Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer
San Fernando Sun
“For now, we feel good because we’re not going to pay anything [right now].”
Those were the words of Oscar Velasquez, a Guatemalan day laborer who showed up last week at the branch of the Superior Court of Los Angeles in the city of San Fernando to comply with a ticket for “peddling” received May 19 while waiting for work outside a Home Depot store on Foothill Blvd.
Instead of paying for the ticket, Velasquez and five other day laborers requested a court date to go before a judge. They were given a Dec. 17 court date to present their case before a judge, who will decide if they must pay the citations or not.
“We don’t know if they’re going to rescind the tickets we have,” said Velasquez, who last year spent three days in the city of San Fernando jail for not paying a previous infraction.
As the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol reported last week, dozens of day laborers at the site have been issued “peddling” tickets by the San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) since last year.
Their crime: entering the parking lot of the commercial plaza where the home improvement and several other businesses are located. They must stay out on the sidewalk while waiting for someone to hire them for menial jobs.
The day laborers say the citations issued are a form of harassment by SFPD officers who they claim have even cited them while they exited restaurants in the plaza still with coffee in their hands. Velasquez said he was even ordered by a SFPD officer to go from the sidewalk into the parking lot so he could give him a ticket.
The City of San Fernando doesn’t have an ordinance that prevents people from seeking work on public property, according to Antonio Bernabe, day laborer organizer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
The situation also troubles Peter Schey, Executive Director for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, who thinks ticketing day laborers could be a violation of their civil rights.
“What is peddling? If they are being issued citation under a little used ordinance and the reality is just in essence to get rid of them, I would think that would raise significant constitutional questions.” Schey said.
“They [the day laborers] have a right without disrupting others, without disrupting businesses, or customers of businesses they have the right to assemble in common areas and it seems like a subterofuge to use a peddling ordinance when they’re not really peddling goods or items for and they are available for hire if anyone wants to hire them. It seems like a ruse to me.”
San Fernando City Attorney Michael Estrada said he couldn’t comment on the cases without reviewing each one, and had no plans to look into the issue because the city council had not directed him to. He also noted he wasn’t going to second guess police chief Robert Ordelheide.
City Administrator Jose Pulido said the police actions were in response to security problems at the site.
“It was the illegal activity that was the cause of concern and they (day laborers) were almost accosting women for panhandling purposes,” said Pulido.
Pulido said managers from stores at the site had cited problems with day laborers as their number one concern. He said “They were causing a visible mess, debris and disorderly conduct, some people were drinking and some people were using s so it ran the whole gammit and some of the men were confronting some of the women [pers] panhandling. It wasn’t a nice place to be and they asked the city to help.”
Meanwhile, the police’s actions against the day laborers at the site have stopped. Police officers still come around, but they haven’t issued any tickets since May, according to the day laborers.
This is due in part to pressure from Sylmar resident Sam Cordova, who has become an outspoken critic of the police’s actions after witnessing the issuance of the tickets and a SFPD officer yelling at the day laborers.
He calls the peddling accusations against the day laborers a “made up charge” that doesn’t apply to them. Cordova is encouraging the day laborers to fight the tickets and accompanied them last week when they went to court.
“They’re not going to pay anything,” vowed Cordova. “Day laborers will get their day in court.”
Still, he said only six of the 16 days laborers who have outstanding tickets showed up on the day they had to go to court last week.
“Some of them are still scared,” said Cordova.