The Santa Monica City Council asked city staff Tuesday, August 9th, to look into the prospect of creating a day laborer center after residents complained that day laborers who wait for work on the sidewalk are a nuisance.

Linda Rider, a Santa Monica resident who has lived on 11th Street for 17 years, said too many day laborers congregate on the 11th Street sidewalk between Colorado Avenue and Olympic Boulevard.

Day laborers seek work by waiting for a contractor or homeowner to drive by, pick them up and pay them for work done that day.

“A lot of people who use day laborers are contractors and homeowners who want something moved, fixed or done,” said mayor pro tem Herb Katz.

“They will go somewhere and pick up laborers for the day and there is a certain amount they will pay.”

Day laborers wait in open, public spaces near home improvement stores, lumberyards or construction and contractor businesses.

“The local residents have noticed disturbing and disruptive behavior,” Rider said.

“For instance, the day laborers have been caught urinating on the sidewalks and in private gardens,” Rider alleged.

“There have been arrests for selling and using drugs, drinking alcohol and gambling, and there is even a police report of rape,” she claimed.

She requested a “no loitering” zone in the area and circulated a petition among nearby residents and businesses urging the City Council to create such a zone.

“I have seen for many years the negative interaction between day laborers and other people who live and travel in the area,” said Santa Monica resident Charles Buenan.

“In the mornings, 150 to 175 people are out there waiting and this is too many people in one small area without any restroom facilities,” said Santa Monica resident Gene Griffith.

Rider said city staff sent a memo indicating that the city would not create a “no loitering” zone.

She said the other alternative would be for the city to create and fund a day laborer center.

“The day laborer center on Exposition Boulevard in West Los Angeles is very successful,” Rider said.

“I am sympathetic to what has been said here tonight,” said councilmember Bobby Shriver.

“We should find financing to manage day laborers in a professional way and a center seems like a reasonable idea.”

While city staff looks at ways to create such a center, Rider and other residents want city officials to establish interim measures that would include:

– posting signs that advise motorists not to pick up day laborers;

– stipulating that if day laborers are not picked up in a timely manner, they cannot loiter on the sidewalk;

– requiring businesses that benefit from day laborers to provide portable toilets on business property; and

– ordering the Santa Monica Police Department to make daytime, hourly patrols in the area.

“I can’t imagine declaring any one corner a loiter-free zone,” said Santa Monica resident and political activist Jerry Rubin.

“If more people are out there looking for work, we have less people holding signs that say ‘Will work for food.’

“If all these bad things are happening, they would be easy to correct because they are illegal already.”

City officials previously attempted to create a day laborer center but were unsuccessful for financial reasons.

The city wanted a center years ago because a depressed economy and unemployment put more day laborers outside looking for work.

“We did a considerable amount of work looking at alternatives a number of years ago that coincided with the economic downturn,” said city manager Susan McCarthy.

“Regrettably, we were not able to come up with either the level of business support which some communities have enjoyed for the creation of a center or a source of volunteer service providers to run it.”

McCarthy stated a third factor in that the only available building large enough to house a day laborer center came with “a significant rental cost.”

Day laborer centers provide shade, water and restroom facilities.

Some centers provide English as a second language service and set wage requirements because day laborers are often paid less than promised or not paid at all, McCarthy said.

“The centers provide absolute benefits to the day laborer so that there isn’t victimization,” McCarthy said.

“Day laborers don’t have much recourse if people will not pay what they said or not pay at all.”

McCarthy said the city could not force day laborers to use the day laborer center if one were to be established.

“Our attorneys have informed us that the presence of a day laborer center does not empower us to require people to use the center,” McCarthy said.

“We may still have casual street corner transactions going on.”

In communities where day laborer centers have been established, businesses adjacent to where day laborers congregate have provided the funding for the center.

McCarthy told the City Council she believes Santa Monica businesses and community agencies would still be unwilling to provide funding or support for a center.

“Something should be done to calm things down because the area is crowded and a lot of incidents do occur,” Katz said.

“The police have been active and try to respond when called, and we clearly are going to keep our eye on the kinds of infractions that people have seen,” McCarthy said.

“We would be happy to renew our look at the situation, but there would probably not be a simple answer,” she said. “The lack of underwriting would deter us.”

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