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Solana Beach officially becomes a ‘Welcoming Community’

With Solana Beach’s rich history of diversity, it’s no surprise that council members unanimously approved a draft resolution on July 13 declaring the city an official “Welcoming Community.”

“We are a welcoming community,” Mayor David Zito said. “I really do think words are important; and if this doesn’t amount to much more than words, they are important words to say.”

The idea stems from the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, a White House initiative that calls on local governments to create welcoming environments for immigrants and refugees.

According to the campaign, 41.3 million foreign-born residents live in the United States, including more than 3 million refugees who have resettled in the country since 1975.

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Foreign-born workers represent close to 17 percent of the current U.S. labor force. Over the next 20 years, immigrants and their children will account for 85 percent of the net growth in the U.S. labor force, according to the campaign.

Situated in a region built by immigrants, Solana Beach is rooted in diversity. The historical community La Colonia, for example, was developed in 1919 for Mexican workers who tended citrus groves in Rancho Santa Fe.

According to 2010 census data, about 77 percent of the city’s approximately 13,000 people are white, while 16 percent are Hispanic or Latino and 4 percent are Asian. Additionally, about 18.6 percent of the city’s population was born in foreign countries, according to the 2014 census.

“Our area really was born of immigrants,” Deputy Mayor Peter Zahn said.

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The city received about two dozen emails and letters from community members in support of the declaration. About a dozen people also spoke in support at the meeting, asking council members to adopt the resolution.

Erin Tsurumoto Grassi, human rights coordinator for Alliance San Diego, a community empowerment organization, thanked the council for considering the resolution.

“We feel that these efforts are really important, particularly in the current climate that we’re seeing in our country,” said Grassi, a fourth generation Japanese American whose grandparents were interned during World War II.

“A lot of it started with fear and rhetoric that was very hateful, which then led to policies … and eventually led to the internment of my grandparents,” she added. “These are troubling times that we’re facing right now. We’re hearing rhetoric that’s very hateful — rhetoric we haven’t heard in many, many years, and certainly, rhetoric that I haven’t heard in my lifetime.

“It’s critical for our local leaders to take a stance … to make certain that immigrant and refugee families are welcome.”

Rev. Beth Johnson, president of the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, agreed that it is an important time for Solana Beach to make such a statement.

“Becoming a welcoming community is a statement that we acknowledge the worth and dignity of every resident, every person here in Solana Beach and we answer the call of love to welcome the stranger … and not only the stranger, but those who are in our midst and who’ve been in our midst and who sometimes feel estranged,” Johnson said.

“It sends a strong message to residents that hate isn’t tolerated here, that immigrant and refugee communities are an important part of the city,” she added. “This is the time to stand on the right side of history and really to stand on the side of love and encouragement.”

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Diane Hardison, a board member for La Colonia de Eden Gardens, said Solana Beach is already a welcoming community.

“Let’s proclaim it and call on the County of San Diego and other communities to do likewise,” she said.

Council members agreed.

“It sort of goes without saying that Solana Beach is a welcoming community,” Councilman Mike Nichols said.

“I do believe that this item is aimed at reinforcing and celebrating the fact that we all have, to some degree or another, a connection in our past,” he continued. We are all immigrants to our core. That’s how America was founded.”

Zahn brought the issue before the council, in response to a request from a couple local residents.

“To be clear, recognizing that a city is a Welcoming Community is not about recruiting, vetting or harboring immigrants or taking away resources away from any other city priorities,” Zahn said prior to the vote. “It’s about recognizing the benefit of creating a supportive environment for everyone who lives here and creating new possibilities for all Americans as employees, innovators, business creators, neighbors, part of our whole culture.”

With the council’s approval of the resolution, Solana Beach will share the message on the city website and with other cities to encourage them to adopt similar statements. The city of Encinitas already became an official Welcoming Community in March.

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