Scarecrow Boy is out sweeping again. The spring morning is icy, the country air fresh, the aroma emanating from nearby Hollandia Dairy doesn't usually make it down to the old San Marcos city center where he works. Scarecrow Boy, I call him that because he’s thin as a rail, talks to himself while he cleans, swings the tattered broom with roundhouse cuts at the gravel-strewn asphalt between 4-Way Liquor and El Mojado market on Mission Road. This part of town looks as if it were only remembered yesterday, a segregated piece of land that cuts the house farms in the northeast city off from restaurant row and Discovery Hills in the south.
Scarecrow Boy often walks about along Mission, near Pico. I see him in the morning as he mumbles and bobs, eyes drawn inward to a world beyond my imagination. Sometimes he’s smoking a fat stogie in his grimy T-shirt as he begins another day negotiating with his poverty and his palsy. He walks with jerky movements up and down the sidewalks past ramshackle markets and boarded-up storefronts, a regular sight for the late-model Hondas and Fords that drive through this section of town with windows up and doors locked. I admire his leathery toughness, his style, with his baseball cap on backwards smashing down a cacophony of wiry brown hair. Sometimes I see him straightening his cap or brushing his mop in a storefront plate-glass window as I drive by heading west to drop off my son at day care. He reminds me of a down-and-out rock star. I wonder what each cold morning brings him to eat.
I wonder too about this city I’ve moved to, a chance I took about a decade ago and that now, like all old bets, begins to look either foolish or righteous for reasons that go beyond money. San Marcos seems to suffer from a similar confusion; it isn’t sure what its fate will be. Retired dairy land, bedroom community, college town, a place to raise a family, all these possibilities tend to war with each other, leaving characters like Scarecrow Boy smashed in-between. The folks that live up in the valley of Twin Oaks call the areas to their south near Mission and San Marcos Boulevard “the city” and disdain whatever small charms living close to other human beings offers. They disdain too the flighty yuppie newcomers who populate the proliferating slab-home developments with names like Discovery Hills, Emerald Heights, and Paloma that dominate the areas southwest of San Marcos Boulevard, northeast of Hollandia Dairy overlooking Twin Oaks Valley, and west of Palomar College. In return, the urban professionals barely downshift to notice the cows along Mission that belong to the dairy. Their minimalist front yards and narrow lots are a head-shaking joke to the old residents of the unincorporated areas along Twin Oaks Valley Road, where the size of a lot needs to be an acre if it’s going to be a lot at all.
The city council always seems to be approving some encroaching development, threatening to annex the good distance most of the country folks have long sought to ensure. The uneasy peace between new and old, or what passes for new and old, threatens to spill out like a bad house party whenever a controversy makes its way into the public spaces of a council meeting or home owners’ association disciplinary council. One points out the differences between new and old, city and country, brown and white, at his own risk.
San Marcos seems to be about boundaries, what is or isn’t a boundary. What counts today may change tomorrow, and the new psychic fence lines become visible conflicts when they trespass across old prejudices or new money. My boundaries are not necessarily my neighbors, but as far as marking out what feels like San Marcos territory. I’d say Nordahl Road marks the easternmost boundary of what seems like San Marcos and not Escondido. Rancho Santa Fe Road marks the difference between Vista to the west and San Marcos, although many of the people who live just west of the road are certainly legally in the city. For now, Discovery Hills and California State University, San Marcos, define the southern edge, along with the community Lake San Marcos, which incorporates the name San Marcos but not the city’s boundaries. When the massive San Elijo Ranch development supplants the dump, then the southern boundary will push into the Olivenhain/Harmony Grove area with all the decorum of a runaway tank. To the north. Deer Springs Road, which cuts west through a canyon to Twin Oaks Valley Road, is on county land, but since it leads to Twin Oaks Valley Road and feeds traffic into the city limits, it. too, can be considered a boundary marker. Slashing east and west through it all is Highway 78, known by local travelers as a great place to crash.
Twin Oaks Valley is the center of some historical and wish-fulfilling Zeitgeist. It spills into the core of the city from the north and has country charms and beauties that are at odds with the concrete-slab caves, the encroaching developments. The old dairy lands of the valley are a good place to look if you wish to buy into a turn-of-the-century Victorian or just have enough yard for a horse. I live in a 200-home tract that backs up to Twin Oaks Valley but doesn’t share its charms. My house was cheaply built by a developer who had never done a really big job before. The City of San Marcos has had to pay plenty to fix sinkholes in the streets he deeded to the public.
When I first turned up Mulberry Road to take a look at my future homestead, I ignored the fragrant charms of the dairy. The odors that waft north from Hollandia Dairy can go beyond a little hydrogen sulfide; after a rain followed by some famous inland heat the air becomes a drowning wave of cow stink that’ll chase you back inside your drvwall on a summer day. But that smell was here first, and I would miss the dairy and the fields of cows should the longtime owners decide to trade in their valuable real estate to frame up another 5(H) houses. Ex-dairy land, which makes up the dirt under our concrete-floored nirvana, is developer heaven.
