Malibu, home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, recently took a step to protect some of the country's most vulnerable people, its city council — urged on by actor Martin Sheen — last month declaring the California beach community a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
It wasn't long before some one responded to this announcement with a racist prank.
On Tuesday, those driving up the Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu were greeted with an official-looking sign announcing that the city was a sanctuary — with the following italicized commentary:
"Cheap Nannies and Gardeners Make Malibu Great! (Boyle Heights Not So Much)."
“To make a derogatory comment about that place is very childish and inappropriate. I’m embarrassed by that,” Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak told The Los Angeles Times. “We have a lot of immigrants who work in Malibu. It’s probably the majority of the employees here.”
What does the sign really mean?
Boyle Heights is a land-locked neighborhood in East Los Angeles that's 94 percent Latino — basically the polar opposite of 89 percent white Malibu — with a median household income of just $33,235, according to The Los Angeles Times. Over half its residents were born outside the United States; what the unofficial sign in Malibu is playing off is the perception that, because of its demographics — because of the immigrants — Boyle Heights is an undesirable place to be, ridden with crime and "third-world" poverty.
While Boyle Heights experiences more violent crime than the average Los Angeles neighborhood, Malibu actually has a far higher rate of property crime, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times.
It's certainly safe enough for it to now be the scene of the latest battle over gentrification — that is, better off, predominantly white people seeing a mix of affordable housing, access to public transit, and proximity to jobs and entertainment in downtown. This has spurred protests from community organizers, who see their new neighbors — and their art galleries — as driving up the cost of living and, consequently, threatening to displace the less well-off who came before.
Another popular falsehood told about undocumented immigrants is that they're a burden on taxpayers. In fact, they pay billions of dollars in taxes to Social Security, a program helping to ensure U.S. citizens have money for retirement. In fact, it's the wealthiest U.S. citizens who are arguably the largest beneficiaries of public handouts, the transfer of wealth obscured by the fact that these handouts often take the form of tax cuts and exemptions — and, in Malibu, firefighting.
Wildfires are a natural fact of life, but as historian Mike Davis noted in his essay, "Let Malibu Burn," for decades the state of California and the federal government have invested billions of dollars into protecting mansions that shouldn't have been built from going up in flames.
The offending sign, meanwhile, was removed Tuesday evening and the LA County Sheriff's Department is currently investigating the incident.
“This was not an official city sign,” Malibu Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s down, and it’s very disheartening that anyone would put up such an ugly sign.”