Costa Mesa Softens Policy on Aid to Aliens

Times Staff Writer

When the Costa Mesa City Council voted last month to bar city money from social service agencies that serve illegal aliens, the Orange County municipality received nationwide publicity it had not sought and a policy it could not implement.

Now the council has reversed itself--sort of--and asked the agencies to abide by the policy voluntarily.

"The problem with passing policies that are ill-conceived is that they are virtually impossible to implement, and that is what we are seeing," said Councilwoman Mary Hornbuckle, who asked the council to rescind the measure entirely.

But Councilman Orville Amburgey argued that making the policy voluntary would virtually scuttle it.

"To ask organizations to voluntarily invoke the policy if they desire will mean little or no compliance and is somewhat ridiculous," Amburgey said.

The motion late Tuesday night to make the policy voluntary was made by Mayor Peter Buffa and backed by Hornbuckle and Councilwoman Sandra L. Genis. Amburgey and Councilman Ed Glasgow opposed the motion.

Last month, Buffa--the son of Italian immigrants--supported the ban on aid for illegal aliens. But when it became apparent that the council could not agree on how the measure should be implemented, he argued that it would be unfair to hold up funding for groups until details could be worked out.

Social service workers applauded Tuesday's vote.

"This is a great victory," said Jean Forbath, executive director of Share Our Selves, a nonprofit agency that gives food, clothing and health services to the poor. "I agree that the current policy is dead, in part, because agencies have let the council know we would not sign (city grant) contracts that included the policy."

Said Scott Mather, chairman of both the Share Our Selves board and the Homeless Issues Task Force: "It was an ill-conceived policy and when the city sat down and looked at it, it saw it was an unworkable policy. I commend the city in reevaluating its position, and hopefully it will think through future policies and not subject us to this divisiveness."

Costa Mesa is a community where elected officials once proposed--in all seriousness--that the United States buy Baja California in a humanitarian gesture to promote commerce and ethnic harmony. But supporters of the ban on aid for illegal aliens said the city's reputation for charity and moderation has made it a magnet for illegal aliens.

"When we tell them we will feed and clothe and house them, we unintentionally encourage them to sneak across the border," Amburgey contended.

The August vote drew not only outcries from social service agencies but also attention from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which announced it would review the Costa Mesa policy to determine if it violated federal anti-discrimination rules. Last month the city awarded $121,350 in HUD Community Development block grant funds to 35 public service organizations.

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