The ugly truth that obtains from such rapid growth is a kind of vicious selfishness among the most recent escapees from the big city. The NIMBY inclination to try to keep anybody else from moving into your newfound solitude is mighty and not without its recompense. Unlimited growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell, a philosophy that the politicians of this community have been accused of fostering with their own grandiose desires and fast-growth schemes financed by big developers. But people do need a place to live, and for those agricultural workers from the south, there is plenty of work in the plethora of greenhouses and nurseries of North County.
The ugliness recently visited my neighborhood. lust around the corner from my house the City of San Marcos, which is trying to adhere to a federal low-income housing mandate, is putting up a 62-unit apartment building on Vineyard Road, about a mile from the new city hall. Before construction started, the NIMBYs look to planting red flags on their own property and anywhere else they thought they could or should. They went door-to-door with scare rhetoric about the type of people public housing would attract. Houses blocks away, with unkempt yards and paint-chipped siding, could be found with little red plastic flags staple-gunned onto their clapboard fences or pounded into the tree flesh in their front yards.
This type of conflict was familiar to Joan Gunderson, who taught history at San Marcos State and ran, as a labor of love, the local historical society museum. Gunderson last year took a job as dean of women at a small college in North Carolina. The museum is located on San Marcos Boulevard, in one of the former San Marcos Elementary buildings. She was helped at the museum by one of the offspring of original European settlers of the area, Lee Fulton, who now does the lion’s share of running the place. Before she left, she ran Vince Andrade’s successful campaign for the city council. The museum itself is only about one good Tiger Woods tee shot west of the new city government buildings.
Gunderson eyed me with noticeable trepidation when I started quizzing her on what I saw as the rather segregated nature of the city. From my newbie point of view, if you’re brown like Scarecrow Boy, you’re likely to live alongside what was once the city center, which consists of the land around Mission Road west of the Twin Oaks Valley overpass — limited by the curl of Highway 78 and the business park, which extends north from the highway and ends opposite Palomar College. In this little tangled triangle of apartment complexes and beaten houses, the white folks are decidedly hard to come by.
Gunderson, who lived here for eight years, pointed out that San Marcos’s recent explosive growth makes it “a town of diverse subdivisions without a lot holding it together, which makes it easy to pit one (subdivision) against the other.” Gunderson was reminded of her small-town past in the outskirts of Chicago, a place that, like San Marcos, was strip-mailed and robbed of its rural heritage.
She pointed out that San Marcos’s multiple identities include a retired population, a large group of families with children, and a small number of families that have been here a long time — many of which own local businesses or run farms. “And then there is a recent population that is Spanish-speaking and is, in many ways, a separate and sizable cluster of the community and which the rest of San Marcos doesn’t recognize as being part of the community.” She said this Spanish-speaking part of San Marcos voiced its fledgling political power with the election of city councilmember Vince Andrade. “It was the First time that they felt they were members of the community.”
The slighting of the Spanish-speaking community, its invisibility, is noticeable, according to Gunderson, when “people talk about San Marcos, when you talk to planners. When you talk to other residents in other areas it’s like this group doesn’t exist.” Gunderson liked to bike around the area, and she watched as the planners put in one subdivision after another. She sounded tired when she noted how San Marcos’s growth policies have affected business. “It’s a town that hasn’t been able to get a substantial anchor in its financial base. It’s a city that doesn’t have a center, and it’s trying very hard to find one.”
The historic center, the area along Mission Road where I see Scarecrow Boy, looks decrepit next to the shiny subdivisions. But while gang tags and bad landscaping may signal to the bedroom communities a lack of sensible living, the area teems with energy. It seems to be the only area in San Marcos where you Find people standing, talking to neighbors, carrying shopping bags from the bus stop, buying tacos from the stand where Scarecrow Boy sweeps. This area became the city center around the turn of the century when the Santa Fe Railroad laid its track between Escondido and Oceanside. Several buildings from an earlier settlement were taken down and rebuilt along the rail line. A more recent diaspora of historical buildings from the Mission area scattered some into the surrounding lands. A barn that dates back to this era was moved to Twin Oaks Valley off Olive Road, in what is now called Walnut Grove Park. The original turn-of-the-century Methodist church now sits alongside the San Marcos Cemetery off Mulberry Road near the Valley Knolls development. Still, along Mission Road there is a hint of what was once a focus.
The history of the city is closely related to the public school districts, which began with three elementary schoolhouses. Gunderson pointed out that the schools predate the city by nearly 75 years. The city became incorporated the same year I was born, 1961. All three of the original schoolhouses still stand, two in the city limits and one on Deer Springs Road near the junction with Twin Oaks Valley Road. The Deer Springs building is vacant, a yellowish Victorian built in 1891, now sporting barred windows. Another old schoolhouse sits on a hill at the intersection of Woodland Parkway and Mission and has been turned into a wedding hall. The third, on Grand near Rancho Santa Fe Road, was a barbecue restaurant but now houses a publishing business.
