Seaside Is Embracing Diversity, Creating Opportunity

By McKibben, Carol Lynn | Public Management, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Seaside Is Embracing Diversity, Creating Opportunity


McKibben, Carol Lynn, Public Management


"Because of its diversity [of ethnic groups], Seaside, California, has sometimes been referred to as 'Little Chicago,'" wrote Donald Thomas Clark in his 1991 book, Monterey County Place Names, A Geographical Dictionary. That was also written about Seaside in the 1930s, but it still holds true today. Seaside is a quintessentially diverse city fighting for a new image. Thanks to creative new strategies by City Manager Ray Corpuz and Seaside's city councilmembers, it is achieving that image.

Beginning in the 1920s, racially restrictive clauses in real estate deeds that kept particular minority groups from owning or renting property, together with less formal but equally effective customary exclusions, slowly forced Mexicans, Filipinos, and many Asians and African Americans out of Monterey proper, out of Carmel, Pebble Beach, and even Pacific Grove and into what was becoming, for many reasons, the less developed margins of the city of Monterey--the subdivision of Seaside.

Poverty and color became synonymous with Seaside in the minds of most Monterey Peninsula residents in the years between 1915 and 1940. And then Fort Ord arrived--for better and for worse.

The mixed ethnic and racial population of soldiers, veterans, and their families who arrived with the establishment of Fort Ord in 1917 and the fort's rapid expansion during the 1940s added to the ethnically and racially diverse demographic landscape of Seaside. It also added to the perception that Seaside and Fort Ord were intertwined, almost symbiotic.

The relationship was a complex mixture of positive and negative, and the August 12, 1941, issue of the Seaside News-Graphic reported, "The biggest breadbasket the peninsula has ever had is Fort Ord .... and we in [Seaside] are the nearest [to] the head of the table where that bread is coming from."

STAGES OF CHANGE

Seaside, which incorporated in 1954, adopted the council-manager form of government and benefited from such forward-thinking city managers as Gordon Forrest, Charles McNeely, and now Ray Corpuz who have created both stability and growth despite sometimes turbulent politics.

In spite of the money brought in by its proximity to and relationship with the military base, all of the negative connotations of being a military town--violent crime, drugs, prostitution--were in place in Seaside by the time of the outbreak of World War II and only intensified in the postwar years and all the way into the 1990s. The positive aspects of community development and coalition building across racial and ethnic lines on everything from politics and culture, to social life and economic growth were overlooked by the local media and in the other communities of the Monterey Peninsula.

And then, in a few short years, the reality changed. Fort Ord ceased to function as an active training base in 1992. By 1994, the exodus of people who were closely connected to the economy of the base, including soldiers and their families, support personnel, and small-business owners, left Seaside in a state of economic, political, and social turmoil and disarray.

In addition, budget cuts at the state and federal levels that affected local governments everywhere and turned them into competitors for meager federal and state funds left Seaside struggling with altogether new economic and demographic realities. A new population of mostly immigrant Latinos streamed into Seaside in the 1990s, displacing African Americans from their traditional jobs in the service industry that had been the cornerstone of the peninsula economy.

The new Latino residents bought property in Seaside that had once been owned by African Americans, and they made their presence felt in schools and in all aspects of city life. "Is this America, baby?" one bewildered African-American community leader asked rhetorically in 2005.

Census data showed a population decline in Seaside from 38, 901 in 1990 to 31, 696 in 2000 and, more important, a dramatic shift in the racial and ethnic composition of Seaside's population. …

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