Carlsbad is in "a state of crisis" and must begin an emergency program to provide housing and a job center for migrant workers who live in primitive and illegal encampments, the City Council was told Tuesday night.
"There is a serious lack of housing for the working poor, many of whom are migrants sleeping in the fields under terrible conditions," said Ramon Campbell, spokesman for the group Caring Residents of Carlsbad.
"People are standing in our streets seeking work," he said. "Fear and racial tension are mounting, as evidenced by the recent events at the Country Store."
Campbell, supported by 35 people in the audience, exhorted the council to immediately seek short-term housing of portable, prefabricated plastic shelters for 500 workers, which he believes is the minimum number of migrants in Carlsbad.
His group also urged the institution of a pilot project to buy 50 mobile homes for migrants, develop a hiring site with telephones and hire a migrant-affairs specialist to communicate with workers and the mainstream community.
Until lately, Encinitas had drawn most of the attention over its problems with migrants. On March 13, after hours of complaints by citizens, the City Council there ordered its staff to explore whether to declare an emergency to call state and federal attention to the city's day laborers who live in encampments.
The migrant issue emerged vividly in Carlsbad on Jan. 3, when a migrant laborer was tied up and his head covered with a bag at the Country Store in a rural area near El Camino Real. Two store employees are awaiting trial on felony charges of false imprisonment.
Although Encinitas has provided a hiring hall for migrants, Campbell warned Carlsbad's leaders that that alone "will not be an effective measure, as has already been learned by our neighboring community of Encinitas."
Campbell said Carlsbad has plenty of open land for temporary migrant housing, and he reminded the council that it is under state requirement to secure 1,100 units of low-income housing, some of which should be reserved for migrants.
Funding to help what Campbell called a city "in a state of crisis" is available from county, state and federal sources.
The council responded cautiously, although it asked its staff to report back on revenue sources and to meet with representatives of county, state and federal representatives.
Councilman John Mamaux noted that housing cannot be provided on command.
"Even if we wanted to and there was money, we couldn't go out tomorrow and build housing. That doesn't mean we don't have compassion," he said.
Mamaux suggested that, once foreign investors stimulate Mexico's economy, San Diego County will be less inviting to migrants.
"I think in 10 years, we'll have problems finding migrants to work," he said.