Responding to homeowner complaints about the hundreds of workers who flock to Malibu seeking day jobs, county officials have ordered the Sheriff's Department to shut down the dayworkers' hiring facility at Zuma Beach.
In a letter to Capt. Don Mauro, commanding officer at the Malibu sheriff's station, the Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Department ordered that the facility be closed by Thanksgiving because it violates county zoning laws. A petition signed by more than 100 Zuma-area homeowners triggered the order.
The petition went first to the county's Regional Planning Department, which found the 6-month-old center in violation of local ordinances.
"This means the men go back to the street corners," said Connie Fox, a volunteer at the site. "But this is fine with some people who see enforcement--guns, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, mounted patrols--as the solution to the dayworker problem."
The center was organized early this year as a joint project by the Malibu sheriff's office, the local Chamber of Commerce, community activists and the Beaches and Harbors Department in response to homeowner and merchant complaints about the dayworkers who gather on Pacific Coast Highway trying to get jobs.
The center is funded by community donations channeled through the Artifac Tree, a local nonprofit group, and run by 25 Malibu volunteers.
Since it opened in May, the hiring center has matched about 2,200 workers, nearly all of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America, with jobs. In addition to jobs, the center offers English classes, lunches, legal aid and free bus passes back to Los Angeles at the end of the day.
"We're not complaining about the workers who go back to their homes," said Marie-Claude Ranes, one of the organizers of the petition drive. "We're concerned about those who stay overnight and who build campfires in the brush. We want a solution to this problem that doesn't threaten the neighborhood."
Mauro, who has been working for more than a year on problems associated with the dayworkers, said he did not know what the solution is, "but it isn't law enforcement."
"This is a political and a social problem, not an enforcement one," Mauro said. "It can't be solved by arresting people."
Attorney Rebecca Jurado of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed.
"We have successfully challenged city ordinances meant to restrict those seeking jobs on street corners. Such laws violate constitutional rights of free speech, association and travel. And they are impossible to enforce."
Malibu Mayor-elect Walt Keller took a dim view of the petition and the order to close the center.
"Malibu is going to have to face this problem sooner or later," Keller said. "People who signed the petition may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire because the men are only going to go back to the street corners and in greater numbers."
He urged residents to attend a community meeting Thursday in Agoura, which has a large day-laborer population. Agoura residents have been studying the Zuma center as a possible model for their own hiring hall.
County beaches and harbors officials were unable to explain why the county zoning laws were being invoked now, since the center had been set up after six months of planning in which the Beaches and Harbors Department, the Sheriff's Department and other county agencies were extensively involved.
"We're just a conduit in this whole process," said Larry Charness, chief of planning for beaches and harbors. "We got a letter from county regional planning, telling us that we were in violation of county zoning because it doesn't allow for an employment center on the beach."
He said the project was set up by local people and the sheriff, "who took a portion of Zuma Beach for the center. We had nothing to do with running it. A lot of things don't get looked at until after the public complains, and a formal complaint was lodged with the Planning Department."
County Supervisor Deane Dana made a motion at an April Board of Supervisors meeting, directing beaches and harbors to assist the Sheriff's Department in setting up the center. But Tim Riley, Dana's deputy, said the supervisor had no immediate solution for the problem.
"We're looking into it," he said.
BACKGROUND An average of 100 to 150 day laborers, most of them from Mexico and Central America, commute to Malibu from Los Angeles on weekdays in hopes of finding construction or landscaping work. The hiring center at Zuma Beach was set up in May in response to complaints that the dayworkers were causing problems by congregating along Pacific Coast Highway.