California farmworkers applaud new housing in mass shooting town

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By Creative Media News

  • Forty-unit housing approved for senior farmworkers in Half Moon Bay
  • Governor Newsom pressured approval amidst city’s housing crisis
  • Advocates hope the project inspires more humane housing solutions

A fresh initiative initiated nearly one and a half months after the tragic mass shooting that claimed the lives of seven farmworkers in the California town of Half Moon Bay addresses the deplorable living conditions endured by a significant number of the region’s agricultural labor force.

Tuesday marked the approval of a proposal by the city’s planning commission for a forty-unit structure that will provide housing for senior farmworkers. Due to the exorbitant cost of living and inadequate wages, some farmworkers continue to toil into their seventies and eighties.

The decision was made after the 2023 murder, which incited widespread condemnation of the dilapidated housing conditions that were accessible to the farmworkers of Half Moon Bay.

Governor Gavin Newsom, among other politicians who visited the area after the violence, observed that some farmworkers were residing in cargo containers.

Politics and the community rallied around our farmworkers after the shooting, and all eyes were on Half Moon Bay,” said Belinda Hernandez Arriaga, founder of the organization Ayudando Latinos A Sonar (ALAS), which offers services and support to local farmworkers.

However, prior to their approval this week, the five-story building plans encountered opposition from city planners, who expressed apprehensions regarding the structure’s compatibility with the area’s aesthetic and distinctive qualities.

This setback diminished hopes that the shooting, which was executed by a former agricultural employee aged 67, could lead to essential aid for the farmworker community.

Despite the state having the highest average value of commodities sold in the nation, the majority of farmworkers in California are migrants who are frequently remunerated at the minimum wage for strenuous labor.

The California government estimates that agriculture is a $54 billion industry in the state, with an additional $100 billion in affiliated commerce.

In the face of potential rejection, the housing proposal advanced solely in response to pressure from the governor’s office and media scrutiny.

Governor Newsom, known for his negative attitude toward municipalities impeding housing construction projects amidst the state’s housing crisis, alluded to the possibility that Half Moon Bay could be held liable for the postponement in court.

Newsom referred to the project’s delay as “egregious” and threatened “all necessary steps” if it was not approved in a press release from last week.

However, some local officials objected to what they perceived to be excessive interference in regional planning determinations.

Joaquin Jimenez, the mayor of the city and a former advocate for farmworkers, stated, “It felt like an assault on our planning commission and our community development process.” He added that the project had been advancing through an approvals process incorporating community input.

Jimenez further expressed his opinion that the media has presented an unjust portrayal of the issue.

However, affordable housing proponents argue that the incident serves as an example of the myriad challenges that arise during the development of new homes in a state where disputes between homeowners and planning councils frequently revolve around parking and building height.

“Shockingly, the governor had to intervene to get this passed,” said Ned Resnikoff, policy director of the California YIMBY organization.

The vocabulary of his organization is derived from its objective: “Yes in my backyard” (YIMBY) is a widely used rallying cry among housing advocates who oppose a restrictive building approach, which is also referred to as “not in my backyard” or NIMBY.

Resnikoff cited the suspended Half Moon Bay project and the response from Governor Newsom as emblematic of a more extensive pattern within the state. “This precisely exemplifies the rationale behind the increased state intervention in local land-use determinations.”

Arriaga and other local farmworker advocates applauded the intervention.

She stated, “Governor Newsom met with farmworkers after the shooting and assured them that he would advocate for them and work to resolve this issue.” “He is honoring his commitment by refraining from an assault on the city.”

Essential personnel

In recent years, farmworkers residing in Half Moon Bay and the adjacent region have encountered several calamities and obstacles threatening their subsistence.

A considerable number of employees continued to perform their duties in the state’s agricultural sector despite the closure of other industries amidst the emergence of COVID-19. Numerous undocumented individuals encountered the economic repercussions of the pandemic, with restricted access to assistance programs.

Inundation and wildfires in the region also resulted in housing loss and work interruptions.

“There were mentally and emotionally draining events such as the fires and the flooding, followed by this mass shooting,” Arriaga explained. “A great deal of trauma pervaded the community.”

According to the California Employee Development Department, an agricultural laborer earns approximately $20 per hour on average.

Nevertheless, in certain counties, the aforementioned amount approaches $15 per hour. Proponents promptly highlight the susceptibility of numerous workers to wage theft, which occurs when employers remunerate them at a rate lower than their official wage due to their undocumented status.

According to a report (PDF) published in 2022 by the University of California, Merced (UC Merced), approximately one-fifth of California farmworkers were reported as not receiving their earned wages.

Additionally, California has some of the most outrageous housing markets in the United States, where prices exceed wages. According to the state government, rent in some regions of California has increased by at least 20 percent since 2020.

Farmworkers frequently require inadequate, derelict housing to accommodate the exorbitant rental expenses as a cost-saving measure.

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“Some farmworkers share rooms, while others find space in the living room,” said Lucas Zucker, co-executive director of the organization Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which works with farmworker communities in the Central Coast region of California. “It is extremely common for farm workers to reside in apartments with multiple people.”

Twenty-five percent of the state’s farmworkers, according to a study by UC Merced, reported sleeping in a room with three or more people, and nearly forty percent reported having difficulty keeping their residences cool during periods of extreme heat.

“Consider doing this arduous task in the fields all day and returning home, exhausted, to a room devoid of personal space, or reminisce about your childhood as you attempted to complete your homework and studies.”

Arriaga aspires for the forty-unit structure, which will feature an office facilitating connections between residents and services like medical care, to serve as a model for other municipalities seeking to assist farmworkers.

She stated, “We spoke with a gentleman who has worked in the fields for thirty years without ever having a medical appointment.” “We must pause and consider this community, which deserves humane, dignified housing and befits them.”

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