with Coe and others active in the hate community, frequent weekend protests along the canyon road across from the Center. With their misspelled and incomprehensible signs the protesters caused uncertainty and fear among the men waiting for work. And even though the city refused to allow the Minutemen to be in the annual Patriots Day Parade, like the slugger queen she once was, Garcia hung in there. Now she is hoping that her next homerun will come on Friday, November 16 in a courtroom in Santa Ana, California where her lawsuit, filed by Judicial Watch and which demands an end to city funding of the Center, will be decided.

Sentiment is against her in Laguna Beach (although she does have some active local letters-to-the–editor writers on her side). It is a city that is full of comfort and promise and million dollar homes and people like to be tolerant. The council members make getting along with one another their highest priority. It is the city manager that makes the major decisions, one way or the other- those, that is that he has control over.

Ken Frank has been city manager almost 30 years. He is pragmatic and he’s the boss. Major mudslides, a firestorm in 1993 and tons of development money have all come into town in those 30 years. Through it all Ken Frank showed that whatever the challenge to his control and authority, he hates losing. This fight with Garcia and Judicial Watch is no different.

As for the larger question of immigration reform, Frank has always made clear that the Day Worker Center was set up to solve a local problem and he has kept the wider conflict out of the debate as often as possible. He is not interested one way or the other in progressive immigration reform.

The problem 10 years ago was that residents who lived near the corner of Pacific Coast Hwy and a mini mart where men waited for work were not happy with that arrangement. At the request of several of the day workers the Day Worker Center was established and seemed to be the answer that everyone was looking for. By arrangement with the city, the Center is managed by a local not-for-profit. The city gives it community grants to pay most of the annual operating costs. That has been the hook upon which Garcia and Judicial Watch have hung their hopes. Why should taxpayers, they ask, be paying to help those whom they call “aliens” find work? The city argues that when it enacted an ordinance to prohibit people from seeking work on city streets it was obligated by law to provide a place especially for that purpose. The city will argue that checking immigration status is not a requirement for “occasional” work and so has no concrete knowledge of anyone’s immigration status- only anecdotal.

During the last 2 years when Garcia and her female posse, backed by their assortment of angry men, have been called racist, they drag out a guy from L.A. named Ted Hayes, who, one is supposed to believe, wouldn’t hang with them if they were racists because he’s African American.

But being African American is no guarantee that he is sane. Hayes, currently a leading spokesman for Minutemen, has a long history of flirting with some of the most extreme elements of the far-right, claiming that, "a lot of folks are rednecks because they're scared...We're letting them know we're not the [Black] Panthers; we're not Jesse Jackson; we're not Al Sharpton; we're not Louis Farrakhan. We are a mature breed of brothers who know what the real situation is and we are not trying to hurt [white people]." Then they point to Garcia’s surname, a name she obtained from her second husband, the one she was just practicing on according to an article in the hometown magazine. Then they call out their token Latino members.

Eileen Garcia met up with a twist of fortune that made it possible for her to bankroll her racism and pain has been the result. The power elites whom Garcia can now afford to engage as she chooses, are creating circumstances that grow the hatreds and fears of people with little to gain and little to lose. Brute force, racism, violence are the result. If the result of the trial leaves the Center without city funding it’s future is uncertain. It has been a source of pride in the city for many reasons and as Ken Frank said, if the case goes against the city many people in Laguna Beach will be very unhappy with the Minute people. One Mexican mom I know will be very unhappy. Out of collective anger will come new solutions. That is my hope.


This is the second in a three-part series that will be looking at the people and groups behind the effort to close the Laguna Beach Day Laborer Center and make the OC the epicenter for anti-immigrant activity. Tomorrow, our on-scene investigative reporter, Artemis, will be filing a report on the court hearing for Garcia's lawsuit.

Previous stories in this series: The Real OC, Redux

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