By Joseph Serna, Staff Writer
Signal Hill’s Day Laborer Site construction at the Cherry Avenue Home Depot is ahead of schedule, according to Community Development Director Gary Jones.
When the site was approved by the City Council at the May 8 meeting, City Manager Ken Farfsing had proposed a two-part, 60-day transition phase for day laborers to move from the property on the southwest corner of Cherry Avenue and Crescent Heights Street to the new site across the street adjacent to the Home Depot parking lot.
However, as Jones described it, city staff was enthusiastic with the project and things began to move quickly. Instead of a mid-July completion, he predicted construction, with signage being the biggest hurdle, being completed sometime in June.
Staff is developing signs directing day laborers and potential employers to the new site in both English and Spanish.
The site, which adjoins fencing from an oil well on the Signal Hill Petroleum property, serves dual purposes.
The 4- and 6-foot fencing profiling the site will assemble the laborers in a central location, making it easier for employers to find workers. Also, the location gives clear boundaries to where the day laborers can and cannot solicit for work—there should not be anymore swarming of vehicles on nearby streets.
The laborers can be cited for trespassing if they are caught soliciting work on the Home Depot property.
The site, accommodating a Police Department estimate of 25 to 35 day laborers, will have three benches, two trashcans, one portable toilet and one entrance/exit point.
The day laborer’s location will be on Signal Hill Petroleum property neighboring the Home Depot Garden Center and the parking lot and is expected to cost $3,000 annually in maintenance.
The site incurs $19,500 in one time start-up costs for traffic signal modifications and traffic calming measures. Working with Long Beach, the traffic signals at Crescent Heights Street and Cherry Avenue would limit Town Center’s east exit to left and right turns only, and add red curbing through the neighborhood.
More than $9,000 of the project’s total cost has been donated in fencing, benches and trash receptacles.
Though creating the site is taking relatively short time, the city’s path to this conclusion took considerably longer.
The ball started rolling May 23, 2006, when City Council approved creating a Day Laborer Committee to review issues the workers caused and recommend ways to resolve residents’ and the workers’ concerns.
The committee consisted of neighborhood residents Dough Lewis and Brett Rohring, Home Depot store management, Signal Hill Petroleum and Signal Hill office center representatives, and city staff, including the city attorney and chief of police.
To no one’s surprise, resolving the potentially divisive issue had its complexities.
The committee relied heavily on a 2006 UCLA report titled “On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States,” to frame Signal Hill’s day laborer issues.
One of the report’s conclusions was day laborers are a permanent feature of the economy—due mostly to a do-it-yourself movement of homeowners seeking assistance for their improvement projects and general contractors trying to hold down prices.
The study estimated three-quarters of day laborers are illegal immigrants, while acknowledging there is debate on that very label.
Noting that day laborers sometimes suffered various work abuses, such as dangerous working conditions, being underpaid, or not allowed basic labor standards such as food, water or breaks, the committee sought an answer that could resolve these issues as well.
Signal Hill has to walk a fine line.
Cities have faced lawsuits for going too far in denying day laborers a right to solicit work, such as Redondo Beach where the city passed an ordinance prohibiting employment solicitation on public streets and sidewalks. The city now faces paying plaintiffs $208,000.
Or in Herndon, Va., where residents sued the city after it authorized public funds to establish a day laborer hire center. In that case, plaintiffs are arguing the city was harboring illegal immigrants. The case is pending.
So far, Signal Hill seems to be walking the line.
At the May 8 meeting, five people spoke, five people supported the city’s effort.
Amelia Nieto, program director of Centro Shalom, a kind of day laborer resource center, spoke on behalf of the day laborers.
“It was really nice to be proactive,” she said of the city’s effort. “The fact that these workers’ input was solicited, it was nice to work together.”
By Joseph Serna, Staff Writer