By Kara Roa
San Dimas is a small city, and, for those who don’t know, it is nestled unassumingly on the outskirts of Los Angeles County. It’s a quaint town humbly renowned for its friendly cul-de-sacs and well-attended family parks. In years past, the town has been notoriously quiet — so quiet that it has earned the nickname “Sleepy San Dimas” by its own residents and those who travel to the city.
But recently, a wave of political and social unrest has risen to the city’s corners, fueled both by a worldwide pandemic and an increasingly partisan political ecosystem. This strife has led to residents vocalizing their concerns in any way possible — from flooding the phone lines of city officials to taking to the streets for a multi-city march. There is no doubt that this has been a unique bout of uproar for the historically tranquil city.
Surpassing Nationwide Trends
In the 2020 general election, the United States saw an increase in voter participation from 2016 of about 7.5 percentage points — the highest voter participation in more than 100 years.
In 2020, 66.7 percent of eligible voters participated in the general election in the U.S. California was incrementally higher at 68.5 percent, while LA County spiked at 75.97 percent.
In San Dimas, about 83.67 percent of eligible voters participated in the general election — 17 percentage points more than the national rate.
According to the California Secretary of State, San Dimas also has one of the highest percentages of registered Republicans in California at 36.3%, with a strikingly close number of Democrats sitting at 35.8% — a split that can be felt throughout the city in tense election times.
However, the recent presidential election shows that despite this nearly even split of its 33,621 residents, San Dimas’ registered voters crossed party lines, leading to an uptick in Democratic votes — continuing a trend that began in 2016.
Prior to this Democratic swing, San Dimas voted Republican in both 2008 and 2012 against President Barack Obama.
During the 2020 presidential election, 49.5% of San Dimas’ votes were cast for Democratic candidate Joe Biden and nearly 46.9% were cast for Republican candidate Donald Trump. The margin was even smaller in 2016 with 45.7% for Hilary Clinton and 44.8% for Donald Trump.
That means in just four years, the number of votes earned by a Democratic presidential candidate increased by nearly four percentage points.
A Community Rarely In Revolt
Current San Dimas City Councilmember Denis Bertone remembers only one time in recent history when the city was as restless: the 1986 Bonelli Park civic unrest. Bertone patiently shared his own experience with civic activism in San Dimas as both a resident and the longest current sitting councilmember.
“The County of Los Angeles was trying to commercialize Bonelli Park by putting all sorts of types of activities in there like a hotel and restaurants, an amphitheatre and everything. The community really rose up against this.”
The Coalition to Save Bonelli Park, of which Bertone was a co-chairman, showed up to protect the area from commercialization prior to his election to city council. When asked about the resurgence of civic engagement, Bertone expressed his pleasure at increased involvement of citizens to the most local form of government, yet expressed doubt that these events are specific to San Dimas but instead reflective of the political climate of 2020.
Both Sides of the Aisle
After more than 30 years of slumber, from Bertone’s point of view, San Dimas has deemed that political climate reason enough to break silence.
On Aug. 22, during one of the peaks of unrest, protestors gathered for a Freedom Rally under a wooden “Welcome to San Dimas” sign on the corner of Arrow Highway and Bonita Avenue.
A wagon with the words “Pioneering a New Era” rested peacefully in the background.
Surrounding that wagon: a sea of red, white and blue clothing worn by a multitude of people with signs for a host of candidates and causes. In the front of the crowd, a red, homemade banner spanned the entire street corner. It read “Donald Trump 2020,” hand-painted in bold, white letters. At the height of the rally, over 200 were in attendance.
A few months later, post-presidential election, a new, smaller rally gathered at the same welcome sign in November with new signs reading “Stop the Steal.”
The messaging was clear: stop Democrats from “stealing” the election. A bold claim — one not unique to San Dimas — considering courts across the country have so far overwhelmingly denied lawsuits from Republican parties pushing for the presidential results to be overturned. More than 50 lawsuits in total were submitted.
Nevertheless, these San Dimas residents were just one group of countless who had rallied in solidarity for this cause throughout the country.
Organizers of the pro-Trump rally were unwilling to go on record with San Dimas Community Post, citing concerns over keeping their identities safe. But the general message of most people in the crowd was the same: they wanted a fair election, no illegal ballots and those responsible for any potential voter fraud to be held accountable.
With one of the largest Republican populations in LA County, San Dimas has been home to traveling “Freedom Rally” and “Stop the Steal” events. These protests are a hallmark of the Trump presidential campaign and have been echoed throughout the nation with accompanying signs of “Back the Blue,” “Protect the Children” and the California-specific “Recall Newsom.”
Before the election, on Oct. 16, at the steps of San Dimas City Hall, a different group gathered for the “March for Change, Dance for Freedom” event. The event hosted a smaller group of people who gathered at City Hall to march from San Dimas to La Verne and back.
Kirk Kranzer, who can give nostalgic descriptions of his storied past as a youth growing up in 1967 San Dimas, was one of the organizers of the “March for Change” event.
A product of a proud Republican father and engaged Democrat mother, registered independent Kranzer has remained involved in city events and the community. He was recently motivated to work with San Dimas residents to create a self-described “homegrown” event with the goal of giving another voice to the city.
He described the event as a way for locals to voice concerns and show their patriotism through marching for what they believe in — to provide representation for both sides of San Dimas.
“I think people out in the streets actually does something. You know, I know people on the right like to say ‘Oh, you know rioters and looters.’ But, that’s not who’s out in the streets protesting. It’s people who want to make a difference.”
Fellow organizer and San Dimas resident Rosita Sanchez, a self-described army brat and wife, expressed sadness at not being able to fly her American flag without becoming affiliated with the Republican party rather than just being patriotic.
“When I see flags at a rally, I mean it’s great. It’s great. I love it. I love seeing the American flag being waved around. What I don’t like is people that think that one side or the other is less patriotic. We are all Americans. We all value the flag,” Sanchez said.
“When we did the ‘March for Change, Dance for Freedom’ rally, we just wanted people to know that we are here. You’re not alone if you feel the way that we feel, which is all inclusive, black lives matter. We have to rally against the divisiveness and kind of start bringing people together again.”
Sanchez couldn’t help but end on a note of concern for all of the people who surround her, regardless of their political affiliation.
“This has been a very divisive four years, and it’s terrible because we’re neighbors.”
Maydeen Merino contributed to this story.