Contra Costa Times

Friday, June 5, 1998

Faces of East Bay Reflected in Prop. 227 Voting
The most diverse areas rejected the measure, while the less varied favored it, a trend also mirrored around the state, experts report.
By ANDREA LAMPROS, Times Staff Writer

The East Bay cities with the most immigrants, ethnic diversity and bilingual education programs voted heavily against Proposition 227 in contrast to more homogenous neighbors who favored the measure, a Times voter analysis shows.

Voters in Oakland, Richmond, San Pablo and Berkeley -- where bilingual programs are in full swing -- defeated the initiative; voters in Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and Antioch showed strong support for the measure.

The strongest vote for Prop. 227 came from the counties that have the fewest number of immigrants, said Bruce Cain, associate director of the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC-Berkeley. "That tells you that it's more of a symbolic vote than it is a vote by people who are actually affected by these programs."

Prop. 227, the brainchild of Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, won statewide with a 60.9 percent "yes" vote and a 39.1 percent "no" vote. The initiative, which was challenged in court Wednesday, would replace bilingual programs with one year of English immersion classes.

Contra Costa County mirrored the state's approval. But Alameda and San Francisco counties -- the only two to do so -- rejected the initiative by wide margins.

Political experts say demographics played a role in the outcome: more Hispanics, blacks and immigrants live west of the Caldecott Tunnel. In Contra Costa County, 77 percent of residents are white. In Alameda County, 61 percent are white.

Toni Oklan-Arko, West County's bilingual coordinator, said the vote count in her part of the county suggests that parents who have firsthand experience with bilingual programs opposed the measure.

"It displays a heightened awareness of the importance of an appropriate program for immigrant students and also a more educated electorate as to what Prop. 227 was actually saying," Oklan-Arko said.

State officials were initially surprised by Alameda County's rejection of the initiative.

Brad Clark, the county's registrar of voters, got a call at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday from the Secretary of State's Office wondering whether Alameda County officials had mistakenly juxtaposed the vote count on Prop. 227.

"She said, 'Are you sure you didn't report the 'no' votes as 'yes' votes and 'yes' votes as 'no' votes?" said Clark. "And I started laughing. I said, 'This is Alameda county. It's the rest of the state that voted wrong.'"

Exit polls from the Los Angeles Times and CNN revealed that Hispanics and blacks overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 227 -- contradicting pre-election polls that predicted Hispanics would support the measure.

The L.A. Times said 63 percent of Hispanics voted "no" on Prop. 227 while 37 percent voted "yes." Among black voters, 52 percent opposed it.

Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at Claremont University, studied Prop. 227 votes in 51 Southern California cities. He found a direct correlation between the numbers of Hispanic voters and opposition to the initiative.

"It really shows a disjuncture between the political leadership in the state and the electorate," said Pachon. "Every major gubernatorial candidate and major newspaper and educational association said this is not a good initiative and yet we had a 61 percent vote for it."

Although support for the measure's approval ratings in polls dropped by about 10 percent just before the election, victory was rarely in question.

The No campaign had veteran political consultant Richie Ross and more cash on its side. The campaign featured the four major political gubernatorial candidates' opposition to Prop. 227 in its final TV ads.

Why couldn't opponents make a dent?

Cain called it an upstream battle.

"The key (campaign) issue was one of local control," Cain said. "But that's not nearly as sexy as the importance of the English language -- there's more of a gut feeling in that."

Gerald Hayward, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, said many voters supported the initiative because they want public school children to learn English more quickly and efficiently. They believed that Prop. 227 would implement a better method for limited English speaking children. But, he said, some voters had less lofty motives.

"It's that there is still some anti-immigrant spirit in the state," Hayward said. "And some voters were undoubtedly motivated by that."