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SANTA PAULA : Work Ethic Carried Urias to Mayoralty

As a boy laboring in the farm fields and lemon groves of Santa Paula, Alfonso Urias learned how to work hard. And that ethic has helped propel him to a leadership role in his community.

“My whole family went to the fields,” said Urias, who was selected Santa Paula mayor by his City Council colleagues this month.

Born into humble surroundings in Los Angeles, Urias, 67, came with his family to Ventura County in search of farm work. They settled in the agricultural city of Santa Paula, where Urias said he began working in the fields at the age of 5.

Urias left Santa Paula High School before graduating and joined the Army Air Force, which took him to Europe and the Pacific Northwest in the midst of World War II. When he returned, he landed a job as a dispatcher at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, which eventually led to a position as a patrolman with the Ventura Police Department.

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“When I started at the Police Department, the Buenaventura Mall was just a tomato patch,” said Urias.

In those days, about 1952, Urias said he was one of the only Latinos on the force and “had to swallow a lot of stuff” from some of his Anglo counterparts.

But Urias put many of his colleagues on notice that racial discrimination was not acceptable, a stance that coincided with civil rights reforms in the mid-1960s.

After leaving the department in 1968, Urias, who eventually earned a high school diploma and a college degree, went to Sacramento and worked for the community college system in a minority recruitment program.

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Recently, Urias sharply criticized a proposal by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) to deny citizenship to Latino babies born in the United States of immigrant parents.

Perhaps the most hard-fought issue for Urias and the City Council is whether to allow the county to build a new jail in a 157-acre lemon grove at the western entrance to the city.

The land, designated an agricultural greenbelt, is protected from development. But county officials say they need to build on the land because their present facility is overcrowded.

Urias and other council members disagreed, saying there are better places to build a jail.

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