Love Her, Hate Her : Encinitas Official’s Stance on Aliens Stirs Dispute

Times Staff Writer

Encinitas Councilwoman Marjorie Gaines is barnstorming about her rural Olivenhain home, mixing up a batch of vittles for her brood of hungry animals.

All 41 of them. That’s five horses and a pony, a pair of finicky geese, four dogs and a cat, 26 fantailed pigeons and an 18-year-old parrot named Ichabod.

And don’t forget about Nebraska, the box turtle. Plucked from a lonely stretch of Midwestern road after being bashed by a passing truck, the turtle is just one of the strays Gaines has brought into her fold.


“I just love animals,” she confided. “And lots of times they need homes, so I take them in. They become companions to me.”

Everybody’s Grandmother

At 58, Gaines is everybody’s grandmother. With her nine grandchildren and five grown kids, the former Girl Scout leader and Cub Scout den mother still finds time to serve on the City Council--after the animals are fed, of course.

Around Encinitas, she’s earned a reputation as a down-home, no-nonsense politician who always speaks her mind--an influential woman who became the newly incorporated city’s first mayor in 1986, receiving more votes than the next two candidates combined.

With Gaines, every dispute is a potential barn-burner, but there is one issue that particularly stokes her--that of the migrant workers who share her beloved Encinitas, the thousands of Latinos who live and work in the fertile fields near her home.

Gaines insists that many migrant laborers are here illegally, bringing with them crime, unchecked diseases such as tuberculosis, casting a Third World cloud over the scenic seaside city.

Among migrant advocates, her outspoken views have given Gaines a decidedly less-grandmotherly reputation. She’s known as a short-sighted, even mean-spirited, politician whose views on migrant workers border on racism.


She’s the councilwoman who told a packed council chamber that the illegals should be “eradicated.” Seconds later, however, Gaines corrected herself to say she meant the squalid camps that workers had built in the covered brush of local ravines.

She also reportedly said at another meeting that the illegals should be “bused back to TJ.” Gaines denies ever uttering the phrase.

The Rev. Rafael Martinez, executive director of North County Chaplaincy, a social service group for domestic and migrant Latino laborers, is concerned over Gaines’ public pronouncements.

“Only a person with racist feelings can become so upset about a particular ethnic group,” he said. “The feeling of many people is that what comes out of your mouth is what’s in your heart and mind. You can’t just pull it back, say you’re sorry.

“Quite frankly, a seasoned public official, speaking to a packed house on a sensitive issue, doesn’t make that kind of blunder or mistake. To say she didn’t mean it is just a lot of baloney.”

Gaines’ stand on the migrant issue has even divided fellow members of Encinitas City Council. Meetings at which the subject has arisen often become a North County version of the Fourth of July.


“Marjorie functions in a black-and-white world,” said Encinitas Mayor Anne Omsted. “Unfortunately, the issue of migrant workers and amnesty and people looking for work on the streets isn’t so simple. It can’t be as one-dimensional as ‘us versus them.’

“We’ve been informed by Border Patrol agents, people who know, that 80% of these people are in this country legally. But Marjorie refuses to face that. The reality is that cities have an obligation to citizens living within their borders, regardless of their economic status or ethnic background.

“But many times Marjorie’s emotional stance drags a lot of unnecessary baggage to the argument. And the issue of people living in rotten living conditions gets obscured.”

Steadfast Views

But Gaines sees things her own way. Each day, she spots the men in tattered clothes in search of work, lined up along the road near the corner of Rancho Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Boulevard. And she worries.

“I wonder where they’re spending the night,” she said. “I’ve been told it’s in the bushes along a nearby creek. And I wonder how long it’ll be before we have the next fire there.”

The workers, she says, are responsible for a lot more than fires. She believes their presence contributes to crime in the area, tainting the small-town atmosphere Encinitas has strived to preserve.


She herself was touched by that crime when two illegal aliens tried to break into her house two years ago, Gaines said.

The migrants also defecated on a neighbor’s lawn, and in one instance, she said, invited prostitutes there for a nighttime orgy, she said.

In all, they have inspired more complaints from citizens, more angry calls to her house, than any other issue, she said. Over the past several years, more than 100 residents have phoned complaints--five times more than any other issue, she said.

She listens closely to each and every complaint. Because these migrants, “from Central or South America or wherever they come,” are not the type of strays Marjorie Gaines wants to bring into her fold.

Afraid of Word of Mouth

She blames the churches and community groups for bringing many of them here, for offering the workers food and clothing--spreading the word south of the border that Encinitas is an easy mark for a free handout.

And there lies another point of contention between Gaines and migrant advocates. Blaming area social service groups for the invasion of homeless workers, Martinez said, is absurd.


“Once a week, a group of ladies goes to where these hungry men are waiting and distributes 150 little bags containing a sandwich, some fruit and a can of pop,” he said.

“It’s amazing, a person of her intelligence doesn’t know a damn thing about the program. To even imply that people come from Central America to eat that sandwich once a week is incredible.”

