ACLU ruffles some O.C. feathers

American Civil Liberties Union has settled 4 high-profile cases in past 2 months.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

 

Three years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union was a distant entity with little or no connections in Orange County.

But that has changed since September 2005 when the ACLU decided to set up in a small office suite on Chapman Avenue in Orange with two attorneys and one legal assistant.

This group has handled at least 10 cases since, not counting others that were resolved before a lawsuit was filed. In the last two months, ACLU attorneys have settled four high-profile Orange County cases. They have represented a Buddhist congregation in Garden Grove seeking to build a temple in an office complex, day laborers in Lake Forest, a Christian group that was banned from feeding the homeless in Doheny State Beach and a man who was thrown out of a Costa Mesa City Council meeting.

The group’s entry into Orange County has been a long time coming, said Ramona Ripston, executive director of ACLU Southern California.

“Orange County has changed dramatically over the years,” Ripston said. “However, we continue to deal with the same issues we have dealt with since the ’70s – race, poverty and rights for the underprivileged.”

ACLU Orange County has also tackled other issues in the last three years, says attorney Hector Villagra, who heads the local office.

Villagra says one of the first cases they took on involved a controversial program proposed by the Fullerton School District, which required parents to spend $1,500 to equip their children with laptop computers. A group of parents, who believed they were being scrutinized and discriminated against by the school district over their reluctance to pay for the laptops, approached the ACLU, which was able to reach an agreement with the school district to make the program accessible to all students.

That case, in fact, was pivotal in introducing the ACLU to all segments of the Orange County population, including conservative Christians such as Sandra Dingess, who admits she had certain pre-conceived notions about the ACLU.

“I had this stereotypical notion of the ACLU, that they were always the devil’s advocate, on the wrong side of issues,” says the Fullerton parent, who at the time was faced with putting $6,000 on her credit card to laptops for four children. “But in this case, they protected my rights and my children’s rights.”

Jim Seiler, a member of Christian group Welcome INN, said ACLU was a last resort for him and other members of his group, who were stopped by state park officials in February from feeding the homeless on Doheny State Beach. The group fed at least 50 people on the beach each evening, Monday through Friday, he said.

“I’d always thought of the ACLU as representing atheists and groups of people whose ideas I don’t subscribe to,” Seiler said. “I was shocked that they offered to help us.”

Although ACLU won some hearts in conservative quarters, their most vehement critics remain local city officials and those with strong positions on the immigration issue.

The ACLU sued the city of Lake Forest and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over a city ordinance that barred laborers from soliciting work on Lake Forest sidewalks. City Councilman Richard Dixon says his experience with the ACLU in that case left a bitter taste in his mouth. He said the city wasn’t enforcing the ordinance.

ACLU filed a frivolous lawsuit that benefited no one and cost taxpayers heavily, Dixon said.

“Maybe some of their lawsuits are beneficial,” he said. “But by and large, I find them trying to grandstand and chest-pound when they don’t need to be pounding their chests. It’s complete nonsense. In our case, thankfully, truth and justice won over stupidity.”

The protracted lawsuit ended in August when the city and the sheriff’s department agreed to allow the day laborers to solicit work on public sidewalks as long as they followed the law.

In other instances where the ACLU was involved, there were issues of conflict between local government and federal laws. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year against the city of Garden Grove challenging their zoning laws for denying a building permit to a Buddhist temple on Chapman Avenue.

Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, who represented the temple on behalf of the ACLU, said the city violated the temple members’ rights to congregate and practice their religion. This case culminated in a settlement agreement in September with the city agreeing to give the temple another chance to apply for a permit, which would be “considered favorably.”

But Garden Grove Councilman Mark Rosen, who voted against that agreement in closed session, said the case should have gone to trial.

“As a councilman, I wanted to see the federal law challenged,” he said. “I don’t believe federal government should interfere with decisions that are made by local governments.”

Escobosa-Helzer said she found, especially during this case, that having an office in Orange County helps her interact and communicate better with clients.

In the future, Villagra says his office will continue to be involved with issues such as education, immigrant rights and rights of those in jail. Recently, his office sent out a letter to the sheriff’s department alerting them to a complaint from inmates that they were being forced to share razor blades.

“There was a legitimate concern of HIV and Hepatitis,” he said. “But that issue was resolved with a letter.”

Their goal in Orange County is also to build ties with the community, Escobosa-Helzer said.

“It helps us recognize the problems in different communities and ways to find solutions,” she said.