The three schools were in three districts until the 1930s, when the districts merged. In 1961 Escondido High School District built San Marcos High School, and in the 1970s there was a trade of elementary school facilities for the buildings of San Marcos High, putting it into the San Marcos (now Unified) School District.
It is unlikely that my children will go to San Marcos High when they are old enough; the district plans to build another high school on the eastern part of the Hollandia property that should be done before they finish eighth grade in 2004. Last June my kids went to Richland Elementary, which is walking distance from my house, but now, for reasons that I think have to do with a growing acknowledgment of San Marcos’s segregated situation, they go to a new elementary school off Twin Oaks Valley Road.
Gunderson pointed out that schools in the 1920s were mixed racially, but by the late 1940s the mix “was bleaching out.” During the 1950s and 1960s, as a result of the Bracero program, migrants didn’t bring their families to live here. In those conflicted decades, many of the Spanish-speaking families in San Marcos moved on.
In the 1970s the immigration pattern changed, the number of Spanish-speaking students increased, and the conflict between brown Spanish-speakers and white English-speakers intensified.
When I first called Susan Lloyd at the San Marcos Unified School District to discuss the reasons why the kids from my development. Valley Knolls, were being transferred from Richland Elementary to Twin Oaks Elementary, a more distant school, it was clear this was not an issue she wanted to revisit. She implied that I’d had my chance to participate in the decision process, which had been announced by single-page flyers sent home with my kids the previous year, and I hadn’t made enough noise to make a difference. & The underlying message in the conversation was “please, go away.” After working for a few weeks with her this attitude disappeared, and she was helpful and efficient. The irony for me was that I wasn’t complaining. Then and now I am generally in favor of having my kids go to Twin Oaks, even if they end up being minorities there.
Lloyd assured me that the decision to move Valley Knolls students out of the Richland Elementary catchment was the result of an above-board process that involved a lot of hard work by a volunteer “boundary committee.” When I suggested to her that there were political forces at work and that boundary committee members were steered away from addressing troubling issues (like race) by the careful omission of those facts that the district didn’t want to confront, she bristled. “Yes,” she said, that may be the case in some decisions but “that’s not what happened in this case.”
The case Susan Lloyd and San Marcos Unified’s superintendent Dr. Larry Maw made to explain why my kids ended up at Twin Oaks Elementary has never been satisfactory to me. Still, there are certain facts that seem indisputable. The reason my kids go to Twin Oaks is because the boundaries (“catchments”) had to be redrawn when San Marcos Unified opened Discovery Elementary. The reason Discovery was opened was because of the growth of San Marcos, especially Discovery Hills, and the closing of San Marcos Elementary. The reason San Marcos Elementary was “closed” (it still receives students, less than half than it had) was because (1) it was an old school that needed to be replaced and (2) the San Marcos Redevelopment Agency wanted to build a park on the property and made a deal with San Marcos Unified to buy it. The money the district negotiated with the redevelopment agency was used for building Discovery Elementary, but not just Discovery; it was used for building Twin Oaks Elementary, for buying land for a new education center and a high school, and it will be used for helping construct the new high school. The redevelopment deal that San Marcos Elementary was the linchpin for put $17 million into San Marcos Unified’s coffers. This much I understand.
What the district did makes sense, but it reminds me of one of those sets of pictures where there are about 20 frames, and while each frame matches the one right next to it, the first picture and the last picture don’t look at all alike. Depending on whom you listen to, the district opened San Marcos Academy (the re-engineered San Marcos Elementary) to (1) mollify the white parents of surrounding schools by keeping the “brown faces” out of their schools or (2) to mollify the brown parents of the former San Marcos Elementary by leaving them a neighborhood school or (3) to solve the very real need of teaching English to Spanish-speaking children or (4) to evade the chance of a lawsuit against the district for running a segregated school by making the school “voluntary” or (5) to get San Marcos Elementary students into a newer school, because the San Marcos Elementary was/is old and needed to be replaced. To summarize, San Marcos Elementary became San Marcos Academy because San Marcos Unified needed money to build more schools for a growing population and the district has a lot of kids it needs to teach English. So the district closed the elementary school in the most densely populated portion of town. Sort of.
If all this sounds confusing, it is. Just ask Coundlmember Vince Andrade. Andrade is a businessman who has lived in San Marcos for 24 years and has been a city councilman for just over one. When I asked him why San Marcos Unified closed San Marcos Elementary, he had a one-word answer, “money.” But he was quick to point out that the deal to sell San Marcos Elementary led to an immediate concern over the destination of its students. “It created a situation where all these brown faces were going to be bused to all these other schools. The first flash of trouble was at Paloma Elementary, where people started saying that these brown faces are going to lower our test scores.”
As Andrade told me this he worked his mouth, as though the thought of such thinking left a palpable distaste on his palate. “The boundary hearings were all about how many brown faces these [outlying] schools were going to get. The meetings were, like, ‘Well, how come La Costa Meadows [a San Marcos Unified elementary school in Carlsbad] isn’t getting any of these kids? We’re getting all the kids!’ And the board and the superintendent never recognized this problem. We still have a very volatile situation as far as this mindset, which they have not done anything to address. All they’ve done is try to appease it.
