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Day Laborers at DWP Site Considered ‘Sensitive Issue’

By Edwin Folven, 7/21/2011

Police, Community Members and Immigration Rights Groups to Work Together on Solutions 

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Each morning, day laborers gather outside the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) facility in the 8200 block of Beverly Boulevard, hoping to find work.

Day laborers routinely gather outside the DWP facility on Beverly Boulevard in search of work. (photo by Edwin Folven)

Although the DWP facility is an unmanned electrical distribution station that is closed to the public, the site has been a gathering place for the day laborers for two decades. In the 1990s, a paint store formerly located across the street allowed the men to wait for contractors, but that store closed years ago. The day laborers keep coming, however, driven by word-of-mouth shared between Latino immigrants that there might be a job opportunity in the neighborhood.

The presence of the day laborers has caused concern among some members of the surrounding community, and has prompted the DWP and the Los Angeles Police Department to look for new ways to address the issue. DWP officials would not comment on what security measures are in place at the site, but Capt. Eric Davis, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, said the utility recently instituted a no trespassing order at the facility, and his officers have been contacting the day laborers to make sure they stay off the property. Last week, the Mid-City West Community Council voted to support the DWP and LAPD in their efforts to enforce the law at the site. Davis said a handful of arrests have been made over the past few months and citations have been issued for infractions such as trespassing and drinking in public, but he added that it is a “sensitive issue” because “it is not illegal to congregate on the sidewalk”. Davis said he is trying to bring together members of law enforcement, the community and organizations representing the day laborers to discuss the issue, and a meeting will be scheduled in the near future.

“Our strategy is to bring all parties together in a short time to sit down and talk about their concerns,” Davis said. “This has been going on for twenty years, and there is a need to keep the peace, but we have to respect the rights of all parties involved.”

Davis did not have an exact number of the arrests or citations issued, but said they were both the result of complaints received from neighbors, and from contact initiated by officers.

“During the last six months, the volume of complaints has increased,” Davis added.  “When these issues arise, we try to address them in a reasonable fashion. There is a no trespassing order, and if someone is found loitering on the property, that could be construed as trespassing. There have been some concerns about petty theft, and we have cited some people for gambling nearby. It all depends on the situation.”

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, which represents the day laborers, said the situation is difficult because some of the laborers leave and new ones come along, not knowing the laws. Cabrera and Davis recently visited the site together to warn the laborers about the regulations and to provide information about who they can turn to for help. He said the goal is to strike a balance where the laborers do not cause problems in the community, but are still allowed to seek work.

“The key to the whole thing, and the police recognize this, is getting people to understand that they are there to find a job and feed their families, which is becoming even more difficult as the economy worsens,” Cabrera said. “There have been complaints from residents, and we have heard those complaints before, which is why we got involved. We have met with them (the laborers) and explained that there are consequences if they do not obey the law. I am sure there have been incidents, but we have gotten commitments from them to ensure they respect private property. As long as we don’t infringe on anyone’s private space, we would be against anyone trying to get them out.”

Sheryl Turner, chair of the Mid-City West Community Council (MCWCC), confirmed the council voted to support law enforcement in their efforts to mitigate the problems, but added that because she is new on the council, she was not as informed about the issue as some other members. Jeff Jacobberger, vice chair of the MCWCC, added that he has known about the issues for many years, and said he has heard about people urinating or defecating in public near the site, drinking in public, gambling, harassing women who walk by, and loitering in the surrounding neighborhoods. Paul Lerner, a member of the MCWCC’s Public Safety Committee, added that the council’s position is simply that the law be enforced.

City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, who lives in the neighborhood near the facility, said he is also working to address the issues.

“My office is in support of the activities of the DWP and the LAPD. This has been a neighborhood nuisance for many years, and we have received a number of complaints for many years,” Koretz added. “ I don’t object to day laborers, and the city has tried to facilitate ways for them to find work. During my campaign, I went door-to-door and virtually everyone I talked to asked me to do something about the problem. We have decided that we have to be more aggressive if we ever want to do something about the problem.”

Cabrera added that the solution may be to establish a designated place for the day laborers to congregate, but said it may be difficult to persuade the laborers to move on because the site is known as a place to go to find a job. The city requires any new home improvement stores that are built to include a place for day laborers to congregate, and a new Lowe’s store being constructed as part of the Mid-town Crossing project at San Vicente, Pico and Venice Boulevards will include a day laborer facility.

“Unless we get cooperation from the police and the workers themselves, the problem is going to get worse,” Cabrera added. “But they are opening a labor center at the Lowe’s, and we are hoping we can someday have a free zone for those workers to be. It is demand and availability, and people are very needy for a job and a way to feed their families these days.”

Davis said that the police department will continue enforcing the laws, but added that he is hopeful that a meeting can be held within the next couple of weeks to find a solution that is agreeable for everyone.

“In times past, we have been able to work on this problem, and find solutions,” Davis said. “I am sure we will be able to find a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs.”

 

 

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