Contact the writer: 714-445-6685 or dbharath@ocregister.com

Day Laborers Give Back to Pomona! Clean Up of the Historic Casa Primera!

Pomona Economic Opportunity Center

For Immediate Release

Day Laborers Give Back to Pomona! Clean Up of the Historic Casa Primera!

Contact: Suzanne Foster 

Who:
Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC)
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA)
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)

Where:
Casa Primera
1659 N. Park Ave.
Pomona, CA 91768

When:
Thursday, click September 4th, 2008
9:00 am Press Conference
Clean Up of Casa Primera the rest of the morning

(Pomona, CA) Day laborers from across Los Angeles County will host a local community
volunteer effort in Pomona on Thursday, September 4 as part of a national campaign —
“Echando Raices” or “Growing Roots”—sponsored by members of the National Day Laborer
Organizing Network. Along with the beautification of the local community, the day laborers
will promote tolerance, understanding and respect for immigrants and their families. They
will be volunteering their efforts to clean-up the “Casa Primera,” the first house built in the
Pomona Valley in 1837. Contributing towards the beautification of the Pomona community
is a priority for the day laborers that live and work here. The volunteer day will be done in
memory of a long-time member of the Pomona Day Labor Center who recently passed away, David Villalta.

According to leading experts, approximately 117,000 day laborers seek and receive
work every day in cities and towns across the country. Despite the undeniable demand for
their services, day laborers’ rights are routinely violated, as they are underpaid by employers and attacked by vigilantes. In this politically charged climate, day laborers have organized to improve their communities and to defend their basic rights. They have created worker centers, designated areas, and organized street corners to respond to local concerns about day laborer hiring, to hold employers accountable, and to participate in political decisions about their lives.

“In the face of weak economic times and the abuses often directed against them, day
laborers have organized to give back to the community in which they live, work, and raise
their families,” said Suzanne Foster, director of the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center. She continued, “The day laborers are particularly excited about beautifying a local historical site so that the public may enjoy it and learn about the history of Pomona.”

Herndon’s Headache

The town may take another ill-advised swipe at day laborers.

Washington Post
Friday, August 22, 2008; Page A16

HERNDON OFFICIALS shouldn’t be surprised that day laborers are again crowding the town’s streets. When Herndon opened a center that connected employers with day laborers in 2005, the western Fairfax County town of 23,000 people — about a third of whom are Hispanic — found a sensible way to deal with an unregulated scramble for jobs that sed onto the town’s sidewalks. It also found itself at the focal point of a national debate about illegal immigration. Critics said the group that operated the center should check the immigration status of the laborers. Town officials shut the center last year. Now many of the officials who fought to close the center are scrambling for answers as they consider whether to take another ill-advised swipe at immigrants.

The reappearance of the laborers, who observers say number between 50 and 100, has irritated some citizens and officials. Most of the workers wait on Elden Street, where many of the town’s busiest retailers are located. But people have a constitutional right to seek jobs in public, so council member Dennis D. Husch has proposed a number of oblique approaches to make their lives difficult, such as attempting to remove pay phones and confiscating bicycles chained to trees and sign posts. He also suggests limiting alcohol s in the area where the laborers gather. Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis didn’t dismiss the suggestions but told us that he was hesitant to do anything to make the town less pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Groups that support the laborers say that such rules are discriminatory and would probably be struck down in court.

Mr. Husch’s proposal is an unwitting admission that closing the center was a mistake. The center, which taught laborers English and provided them with small comforts such as coffee, kept workers from loitering. Before it opened, laborers jostled for work each morning outside a local 7-Eleven. It was a chaotic scene, and there were reports of public urination, fistfights and other misconduct. There haven’t been similar reports of misconduct since the center closed, but some residents say that the situation is worse now, because the laborers don’t confine themselves to the 7-Eleven.

The failure of the federal government to fix the immigration mess in Fairfax Countyand across the country has put a burden on local officials. But they still have options. They can embrace practical solutions, such as the laborer center. Or they can follow Herndon’s floundering example.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/21/AR2008082103105.html

Big Boxes and Day Laborers

By The Editorial Board

NYTIMES
 

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday afternoon passed an ordinance requiring the biggest big-box home-improvement stores — Home Depot, and in other words — to deal with the problems caused when groups of day laborers gather outside to look for work.

The new law does not explicitly require the creation of day-laborer hiring sites — rudimentary, roped-off areas with shade, water, toilets and benches — but that is what the stores would most likely do to comply with the new rule. The ordinance makes the stores responsible for keeping their parking lots safe, clean and orderly for the mingling of contractors, pers and day laborers.