“The mindset is typified by the people at Paloma who say we don’t want all these brown faces; they lower our scores, etc, etc So they closed San Marcos Elementary, part of the reason which was because they had a 99 percent Latino school. The facilities aren’t any better now that they call it San Marcos Academy, but since they’ve called it an ‘academy,’ then they can get away with the enrollment because it’s volunteer. Just months before they started the Academy they had teachers knocking on doors in the community to get parents to subscribe to finally get the numbers up. If it’s such a good idea they should have a thousand kids like they did at San Marcos Elementary.”
This is the point that Maw and Andrade will never agree on. Andrade feels that the community that surrounds San Marcos Academy deserves to have a new neighborhood school like Twin Oaks or Discovery. According to Maw, because a new school on the San Marcos Elementary site would be almost all-Hispanic, it would create problems for the district. Maw told me that, in fact, a local advocacy group did point out to him that San Marcos Elementary was a segregated school When I suggested to Maw that a solution both men could live with would be to build a language-and-fine-arts magnet school on the site, he responded that overall he felt the San Marcos community wanted higher test scores and that putting resources into a magnet school would take away money needed to bolster curriculum from other parts of the district. The closing of San Marcos Elementary shifted resources away from the Spanish-speaking community into the more Anglo areas. Maw said that “those students can go to any school they like,” meaning that they can travel away from their neighborhood or, if they are still learning English, they can voluntarily go to San Marcos Academy, at least until they finish third grade. If what those students and their families like is to stay in their neighborhood for the duration of their elementary school instruction, tough. In Maw’s mind the redevelopment money is being spent on this community; they just have to be willing to travel to Twin Oaks or Discovery to get it.
If Maw’s view doesn’t allow for the resources to build a neighborhood school that would attract Anglo parents to the Spanish-speaking part of town, Andrade’s view doesn’t necessarily take into account the larger community’s overall rejection of multiculturalism and its fear of producing students who aren’t academically competitive. While there may be a good number of Anglo parents who want their children to become bilingual and would even send them to a language magnet school, Maw is betting that the vast majority is more worried about test scores. And Maw seems sensitive to the majority. He would never think to institute a progressive refocusing of resources on the community Andrade is pledged to represent.
What Maw did was neither unethical nor unscrupulous; he merely recognized that he could build more schools by selling San Marcos Elementary as part of the redevelopment plan. By his estimation he managed to parlay one school into two new ones, and on top of that, he provided a language academy for Spanish-speaking students. Also, he says, in the district’s agreement with the City of San Marcos to lease the former San Marcos Elementary buildings back for use by the San Marcos Academy, there is a provision included that says that one third of the lease money can be credited to the district should they decide to buy the property back. “Or,” Maw told me, smiling, “the council could give the property back to us.”
He said this after a talk he gave to 25 parents at Twin Oaks Elementary’s new auditorium. “We just gave (the Academy) a brand-new coat of paint,” he told me, “and it looks great.” When I’d walked into the Twin Oaks auditorium an hour earlier, I’d noticed that the Hispanic parents were sitting on one side and the Anglo parents, except one, were sitting on the other. I sat on the Anglo side.
San Marcos Elementary, in a real sense, never closed. The elementary school died when the language academy was born, but students who attend the academy use the same buildings that housed San Marcos Elementary, llie idea behind the San Marcos Academy is to get the Spanish-speaking kids speaking English as quickly as possible and then move them to an elementary school. As Lloyd pointed out, when the new school was built at Discovery, the district was forced to redraw the boundary lines. Boundary lines drawn by a school district must, by their very nature, take into account a community’s self-segregation. Gunderson elaborated.
“By closing San Marcos Elementary, which is right in the heart of the Spanish-speaking community, they had to distribute those kids, and their decision is splitting the community down the middle. They had three plans worked out. One was to get every kid to the closest school possible. One was to get the most evenly racially balanced schools you could get. And one was in-between. They chose the in-between.
“There are children being bused. And the reason is, they might be closer to another school, but if they sent everybody to the closest school they would replicate again the large clusters of Spanish -speaking children in ways that they thought would lead to more segregation. They used the boundary lines to try to do a compromise, to keep people as close as possible (to their neighborhood elementary school) and to keep an eye on the numbers.”
The numbers reflect both a total increase in students and a strong demographic shift toward Hispanic children. In 1990 there were 9100 students enrolled in the 11 San Marcos schools. By 1996 that number had grown to over 11,300. Maw sees the final numbers, when San Marcos is completely built out, coming in at over 20,000. While the overall population increased by a fifth in the same period, the Hispanic population grew from a little over 1900 to a little under 4900. Put another way, the white student population actually declined a little during that period. Since 1985, the percentage of Hispanic students has risen from 21 percent of the student population to 43 percent, while the white student population has gone from 75 percent to 49 percent.
