Board may sweep away day-laborer law

Traffic and safety hazards caused by day laborers have dwindled to the point where San Mateo County officials are considering wiping off the books a law governing the workers in unincorporated parts of the county.

At their Sept. 11 board meeting, supervisors will decide whether to end the so-called Roadway Solicitation Ordinance as of Dec. 31. The ordinance went into effect July 1, 2006, and was prompted by day-laborer activity in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City. Community complainants claimed that day laborers were crowding sidewalks and darting into the street to meet potential employers, who were oftentimes parked illegally, said board President Rose Jacobs Gibson.

But Gibson, who authored the ordinance, said it is now unnecessary, thanks to the county’s contract with the Multicultural Institute, which matches workers to jobs through street-based outreach. While there were once 60 to 100 people waiting for jobs on popular corners, now there is only a handful, she said.

The Multicultural Institute acts as a broker between potential employers and day laborers, eliminating the need for many workers to stand on the street, said Father Rigoberto Caloca Rivas, a Franciscan priest and executive director of the Multicultural Institute. The men who still wait for work on the corners are now aware of potential safety hazards, he said.

“We have been trying to truly change the culture of those on the corners by informing them what is appropriate and what is not. They no longer rush to the middle of the street to talk to someone who might hire them, and they engage in cleanup work of the streets where they search for work,” Rivas said.

Rivas said the ordinance has neither helped nor hindered the progress his organization has made with its clients.

“We haven’t seen any need to enforce [the ordinance], and for all practical purposes, it’s almost as if it’s nonexistent. That raises the question, ‘why have it?’” he said.

The county’s human services and legal staff will release a report on the success of the program later this week. Supervisor Rich Gordon said he would make up his mind once he sees the findings.

“I know there’s a lot of positive feedback [about the Multicultural Institute], but I continue to hear tremendous complaints from people in the community about people congregating on street corners,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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