The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to create six alternative hiring sites for day laborers as part of a six-month pilot project to get the immigrant workers off street corners.
If the pilot project is successful, the council also agreed to create hiring sites in each of the city's 15 council districts in what would be the nation's most sweeping effort to regulate itinerant immigrant workers.
Immigrants rights groups hailed the decision and praised Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores for withdrawing a proposed ordinance that would have banned day laborers from soliciting work on city streets. Many unanswered questions remain, however, as to how the program would actually work.
City officials said thousands of men look for work on Los Angeles streets each morning, an increase since the 1986 federal immigration law made it illegal for employers to hire undocumented immigrants. Council members said they have received complaints about the workers from residents and merchants in Pacoima, Koreatown, West Los Angeles and other parts of the city.
'A Great Start'
"This is a great start, a model program" said Father Tom Smolich of the Dolores Mission and coordinator of an adopt-a-corner program to organize day laborers throughout the city. "We're glad that there is this positive sense of helping people, rather than arresting people and running them off the streets."
Flores last month proposed a ban on workers soliciting employment on street corners after Harbor City residents and merchants complained about groups of up to 100 men blocking streets and harassing customers.
Immigrants groups argued that the proposal would violate the workers' constitutional right to freedom of assembly and deprive them of their livelihood. But after meeting with representatives of the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles and other groups last week, Flores agreed to withdraw the proposal.
"I'm not sure that a complete ban would work because it would just move people to other areas," Flores said at a press conference before the council meeting Wednesday.
She then asked the council to establish two alternative hiring sites, one of which would be in Harbor City. But Councilman Joel Wachs called for setting up six hiring sites during a six-month trial period and a total of 15 sites if the trial program is successful. His proposal was adopted on vote of 15 to 0.
Other council members praised Flores for reaching a compromise that would address community complaints while allowing the immigrants to solicit work.
Councilman Michael Woo said the workers "are not out there just to commit crimes (or) to be on welfare; they're out there to look for a day's work," while Councilman Richard Alatorre called the proposed trial program "a fair compromise on a difficult issue."
Wednesday's action calls for the Community Development Department to hire a consultant to conduct a study of sites where the day laborers could look for work away from the dangers and problems of the street.
A spokeswoman for Flores' office said that it would be at least four weeks before the hiring sites could begin operating. The council offered no criteria on how to select the sites, or whether neighborhood groups would have a veto. The council allocated $90,000 in general funds for the program.
Alternative hiring sites for day laborers were created last year in Costa Mesa and Glendale, where about 50 workers gather in search of employment each morning at a Catholic Youth Organization preschool. The Costa Mesa site is open only to day laborers with work permits, while all workers can look for work at the Glendale site, regardless of their immigration status.
Flores said before the council meeting that the workers at the pilot sites would not be asked if they have work permits. "The sites will be open to anyone who is looking for work or workers," she said.
More May Be Needed
Father Smolich said that more hiring sites may be needed eventually because there are thousands of men looking for work in the city. "To deal with it properly is going to take more than a few alternative sites," he said. "I hope the city is going to talk with the various organizations that have been involved with the day laborers. I know that we're all willing to help."
The council took the action after a 90-minute public hearing in which a dozen Harbor City residents and merchants complained that the day laborers had become an intolerable nuisance in their community.
"We've become prisoners in our own neighborhood," said Kay Kaplan, who complained about men gathering on the front lawn of her home.
"Any car that comes to the intersection is completely surrounded by people," said Steven Tillack, owner of an auto restoration shop on Pacific Coast Highway near Normandie Avenue. "The numbers have increased dramatically over the past few months."
About 40 day laborers also attended the council meeting, most sitting quietly in benches at the rear of the council chamber.
"We would like to thank Mrs. Flores for recognizing her mistake," Gabriel Valdes, 22, a native of Mexico, told the council through an interpreter. Valdes said he represented workers who seek shelter at the Dolores Mission in East Los Angeles. "We will protest any law that will violate our rights," he said.