Sometime in this decade, San Pablo became a majority-Latino city, the only one in Contra Costa County.
The U.S. census' 2005-07 American Community Survey found that 53.8 percent of San Pablo residents — 16,752 out of 31,155 — were "Hispanic or Latino." In 2000, the census counted 13,490 Latinos among a total city population of 30,215, or 44.6 percent.
To City Councilwoman Genoveva Garcia Calloway, the finding puts an official stamp on a reality for which she sees abundant anecdotal evidence.
"I'm not surprised," Calloway said, "I knew that we (Latinos) were more than half — from the kinds of businesses that are opening, the shoppers, the students at school — they're a majority in a lot of our schools."
The change in the ethnic balance on the San Pablo City Council since 2000 is even more dramatic. That year, there were no Latino members. This month, the council became majority-Latino, as Cecilia Valdez and Arturo Cruz joined Calloway, who was elected in 2002 as the first Latino member. She was handily re-elected in 2006.
"Now the San Pablo council is really representative of the residents," Calloway said.
Mayor Leonard McNeil, who has been a strong advocate for immigrant rights as part of his greater human and civil rights agenda, spoke of a "paradigm shift" on the council after the Nov. 4 election, in which he was re-elected as the sole incumbent who ran; Joe Gomes and Sharon Brown, who had served on the council for a combined 55 years, retired. The three victors outpolled Charles "Nick" Nicholas, the city treasurer; Jerry Sattler, the president of the San Pablo Chamber of Commerce; and Espo, who uses a single name.
Nicholas and Sattler, as well as Gomes and Brown, are part of what Andres Soto, president of the Latina/o Democratic Club of West Contra Costa County, characterized as San Pablo's Anglo "Old Guard."
Whether the Nov. 4 results reflect a flexing of Latino political muscle or the power of organized labor is a matter of interpretation. McNeil, shortly after the election, said: "My re-election and the election of Arturo Cruz and Cecilia Valdez is a reflection of the formidable influence of organized labor in electoral politics."
He added, "The election of Arturo and Cecilia also represents the ascendancy of the Latino body politic."
Campaign finance statements on file with the city clerk show large contributions from labor unions to the three victors: $5,000 to McNeil and more than $4,000 each to Valdez and Cruz. The sums represent more than half the money each campaign raised.
Soto said the three winners "certainly benefited from labor's ability to mobilize their local membership for their preferred candidates."
"I think it was also the fact that there were two Latinos running," Soto added. "And Leonard, being an incumbent."
Soto said he believes that several public immigration forums held this year in West County "galvanized" Latinos and "progressives" and may have contributed to the large voter turnout — 80.5 percent in San Pablo, according to the Contra Costa County Elections office.
On the other hand, the four other West County cities had even higher turnouts, led by El Cerrito with 89 percent. San Pablo also lagged behind the others in the ratio of registered voters to residents, which could be due to many factors including the ages of residents and citizenship. San Pablo had 8,053 registered voters, or just more than a quarter of its population of 31,155; El Cerrito had 14,498 registered voters, more than half its population of 25,659.
Latinos' proportion of total population has surged across West Contra Costa. Richmond's Latino population went from 26.5 percent to 33.5 percent between the 2000 census and the 2005-07 community survey; Hercules' from 10.8 percent to 14 percent; and El Cerrito's from 7.9 percent to 11.3 percent. Pinole, where 13.8 percent of residents were Latino in 2000, was not included in the mid-decade survey because its population is just less than 20,000, the threshold for inclusion.
In Concord, Contra Costa's largest city, with just more than 120,000 residents, Latinos increased from 21.8 percent to 28.5 percent; in Antioch, from 22.1 percent to 29.2 percent; and in Pittsburg, from 32.2 percent to 38.8 percent.
Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or email@example.com.