After 100 years, Daly City reflects on history of diversity

Just days after celebrating his own birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, councilman Mike Guingona and the rest of Daly City awaited another milestone.

But as Daly City nears its centennial Tuesday, it does so as a greatly different city than when it was first founded.

Starting as a safe haven for refugees displaced after San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, Daly City has evolved into a complex city of its own, becoming, among other things, home to an immense Filipino population.

In many ways, Guingona — the city’s first elected official of Filipino ancestry and the county’s first Filipino mayor — helped usher in the new political reality for the city nestled against San Francisco’s southern border.

“It was an interesting time back then,” said Guingona, a Daly City resident for all of his 49 years, recalling his childhood and the steady growth of his Filipino community. “Community empowerment equals political empowerment, and that’s how I came to be.”

Seeking to define a community in the 1970s, Guingona and other residents rallied behind their families and churches, weaving their culture and eventually businesses into the city’s fabric.

Reaching back to his boyhood, Guingona recalled the founding of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church — an operation that stemmed from Filipino nationals feeling out of place in surrounding parishes, and establishing their own place of worship in a hardware store.

From the hardware store, Guingona and other worshipers moved to a cafeteria at Serramonte High School. Through heavy fundraising, the booming Filipino community established St. Andrew’s and brought in Filipino priests who conducted masses in Tagalog.

“The community realized that nobody was going to build this church for them,” Guingona said. “So we built it ourselves.”

In 1911, the sleepy town was incorporated into San Mateo County on March 22, four days after the townsmen raced to the polls to decide the issue. With the election taking place before woman’s suffrage, Daly City’s incorporation was close — with 138 men voting for and 136 voting against becoming its own city, according to the March 24, 1911, edition of the Colma Record.

In the following decades, Daly City’s modest population steadily grew from 3,779 in 1920 to 15,191 by 1950. The once quiet farm community inhabited by earthquake refugees nearly tripled its residents a decade later, recording 44,791 inhabitants, according to a state historical population report.

With about 35 percent of its current 101,123 population being Filipino, Daly City is one of the largest cities in the county and has the highest concentration of Filipino and Filipino-Americans of any American midsized city in the United States, author Benito Vergara said.

Vergara studied Daly City’s Filipino community for nearly four years before publishing “Pinoy Capital: the Filipino Nation in Daly City” in 2009.

“The reason they liked it was not because it was cold, but there were other Filipino that were there,” Vergara said, citing that many new residents were homesick for the friendships created back in their native land.

Vergara cites the passing of the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1965 as easing the path for people to immigrate and work in the U.S., ushering the first wave of Filipino immigration to Daly City.

Seton Medical Center, for instance, started recruiting nurses from The Philippines shortly after 1965. Other Daly City employers began recruiting working professionals from The Philippines around that time as well. By the 1970s, Filipino workers began petitioning for relatives back home to join them in Daly City, creating a “chain migration,” Vergara said. Another wave came in the mid-1980s, during the fall of Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos.

“The beauty about this place is that it’s truly a melting pot,” Guingona said. “I want to make sure that when I leave office, it’s better than when I got here.”

Deficit rains on birthday celebration

The economic downturn has rained on Daly City’s parade.

For its 75th birthday, Daly City pulled out all the stops, topped off with a grand parade.

This year however, the city will mark its 100th birthday in more modest fashion.

On Tuesday, City Hall will host a cake-cutting ceremony, featuring the Police Department color guard debut and a musical performance by the Daly City All-Stars band.

“We just don’t have the money,” Assistant City Manager Joseph Curran said.

At a Feb. 28 meeting, city finance director Don McVey sounded the budget alarm, noting the 2009 general fund deficit of nearly $3 million.

Daly City entered 2011 facing a $1,180,574 general fund deficit.

“It is a very serious condition that we find ourselves in,” City Manager Patricia Martel said.

Property tax — Daly City’s major revenue source — continues to be slow to recover. The sluggish economy and rising California Public Employees’ Retirement System rates are contributing to an estimated $2,129,427 general cash deficit by mid-2012.

Projected deficits could reach a high of nearly $3.7 million by fiscal year 2014.

But while Daly City stares down the barrel of a bare-bones budget, councilman Mike Guingona sees some signs of hope.

“I see it getting better,” Guingona said. “But I don’t see it to the point to where the after-school program is free … I don’t see it being free again.”

— Alexis Terrazas

Fun historical facts

Father of the city: John D. Daly, a local farmer who opened his lands to displaced earthquake refugees in 1906

Artichoke Row: Original name of Westlake area before it was developed by Henry Doelger

First settlers: The Ohlone people

City aliases: The Gateway to the Peninsula, Fog Town

Modesto by the Sea: How famed newspaper columnist Herb Caen described Daly City

Source: Daly City attorney Paul Constantino, Kubota & Constantino

2010 demographics

Total population: 101,123

White: 23,842

Black: 3,600

American Indian and Alaska Native: 404

Asian: 56,267

Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander:

Other races: 11,236

Two or more races: 4,969

Hispanic or Latino: 23,929

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Centennial festivities


Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: City Hall, 333 90th St.

Festivities: Kickoff ceremonies include a cake-cutting ceremony, the city’s Police Department color guard debut and a musical performance by the Daly City All-Stars band. Modest festivities celebrating the city’s 100th birthday will be held throughout the year.

Source: Daly City City Hall

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