It’s smart for several reasons:

Basic crowd-and-vehicle control. It’s never a good idea to have dozens of men looking for work in vast, barren parking lots without trash cans or toilets. Ad-hoc hiring sites can be unsightly, chaotic, and dangerous. But setting up amenities for day laborers has been controversial, because immigration hard-liners bitterly resist simple measures that might help the people they want to lock up and deport. They would prefer to wish away the problem rather than deal with it, as Los Angeles has.

Justice and dignity for day laborers — and other low-wage workers, both immigrant and native-born. Day labor can be a brutally hard way to make a living. But rock-bottom pay, cruel working conditions and wage-and-hour abuses — the kinds of things that make Lou Dobbs weep for the native-born American worker — are discouraged when day laborers have safe, well-run places to look for work. The idea is to deny bottom-feeding employers the opportunity to exploit people off the books and out of sight, and that is exactly what hiring sites do.

There are strong practical reasons for giving day laborers basic shelter, but there is a powerful moral argument, too. Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, based in Los Angeles, puts it eloquently: “If you accept my labor, you must accept my humanity.”

Customers should not weep for Home Depot, a chain whose very business model — selling building supplies in bulk — encourages and benefits from day labor. The company has profited immensely in the globalized world and crosses borders with ease — far more easily than, say, the hard-working immigrant men so many of its customers rely on for help with drywall, painting, landscaping and other manual jobs.

Other communities with day-laborer problems should look at what Los Angeles has done, and follow its good example. It was a long battle, but worth it.

“It took four years to get a four-page ordinance,” said a relieved Bernard Parks, the city councilman who sponsored it, just before the successful vote.

http://theboard.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/big-boxes-and-day-laborers/

Council passes day-labor center ordinance

By Sid Garcia
http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=6326157 

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Wednesday’s vote ends four years of laboring over how to regulate day laborers at large home improvement stores.

The City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday that requires home-improvement stores such as The Home Depot, clinic Lowe’s, Osh and others more than 100,000 square feet in size to set aside space for day-laborer shelters. The shelters must include drinking water, bathrooms, tables, seating and garbage cans, and must be close to the store location.

The 15-member City Council voted for the ordinance unanimously Wednesday.

“It is not an ordinance that impacts or takes into account a person’s immigration status,” said L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks. “It’s not an ordinance that mandates shelters. It merely gives communities the ability to have input in the conditional-use process.” 

 Supporters say labor centers at these stores will make it safer for the workers, and those seeking to hire them.

“The proposed ordinance requires only that there’s a plan upfront before a store opens,” said Pablo Alvarado, member of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “That is an essential first step to ensure that we have successful day laborer centers in our city.”

“As this economy gets worse, I will tell you, there will be more people who want to find day work, and I think that this is a good ordinance. I think it makes sense,” said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

The ordinance goes to Mayor Villaraigosa; once the ordinance is signed by the mayor, the ordinance becomes law and goes into effect in 30 days. It also requires store developers to look into the need for security.

This ordinance, according to Parks, will save the city around $2 million per year in litigation and solve other problems day laborers congregating at home-improvement stores cause.

City News Service contributed to this report.

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=6326157 

Day Laborer Ordinance Receives Approval

Published on CBS2.com

LOS ANGELES (AP) ? The Los Angeles City Council has approved an ordinance that could be used to require home improvement stores to provide shelter, patient water and bathrooms for day laborers looking for work.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously, says that big box stores like Home Depot built in the future receive “conditional-use” permits, which would allow city officials to impose the restrictions.

Councilman Bernard Parks who first proposed the ordinance four years ago says it is the first move of many to try to improve conditions for such workers.

A group of day laborers in the council chambers cheered the decision.
Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher expressed her company’s
disappointment, saying the issue is more “complicated than placing mandates on businesses.” 

http://cbs2.com/local/daylaborer.ordinance.2.794843.html

L.A. adopts day laborer rules for home improvement stores

The law could require such firms as Home Depot and Lowe’s to build day-labor centers with shelter, drinking water, ed bathrooms and trash cans at new stores. Each site will be evaluated independently.

By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 14, 2008

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring certain home improvement stores to develop plans for dealing with day laborers who congregate nearby in search of jobs.

The ordinance mandates that proposed big-box stores obtain conditional-use permits, which could then require them to build day-labor centers with shelter, drinking water, bathrooms and trash cans. 

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who first proposed the ordinance four years ago, said that this was just the first phase and that he planned to address existing home improvement stores next. He said the businesses needed to be held accountable for their role in attracting dayworkers.

