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Border Battle Is New Turf for Costa Mesa Mayor

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Times Staff Writer

The mayor of Costa Mesa looked sheepish when he appeared before a cheering crowd of anti-illegal immigration activists in January.

The son of Egyptian and Swedish immigrants, Allan Mansoor was being named “an honorary Minuteman” by members of the citizen border patrol.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 8, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 08, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Costa Mesa -- An article in Sunday’s California section about the battle over illegal immigration in Costa Mesa identified resident Martin H. Millard as H. Martin Millard.

“You are a dream come true, mayor,” said Minuteman Project cofounder Jim Gilchrist as he paid tribute.

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“I was humbled by the honor,” the mayor said later.

The event illustrated how Mansoor, once more concerned about his neighborhood’s potholes, has morphed into a darling of border activists. Now he’s best known for persuading the City Council to allow local police to enforce some immigration laws. To the mayor, the effort, approved in December, fits into his goal of reducing crime.

Immigrants’ rights advocates are alarmed, but the mayor and his longtime supporters say he’s doing nothing more than acting on campaign promises to fight crime, fix roads and reduce public funding of social service agencies.

“He is just doing what he said he would do in his campaign. It’s just getting a lot of attention,” said city resident and supporter Judi Berry.

Mansoor, 41, was elected to the City Council in 2002 and is up for reelection in November.

Immigration was not discussed as a campaign issue, but some residents were concerned that his proposals to upgrade the crowded Westside neighborhoods could affect -- or even displace -- many of the immigrants who live there.

Mansoor’s actions in the last year have been more worrisome to his critics. They say the mayor is letting outsiders use Costa Mesa to stage their battle against illegal immigration.

“I don’t like what he’s trying to do, which is to run Latinos out of this city,” said Geoff West, a retiree and Republican who runs a website called A Bubbling Cauldron that is often critical of city government.

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Throughout 2005, West and others watched as the mayor took actions that directly affected the immigrant community. In March, Mansoor led the council effort to close the Costa Mesa Job Center, which helped immigrants find work but cost the city $100,000 annually. In June, he urged the council to disband the 18-year-old human relations committee, designed to address acts of discrimination. He argued the committee cost taxpayers $3,700 annually and promoted only liberal views.

Later in the year, he proposed allowing police to check a suspect’s immigration status, an idea the Orange County sheriff began promoting the year before. The Costa Mesa proposal led to protests by immigrant advocates and the call for a boycott of city businesses.

The immigration crackdown, approved by a 3-2 council vote, was limited to checking the immigration status of felony suspects. Mansoor wanted something broader, but as he explained to Gilchrist, “It’s what I am able to do right now.”

The mayor and his supporters said the move would help control crime.

But critics said Mansoor was bowing to “requests that are not the majority of Costa Mesa residents as opposed to people from other places, even other states,” said Ivan Calderon, a city restaurateur.

Calderon and others say the mayor is taking cues from conservatives such as H. Martin Millard, a real estate broker, longtime resident and prolific writer who regularly vilifies immigrants on numerous websites. Mansoor says he appreciated Millard’s support when he ran for council. But Mansoor says he thinks for himself.

He says some of his immigration ideas were honed in his childhood. He thinks immigrants should come to the United States legally, learn English and assimilate. Many newer immigrants, he says, don’t do that.

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His father, from Egypt, and his mother, from Sweden, met at a Hilton hotel in Los Angeles, where she was a parking attendant and he ran an antiques store. The couple, both legal immigrants, had three sons.

The mayor said he learned the importance of speaking English when he was told about his grandmother, who urged her family to speak English at home rather than Swedish. He recalls being told that she would say, “We are in the United States now. We speak English.”

Born in Redwood City, Mansoor moved to Costa Mesa in 1976 and graduated from Estancia High School. After working in construction and plumbing with an older brother in Virginia, he received an associate’s degree at Coastline Community College and worked as a campus safety officer at another school. That is where he said he got the idea to become a sheriff’s deputy.

He said he bought a two-bedroom house for $147,000 on the city’s Westside 10 years ago because he couldn’t afford much else. Last year, he sold the house and rented a place in the nearby Mesa Verde neighborhood.

During his years on the Westside, he was concerned that homes there were not appreciating at the rate they were in other parts of the city. The Westside streets and sidewalks were in disrepair, and aging buildings were unsightly, he said. As a homeowner, he wanted to make changes, he said.

The Westside home created “an ownership with the city. I wanted my part of town to look like the rest of the town,” Mansoor said. Attending homeowner meetings, he met people who shared his concerns, particularly about a growing immigrant population that speaks mostly Spanish.

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Those concerned about the immigrants became supporters who helped Mansoor forge what was widely considered an unusually strong grass-roots political campaign.

Their enthusiasm was buoyed by their long-held concerns that the Westside had long been neglected by the city.

Once elected, Mansoor expressed views similar to those of former council member Chris Steel, another conservative. But Steel never created a majority voting bloc as Mansoor has.

Council member Katrina Foley said the mayor should not have considered measures to crack down on illegal immigration because the border is a federal issue and the effort could damage the city’s relations with its immigrant community.

“There was a time when all Allan Mansoor could talk about was repairing potholes. I wish we could go back to those days,” Foley said.

The mayor isn’t saying whether he’ll seek higher office someday.

“My focus is on Costa Mesa,” Mansoor said. “And continuing to do what I said I would do, which is to improve the quality of life for the residents.”

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