My neighborhood seems to be caught on the boundary between the shifting numbers. When the city decided to build public housing it could logically look to the area between what some whites derisively call “Mexico town” and Vineyard Road as the integration area between white and brown, between apartment dwellers and home owners, between poor and middle class. When people talk about the “numbers,” they are often referring to the growth of Spanish-speaking residents in San Marcos. I talk about those numbers, like the sulfur fumes from Hollandia, forces many people to stare at their walls and worry about their property values.
The evidence of a recent history of racial segregation in San Marcos is coded in phrases that replace frank talk with well-meaning obfuscation about prejudice. The people who are angry about the construction of public housing in my neighborhood, consciously or unconsciously, used coded language when they went door-to-door soliciting donations to fight that development in court. “We don’t want those kind of people moving into our neighborhood. That’s not why we moved here,” one woman told me over the phone. I had called to ask that she not place her flags and signs on the common areas in Valley Knolls, my development, because the homeowners’ board, which I was on at that time, was not taking a position on the project If people wanted to put flags on their own houses, fine. In retrospect, I wish I had followed up on my unvoiced idea to place green flags on my own house and yard.
Lloyd gave me the phone numbers of some of the volunteers who worked on the boundary committee, which ended up moving our neighborhood’s kids from Richland Elementary and to Twin Oaks Elementary. For almost six months this group of parents, school staff, teachers, and principals worked to develop chokes for the school board to vote on. Half of the people I called were defensive and paranoid. But some wanted to talk, and it was clear that everybody, whether they wanted to talk or not, had invested a lot of themselves in the process.
The district knew, according to parent and committee member John Harris, that it needed to involve the community in this issue. Harris, who works in the commercial custodial business, lives in Paloma (which is behind Palomar College) and wanted to get involved in community politics. After deciding that neither the open water board seat nor a role on the planning commission nor running for the school board was right for him, he found a chance to participate in the boundary committee. He has a pragmatic sense about him, and I thought his perceptions about the committee were honest. For him, the issues centered around transportation and safely getting kids to Twin Oaks Elementary. “People who thought that there should be another way to solve the boundary problems,” according to Harris, “were not being realistic.”
Realism, in the case of busing kids to Twin Oaks Elementary, is the result of a concatenation of factors: the present state mandate to reduce class size, the continued (some say haphazard) growth of homes in the area, the conversion of Woodland Park Elementary (located a couple of miles from Richland) into a middle school, continued student-population increases, and the fact that the district already owned the land Twin Oaks was built on. More particularly, Harris pointed out, my kids go to Twin Oaks because of transportation issues. Emerald Heights, a development that came years after I moved to San Marcos, is near Richland Elementary. It would not have been “realistic” to bus Emerald Heights kids past Richland to Twin Oaks. For Harris, the fact that Rose Ranch/Mulberry Road (the roads between my house and Richland Elementary) didn’t have good sidewalks meant that for my kids walking to Richland was problematic.
Harris said that the committee first looked at sending kids to the school closest to their homes. However, the numbers were not favorable in this scenario; in this case, the numbers of kids close to the new school on Twin Oaks were low because the population density in the valley is much lower than in the surrounding developments.
The opposite of neighborhood schools is racially balanced schools. But that, Harris said, “raises the issue of busing.” The issue, of course, isn’t busing, but how much busing the community can tolerate. The fury of a potential storm over busing is caught in the words of Andrade — when he uses the term “brown feces,” he is repeating what he heard coming from the mouths of white parents at Paloma.
The last issue that the committee dealt with was, as Harris put it, “the ethnic flag.” He, like all the people I talked to about this situation, was sensitive to the emotions that ethnic issues stir up. He strongly urged me to see that the three maps the committee gave the school board to pick from were the best work a couple of dozen people in these circumstances could hope to do. “Nobody got everything they wanted.”
Gunderson had said that the Spanish-speaking families that live in Scarecrow Boy’s playground were less than happy to sec their kids bused to Twin Oaks. According to Diane Fetherolf, a boundary committee member, “eight out of ten kids that go there will not be going to a neighborhood school” Eight out of ten kids will be bused there.
What has happened is that the school district, in order to deal with the problem of kids who don’t speak English, has decided to place them in a segregated learning environment, the Academy, in the hope that they can be quickly mainstreamed into the English-speaking elementary schools. Fetherolf reiterated the point that the Twin Oaks site was irresistible to the district because the district already owned the land. Maw*s figures suggest that building there saved the district around $4 million. Rebuilding San Marcos Elementary in the original downtown would have exposed the district to charges of segregation and was perceived as financially unfeasible. The issue in Fetherolf’s mind is “overpopulation” as much as race.
The Richland classrooms that Fetherolf spent years in, donating her time so as to help her daughter’s classmates to “bound ahead rather than be hung back,” are overloaded with students representing tremendous diversity and ability. Still, she thinks that the Academy will not solve the problem of kids who cannot speak English well enough to keep the test scores high. “They’re great kids, I love having them over and working with them, but even they come up to me and say they should repeat second grade.” But she adds, speaking of the district, “we just keep pushing them on. Teachers are not allowed to hold them back.”