The vote prompted a standing ovation by dozens of day laborers in the council chambers. The move came after years of debate and negotiations among city leaders, Home Depot officials and dayworker advocates over who should be responsible for public safety and nuisance issues created by workers gathered in parking lots and on sidewalks and street corners.

“This is an important day,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti. “This is an example for the nation.”

Cities nationwide have taken different approaches to the issue. Some have tried to restrict where workers can gather, while others have built hiring halls.

Home Depot officials said they were disappointed by the L.A. council’s vote and said they shouldn’t be solely responsible for addressing the challenges presented by day laborers.

“This is a broader social issue that goes beyond Home Depot, and the solution is certainly more complicated than placing mandates on businesses,” said company spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

Nevertheless, senior manager Francisco Uribe pledged to work with city leaders to address the issue.

Dayworker advocates praised the vote, saying the action would make it easier to build worker centers at home improvement stores. There are currently eight centers in the city, each run by a nonprofit organization.

“We welcome it,” said Pablo Alvarado of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “We need it. The workers deserve it.”

Under the ordinance, stores making major renovations or additions could also be required to go through the conditional-use permitting process. The city plans to evaluate each proposed store independently. The city would have to make certain findings, including that there is an existing day laborer population in the vicinity, before requiring a company such as Lowe’s or Home Depot to create “operating standards” to deal with dayworkers.

Stores would not have to make a plan if the city determined that there were not significant numbers of day laborers in the area or that they were not expected to generate increased trash or noise or impede traffic. The ordinance would apply only to stores of 100,000 square feet or more.

The issue is also part of the wider debate over illegal immigration.

Marvin Stewart, president of the Minuteman Project, said the ordinance was another example of how the city condones illegal immigration. “All of this is flying in the face of what the city is supposed to be doing in terms of upholding the law,” Stewart said.

But Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor who has conducted extensive research on day laborers and supports the ordinance, said the city can expect to see even more such workers as the economy continues to falter. “This isn’t an immigration issue,” he said. “This is a labor market issue.”

anna.gorman@latimes.com

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-homedepot14-2008aug14,0,4167886.story

Ordinance Seeks To Encourage Laborer Shelters

By HOWARD FINE

Los Angeles Business Journal Staff

Major new home improvement stores opening in the city of Los Angeles may have to build shelters for day laborers under a City Council ordinance approved Wednesday.

Under the ordinance, proposed by Councilmembers Bernard Parks and Ed Reyes and passed unanimously, all proposed home improvement stores of more than 100,000 square feet would have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city. Most Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big box home improvement stores would meet this threshold.

In order to obtain the permit, the developers of the stores would have to present plans to address the issue of day laborers congregating on the property and waiting to be picked up for jobs. These plans could include building shelters for day laborers that include bathroom facilities, though the ordinance does not specifically mandate that such shelters be built.

Several councilmembers said they also wanted to see an ordinance addressing day laborer issues at existing home improvement stores. Parks and Reyes said that issue would be dealt with at a later date, after the current ordinance is implemented.

http://www.labusinessjournal.com/article.asp?aID=27795112.61837902.1668342.5797867.2556162.565&aID2=128325

A better day-labor market

Councilman Parks’ ordinance would improve conditions for neighborhoods and those who seek work outside home-improvement stores.

By Abel Valenzuela Jr.
August 13, 2008

The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to vote today on an ordinance that would help mitigate community concerns over men searching for work at large home improvement stores. This ordinance, which The Times opposed in an Aug. 10 editorial, deserves support as an example of creative and thoughtful local public policy. It is a way to make certain that home improvement stores are a part of the solution by engaging the private sector in a community partnership.

Los Angeles has been at the forefront of effective and innovative policy interventions to address the day-labor practice, including establishing worker centers — gathering places sanctioned by municipalities that allow workers and employers to come together to exchange wages for work.

The proposed ordinance by Councilman Bernard C. Parks would neither mandate that home improvement stores pay for day-labor centers nor place a new burden on taxpayers. It would only require that if a conditional-use permit is awarded to a big-box home improvement store — which would be needed for new construction or major renovation — that a plan be in place to diminish problems that might arise when unemployed men search for jobs near the premises. One of the ways to do this might be to establish a worker center.

For more than 10 years, I’ve researched the day-labor market, including the efficacy of worker centers. My research shows that these centers are the most effective policy response to an otherwise unregulated day-labor economy. Worker centers are low-cost community assets that resolve local tensions while improving worker reliability and increasing worker safety. They help ensure that workplace rights are respected and that employers get the best and most reliable workers. They also involve communities in resolving a local issue that impacts them.

