Day labor center closed due to disuse

The Board of Supervisors voted to shut down the county's day labor center in North Fair Oaks on Tuesday after less than 10 months in operation, citing a lack of response by employers.

“We want to try a new way to see if it's better,” said Madelyn Martin, of the county Human Services Agency. Despite outreach to contractors and other employers by El Concilio, the nonprofit that stepped up to run the center, too few showed up at the center, leaving laborers to look for work on the streets, Martin said.

Officials said they are now looking for something to provide a larger impact. Just six to 15 laborers a day found work at the center at its peak, officials said.

Rather than use the day laborer center model, the board approved a new program — to be run by Berkeley-based Multicultural Institute — that plans to reach out to laborers on the streets daily, coaxing them to sign up for work online or by telephone. Laborers will be able to arrange to be picked up by employers at a convenient location or even at home, Martin said.

“This does not come with a building, it is very much a street approach,” Multicultural Institute Executive Director Father Rigoberto Caloca-Rivas told supervisors prior to their approving $288,000 to fund the program for a year. A Franciscan monk, Caloca-Rivas has run a similar program in Berkeley since 2002 that has proved successful, officials said.

“We strongly endorse the innovation of this program,” said John Shott, chairman of the North Fair Oaks Council, who spoke for merchants in the area where laborers tend to congregate.

Supervisors unanimously approved funding for the new program as part of a “carrot and stick” approach to handling congregating day laborers over the protests by civil rights activists Tuesday.

While the “carrot” takes the form of outreach, the “stick” depends on two new ordinances prohibiting trespassing on private parking lots and property, as well as soliciting work in roadways.

In spite of complaints by attorneys for the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights that the ordinances limit free speech and may make the county vulnerable to lawsuits, Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson said the “stick” side of the equation was needed to ensure a safe, secure and clean community. “When someone is not behaving, we need to have a means by which we can address it, but my hope is that [the ordinances] won't be needed.”

In San Mateo, where similar ordinances have been in place since 2003, residents have seen a steady increase in the number of laborers finding work through the city's day-laborer center. “Our data indicates that for ever three workers, two go to the center, which means we have a 66 percent success rate, if getting workers off the street is how you define success,” said Robert Muehlbauer, neighborhood improvement and housing manager for San Mateo.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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