Fetherolf moved to San Marcos Farms, an area of acre-sized home sites in the Twin Oaks domain, only after she had gone to Richland Elementary and determined that the San Marcos schools “were not as had as reported.” She considers Fran Chadwick, the principal she worked with at Richland, a friend. As she looks to the future she is alternately bitter and hopeful, especially when she thinks about which high school her daughter will go to.
“I’m here to tell you that my daughter won’t be going to San Marcos High. That school has twice as many students there as the building was designed for. And if the San Elijo development goes forward, can you imagine what will happen to it then?”
This is the point that Harris and Fetherolf agree on: the shifting, growing nature of San Marcos means that nothing remains constant. The boundaries will change and the conflicts over who will and who should be counted as members of the neighborhood will resurface. Fetherolf warned me (as did Harris) not to take her too seriously: “I guess I just sound like an old complainer.” She wants to be a part of the community. The advantages of being a member of a growing neighborhood are seldom recognized by those critical of urban sprawl. The lure of the frontier is the lure of newness, of opportunity not only to make a living but also to say, “I was here First.”
I send my kids to Twin Oaks Elementary. I have repeatedly requested that they get instruction in Spanish. Len Judd, the principal at Twin Oaks, has responded to parents’ requests by setting up a Spanish-as-a-second-language program. Unfortunately, my kids are too old to get into it because it starts in kindergarten. My daughter has decided that she wants to take French lessons after school, for which I have to pay out-of-pocket. My fear is that my kids will not have the chance to learn a language early enough to get it to stick. What Fetherolf fears is that new-to-English students will hurt the quality of the education her daughter receives. I asked Corie Rose, who works at the Academy, what she felt was missing in the discussion of the education of Spanish-speaking students and whether having such students in the mainstream classroom would diminish the quality of instruction for the others.
“If anyone is lacking attention in the classroom, it’s the LEP (limited English proficiency] students. They are much more afraid of speaking out and asking questions than the English speakers. If people could just see the kids, see how bright they are, they’d give them a chance.” Rose’s parents only speak one language, English. She went to school in Los Angeles and was taught her first Spanish by an hourly bilingual teacher who went from school to school teaching an hour of Spanish to elementary students. Rose isn’t sure where she got her hunger to speak Spanish, but it might have been a visit to Olivera Street when she was very young.
“They have a program like the one I had in Valley Center now. I had Spanish lessons in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, and then I took Spanish iq junior high.” She thinks that it would be even better for students to get instruction before fourth grade. As for having teachers who might give instruction to English-speaking students, “a couple of the board members have said that they support that, but for now it’s just something that they say would be nice to do in the future.” The issue keeps coming up because “there are parents who keep asking about it.”
For now, children who cannot speak English, as long as they are in kindergarten to third grade, can go to the Academy. Older children who do not speak English will go to an “English Acquisition Center,” which is a bilingual learning environment set up to integrate them into the English-speaking population. Alvin Dunn and Richland Elementary Schools have English Acquisition Centers. According to district administrator Susan Lloyd, 29 percent of the students in San Marcos Unified are LEP students. For Rose, who worked in Orange County and had to deal with over a dozen languages, it’s nice to focus on just Spanish-speakers and track their success. “I’ve done two longitudinal studies, one in May ’96 and another in June ’97, and the kids that stay in the district do well. The ones that transfer from district to district don’t do as well, so we’ve taken that information and tried to standardize our bilingual instruction so they will do well if they are moved across boundaries.”
The greater problem for Spanish-speakers comes, in her experience, from the lack of literacy in the homes of the students. In Orange County she saw LEP kids who spoke languages other than Spanish learn more quickly than the Spanish-speaking students because their parents were better educated. That district had so many different languages, it couldn’t offer bilingual education, so the Spanish-speaking students suffered. Rose is clearly happy to be working in San Marcos, because she feels that the bilingual instruction her charges are getting is making a difference.
Maw is proud when he claims that the idea of San Marcos Academy was his. The district had to face up to the fact that San Marcos Elementary was “98 percent Hispanic”; it was a neighborhood school that was segregated by the predominance of cheap housing nearby. The San Marcos Academy escapes being considered a segregated school because enrollment there is voluntary. This is not quite the neighborhood school that parents from all over San Marcos wish for when they wish for a local school, but it is one way to meet the demands from the Spanish-speaking parents for a school in their neighborhood. The political winds being what they are in 1998, this is the type of breeze that passes for fresh air.
Maw says he knew as early as age 22 that he wanted to be a superintendent. His office on the third floor of the new city building overlooks the parking lot of Hometown Buffet, while Highway 78 and San Marcos State can be glimpsed in the background. The office has a meeting table next to the windows where Maw plans for the district’s future, one he hopes will make the district into “the Poway of North County.”