Some of the oldest and most effective worker centers are supported by and located in the city of Los Angeles, including the one outside the Home Depot store in the Cypress Park area north of downtown Los Angeles, and the one located at Exposition and Sawtelle boulevards in West L.A. The methods and programs to create the more than half a dozen worker centers in L.A. have been replicated in other cities because of the host of benefits to both workers and consumers, such as better wages, an orderly hiring process and more reliable workers.

Centers provide a safe place to pick up workers. My studies have found that injuries significantly decrease. And worker centers go a long way toward mitigating some of the misperceptions and tensions that arise over men searching for work in public spaces or nearby industries.

Often such centers have become a focal point in the volatile debate over immigration. But my research on day labor shows that there is an increasing number of U.S.-born citizens participating in this market, not only in Los Angeles but across the nation. This number can be expected to rise as unemployment increases and more workers of different backgrounds search for work through various outlets, including day labor. As our economy continues to falter, alternative employment searches will rise.

Searching for work in open-air street markets has a long history in the United States; think dockworkers, agricultural workers and now construction workers. Its current manifestation speaks directly to our national economy and the demands of employers who prefer temporary workers. As more unemployed workers search for jobs in this manner, policies that promote a fair and inclusive process must be applied to an old problem.

Worker centers are the best approach to alleviating some of the most difficult tensions that can arise when men search for employment at home improvement stores or elsewhere. The goal of resolving community conflicts over day labor requires that all stakeholders, including big-box home improvement stores that attract day laborers, come together and assume their responsibility as community partners.

Parks’ ordinance promotes a creative and humane alternative and ensures that future day-worker centers are created with public, private and nonprofit collaboration.

Abel Valenzuela Jr. is a UCLA professor and the director of the university’s Center for the Study of Urban Poverty.

Blowback is an online forum for full-length responses to our articles, editorials and Op-Eds. Click here to read more about Blowback, or submit your own by e-mailing us at opinionla@latimes.com.

Council demands big box stores build day labor shelters

Contra Costa Times

By Rick Orlov, Daily News

Article Launched: 08/13/2008 02:05:38 PM PDT

In the first step to control day laborers at large home improvement stores, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that could require big box stores to develop centers to provide shelter for the workers.

The measure, which several officials said was aimed at Home Depot and its 11 stores in the city, will apply only to stores of 100,000 square feet or larger that will be built – or if existing stores are undergoing major renovation.

The measure still requires the mayor’s signature. Most city laws take effect 30 days afterward.

But Councilman Bernard Parks, who spearheaded the four-year push for the measure, said he saw it as the first step toward requiring existing stores to create similar centers.

“Phase Two is aimed at those stores,” Parks said. “The city now is spending about $2 million a year for day labor centers – money that could be better used on police or streets or parks in the city.

“We should have the companies pay the costs of these centers.”

A Home Depot spokesman said the company is concerned that all home improvement stores be treated the same and their company not be singled out.

“We aren’t the only home improvement store,” spokesman Francisco Uribe said. “What we wanted was something where all stakeholders could be included and we discuss what is in this measure.”

But Parks and several other council members cited Home Depot as the source of the problem. 

“Let’s be honest here,” Councilman Richard Alarcon said. “The problem we have is with Home Depot – which has not managed a phenomena essentially created by their marketing and targeting of customers that need day laborers.

“I believe that is essentially what is causing this problem and I would love to take on Home Depot directly on this.”

Uribe said he did not agree with Alarcon’s comments and the firm is trying to work with the city on the issues.

City planning officials said they would be looking at existing nuisance laws to see if the city can require day labor centers in areas where there are problems.

Parks tried to diffuse some of the expected criticism, saying the measure had nothing to do with immigration issues.

“We are not using this to protect illegal immigrants,” Parks said. “This is about providing dignity for workers and controlling a problem we have where there are no shelters.”

Parks said his office has received complaints about workers congregating at sites and having no bathroom facilities or protection from the weather.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl used the debate to se an agreement from Uribe to have discussions about Home Depot providing a day labor center at its store in his district.

“This is the busiest Home Depot in America,” Rosendahl said. “They agreed to have community meetings to discuss what can be done.”

Rosendahl said he also is looking at using other city funds to create more day labor centers in his district.

“The truth is the way the economy is going, we are going to see more day laborers, not less,” Rosendahl said.

“We need to make sure we can provide a place for them where they can maintain their dignity.”