Moreover, events of recent weeks suggest that the city has anything but a reputation as an easy mark for migrant laborers.

Last month, a migrant advocacy group sued Encinitas on behalf of six workers who could not find suitable housing in the coastal city of 50,000 residents, which is dominated by single-family homes.

Days later, the California Department of Housing and Community Development also notified the city that its housing element--a document which, in part, outlines plans for future housing development for the poor--has not met state standards.

Defends City Action

Typical to her style, however, Gaines isn’t taking the matter sitting down.

She defends the city’s General Plan and believes Encinitas is doing its share to promote different types of housing than the standard single-family dwelling, efforts few have given credit for. The city, for example, has cleared the way for 44 apartment units each year for the past two years.


The lawsuit contends, for example, that Encinitas hasn’t located land on which to build an emergency shelter for the homeless.

“How many cities in San Diego County have such a shelter?” Gaines said. “We’re a 2 1/2-year-old city and they’re asking us to do things 25-year-old cities haven’t done.

“One reason they’ve targeted Encinitas is they don’t believe we have the resources to fight this lawsuit. They think they can get an easy victory over a young city and set a legal precedent. Well, they’re wrong.”

Encinitas isn’t the only one being singled out, Gaines said. The councilwoman believes she has been unfairly labeled as some cold-blooded exterminator.

“These advocates are perfectly free to call me a racist or whatever,” she said. “Rev. Martinez has no clue as to what I’m like, who I am. He’s seen me at a meeting. But he doesn’t know me from Adam.”

And what about the eradicate line?

“I never meant to suggest to do what Hitler did. But these people have latched onto that word like it was gold. They don’t care about the truth, never tried to be fair, because they’re only concerned with pursuing their own agenda.


“It’s a revolutionary, socialistic type of thing, asking the U.S. government to take care of anybody and everybody who comes across our border. Because, apparently, these people want us to build new houses for them and for their families when they arrive, something we can’t do for many of our own citizens.

“A green card isn’t a free ticket to welfare, it doesn’t mean you’re a citizen yet. We’re spending thousands of dollars to take care of this migrant problem and do you know where the money is coming from? It’s coming out of the pocket of the average Joe Citizen.”

Against Free Handouts

There’s a big difference, she says, between being a racist and holding strong beliefs against free handouts.

“The true test of a person’s racial prejudices is whether or not their children are allowed to go on interracial dates,” she said. “My children were allowed to date whoever they wished. And did.”

And for years, Gaines said, her stepfather and mother have subsidized a Mexican family who rented the other half of their Pasadena duplex, maintaining the rent at $150 for the past nine years.

“If I wanted to put a stop to that,” she said, “I could have.”

Today’s migrant labor controversy isn’t so different from the issue that brought Gaines into the political arena 30 years ago. In a way, they’re both battles of turf.


Back then, as a housewife living in West Covina, pregnant with her fifth child, she helped fight a proposed apartment complex development that would have ruined the neighborhood’s single-family atmosphere she had come to cherish.

Gaines beat the developers. But a few years later, she and husband Frank--a retired Los Angeles police officer who now runs a pair of North County private security firms--moved to rural Encinitas to escape such big-city hassles.

For more than two years, the couple lived in a trailer off Lone Jack Road while they built the house of their dreams, an expansive ranch-style home intended as a place for the grandchildren to congregate.

Marjorie herself pieced together the huge stone fireplace, scouring the surrounding countryside for just the right hunks of granite, basalt and porcelain before hauling many of them to the roof atop a rickety house ladder.

For a while, she was an Encinitas volunteer firefighter, perched behind the wheel of a big engine on its way to a blaze. She even tried worm farming, tilling the rich soil right there in her own back yard.

Call to Politics

But politics wouldn’t leave Gaines alone. The call came in the form of an invitation to a meeting of the San Dieguito citizens’ planning group. Gaines eventually became a member of the group. A decade later, she became mayor of Encinitas.


“If you don’t take part in the planning of your community, you give up your voice,” she said, sitting at her tear-shaped kitchen table, her eyes shining a deep blue.

“And that’s about the worst thing you can do.”

Strangely, common ground does exist between Gaines and migrant advocates in creating solutions to North County’s farm worker crisis.

Both believe that major growers should be allowed to erect trailers to house some full-time workers. Gaines would also like to see a hiring hall built in Encinitas for documented migrants to gather and seek work.

Gaines, however, probably won’t be around to initiate much of that. She’s considering another tenure as mayor before retiring from politics for good.

Then she can spend her days acting like a real grandmother--baking things, wiping her hands on her apron when the passel of grandchildren arrives.

But for now, she’ll do her best to live up to the image of the local schoolgirl who sent Gaines a hand-drawn portrait.


The picture shows a statue of Gaines standing above an inscription: “Mother and Protector of Encinitas.”

And when it comes to protecting her adopted home, Marjorie Gaines is like the two geese who run nervously about her front yard.

“If there’s anything different, even a misplaced hose, they walk around it suspiciously, checking it out,” she said of her pets.

“Because neither of them likes any sudden change, not one bit.”