A square glass paperweight with the inscription “Life is like golf, it’s all in the follow-through” sits at the center of the table. As a young man he hoped to be the superintendent of all of California's schools. As he says, “Somebody has to do the job, it might as well be me.”
For now. Maw says he’s happy in San Marcos. He has turned down other jobs “because this is a great community and I’m happy here.” I had heard before I spoke with him that “he makes all the right noises,” and I was not disappointed. Talking with Maw, it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.
The keys to the success of the district. Maw believes, lie in the curriculum, the “right” personnel, and the budget Getting the buildings that the district will need in the near future has nearly been accomplished; as he says, “the pieces are in place.”
When I asked him to speculate as to the causes of the general tension that surfaces whenever a question of race is posed, or more specifically, why teachers wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about how Spanish-speaking students are treated in the San Marcos schools, he looked puzzled, as if the reluctance of some of his employees to talk was the result of a mysterious lack of trust in his good will. I suggested that without tenure, many teachers will say nothing risque for fear of displeasing the administration. He had to admit that maybe that had something to do with it. In the world of public school that my children attend, it is considered bad form to rock the boat. Talking about race, or busing, causes a whirlpool of emotions to come to the surface. Honest differences of opinion have a way of disappearing in those kinds of waters.
After each talk with Maw I felt resigned to such mollifying realpolitik and more appreciative of the district’s need to “serve its customers.” The district has to be prepared to serve the customer because the reality of school privatization curtails talk about rights under the rubric of majority rule. Maw has made, from what little I’ve seen, a good effort to place the district in a competitive position vis-a-vis the likely potential of school vouchers and continued white flight.
I asked Maw point-blank if he had heard any complaints about the San Marcos Academy. Maw said, “I haven’t heard one complaint about the Academy. Not a single parent complained. We think that their feelings were well addressed. I think that the Academy is our best success story.” When I asked him, flabbergasted at hearing these words, how he thought Councilmember Vince Andrade felt about the Academy, he continued in the same vein. “I find him to be very supportive of our efforts.”
A day later I talked with Andrade, trying to figure out how Maw could have so misinterpreted his feelings. Andrade was calmer than when I had sat down with him at the Power Surge cafe for some cafe latte and a blast of local politics. One of Andrade’s primary concerns behind closing San Marcos Elementary, its dilapidated condition, has still not been addressed. He had been told that “we can’t bring that school to standard. We’re going to send the kids to state-of-the-art schools instead.” (When I first asked Susan Lloyd why my kids wece going to Twin Oaks, she said, “Richland is an old school. Twin Oaks is going to be a state-of-the-art school. Have you seen Knob Hill?”)
Twin Oaks Elementary opened on time last month, its function as integrationist beachhead nearly complete. If there are problems with the idea of siting a partly Hispanic school in the middle of a relatively sparsely populated valley, they had more to do with the logistics of keeping the project on schedule than with defeating some imagined public outcry. The public, with a few loud exceptions, couldn’t care less and had been expecting the district to build on its land for decades.
The land has been, according to Olive Marrical, marked as a potential school site since the 1960s. Marrical is writing a history of Twin Oaks Valley from the turn of the century onward. Her knowledge of people and places is encyclopedic, although when talking to her she is modestly self-depreciating to a fault. In her working life she used to do title research. She is, by her own admission, a champion talker.
“One of the problems with the property,” she pointed out about Twin Oaks, “is that it is right in the middle of a floodplain.” This fact has not prevented the city from allowing the Ryland Corporation from building houses in that 100-year floodplain. During the construction of the development and golf course, builders collected 200,000 shards of broken Dieguefio Indian pottery. Marrical says that “they donated the pottery shards to a local tribe.”
Traffic would pose another problem, according to Marrical. Actually, Twin Oaks Valley Road has become quite a traffic snafu. The Twin Oaks overpass to Highway 78 is one area that residents learn to avoid. Andrade has been working to pull some money out of Sacramento to widen it.
On top of the present nasty commuting scenario, the Ryland Company agreed that when their development reached a certain size, they would widen Twin Oaks Valley Road to accommodate the increase in traffic. (They also agreed with our development to take care of the trails Valley Knolls ceded to them as part of a land-lease agreement so they could build their golf course. I can attest to the fact that for many years they didn’t take care of the trails.) Also, the Vallecitos Water District is building a reservoir toward the northern end of Twin Oaks Valley Road, and the County is planning to do the same thing. “The County isn’t as far along,” said Marrical, “and they plan on taking three years to do it.”
What this means, of course, is that there will be a lot of construction traffic on Twin Oaks for the next several years. Since many of the children who attend Twin Oaks Elementary come from the Mission/Pico area, they travel a roadway with heavy traffic. Given San Marcos’s history of accidents in the last few years (one little girl was killed when she was hit near a school bus stop, and one student was killed and several seriously injured when a school bus was hit by a motor home at the corner of Mulberry and Mission), the increased traffic from the school on what is already a busy and fast road is cause for reflection.
Marrical’s common-sense approach about these issues comes from her years of activity working with the Twin Oaks Planning Commission. As a member of the commission she has fought against what she perceives as the destructive elements of commercial development in the valley. Her home, which she pointed out is on the smallest lot in the valley, is near Twin Oaks Elementary. Inside are stacks of papers and hooks, artifacts of her research into the history of the area. We spent an afternoon last year driving around the boundaries of Twin Oaks, and everywhere we went, she knew people and they knew her. It was as if a red-tailed hawk was showing off its hunting grounds.
Marrical has spent a lot of energy fighting the latest lightning bolts of progress, a quarry expansion and a water park that was trying to settle into Twin Oaks and domesticate it with commerce. The proposed water park on 1-15, just south of Deer Springs, would have destroyed, according to Marrical, the tranquillity of the canyon that cuts through toward Twin Oaks Valley. Deer Springs Road once hosted stage-coaches but now hosts the Golden Door, a retreat for the wealthy seeking to regain a hold on their health. The quarry expansion threatened to turn north Twin Oaks Valley Road into a parking lot for dump trucks. Marrical has seen the tracks etched by the iron wheels of horse-pulled vehicles on the grounds of the Golden Door and favors their marks to the impossible pairings of semi-tractor diesel and country roads. She said she’s quitting the planning commission so she can devote more time to writing Twin Oaks history.
Marrical thinks that where the new school is located is not really the issue — the district has owned the Twin Oaks land since 1959 — it is just a matter of addressing the concerns of people who live in the area. Harker Smith’s property abuts the school property. The construction may threaten his property with flood and run-off. Run-off from construction is a common problem in the area. Fetherolf, whose San Marcos Farms house is at the base of the mountain that was topped to become Emerald Heights, has suffered run-off from what she perceives as poorly planned and executed rain culverts. Her yard has been repeatedly flooded, and she claims her house was nearly ruined.
I must say that having my children go to a brand-new school has been positive. My experiences with their former school, Richland Elementary, were good; they learned to read and made friends with more classmates than I could shake a stick at. Still, it wasn't the progressive school I had hoped for. When I naively asked at my first Richland parent-teacher night if there was a chance my English-speaking daughter could get instruction in Spanish, it was as if my words were turned into stone and heaved into deep water. The only possible reason there could be bilingual instruction, it appeared to me then, was to ensure that Spanish-speakers who required help becoming English-speakers got the extra nudge they needed. I quickly shut up. I have since rethought my silence, thanks mostly to Twin Oaks Elementary principal Len Judd, who, unlike many of his peers, spends as much time on the playground as in his office. His sunburned nose is a giveaway that he's really involved with his charges. And he listens to their parents.
Is San Marcos a one-directional community that devalues its Spanish-speaking citizens and history? Or is it a moderately progressive bedroom community doing the best it can with a segregation that goes beyond any malign intent of the city fathers? Judging from the hostility I encountered while trying to find out more about the boundary committee, the anger about public housing, the frustration that teachers voice about bilingual resources and their unwillingness to speak up, the defensiveness whenever the issue of race is raised, it seems obvious that the community has not owned up to the lack of interest it has taken in addressing questions of race and resource allocation. The dialogue between the boundaries is just beginning. No doubt the first words will be poorly said.
A racial incident took place at San Marcos State in October of 1996. A white student insulted a black professor during a class room discussion. My impression, after reading a report on the San Marcos State Web page, was that the incident was badly handled, and the university knew that it was. When I called the public affairs department for more information, the paranoia and defensiveness on the other end of the line were still palpable, nearly two years after the incident. They suggested that if I wanted to get a “more unbiased” view of what happened I should read the Union-Tribune and North County Times articles from October 1996.
Gunderson noted that when you are in a university setting, especially one that addresses multiculturalism in its mission statement, you are going to get conflicts. No one likes to talk about race; the official American doctrine is something akin to Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition to judge a man by "the content of his character and not the color of his skin.” In the 1990s the phrase has been reversed to mean we should only talk about the content of people, and discussions that bring up issues of race are “playing the race card.”
The response I got from the university’s public affairs department — “it was blown out of proportion” — suggests that San Marcos State still doesn’t get it. Denying that there is a legitimate difference of opinion, something that Maw and Andrade have, hardly makes a dent in the daily personal refortification of callousness that ensures racism’s legacy. Ostrichlike, San Marcos manages to avoid issues of race until the moment when money is spent and boundaries are crossed.
I do not claim to be different, just foolish enough to think it might be worth talking about. I have never taken the time to climb out of my car to talk to Scarecrow Boy. When I don’t see him for a while I wonder where he has gone, how he is doing. One day driving west again on Mission I noticed two farmworkers pointing a sheriff toward the bushes at the corner of Vineyard and Mission, a stone’s throw from the Twin Oaks overpass. When I came back through the intersection 20 minutes later I was relieved that the sheriff was gone and there was no tangle of yellow tape marking off the area for investigation. I was glad that they didn’t find another brown body in the margins of development in San Marcos.