A controversial hiring center for day laborers in Malibu that had been ordered to close by last Friday has been given a temporary reprieve by Los Angeles County officials.
A spokesman with the Department of Regional Planning said this week that the center, at Zuma Beach, will be allowed to remain open until Jan. 4, to allow its private sponsors time to find another location.
The center was ordered to shut down after complaints from nearby homeowners who said it violates county zoning laws. Malibu's unofficial City Council last week requested that the county grant the reprieve.
"The thinking is that, with a 45-day extension, it will give (the sponsors) time to relocate and reduce the potential hardship on everyone," said Mark Gonzalez, the county spokesman.
Although it is located on state-owned property at the east end of Zuma Beach, the county is responsible for maintaining beach facilities and has jurisdiction over the area.
The center's supporters said they were pleased with the extension, and expressed confidence that a new location can be found.
"It's excellent news," said Honey Coatsworth, who heads the Artifac Tree, a nonprofit thrift store, the center's chief sponsor. "Our objective now is to find another suitable site as soon as possible."
The center opened six months ago as an experiment aimed at helping the area's day laborers at a time when merchants and others were complaining that some of the workers were harassing customers and passers-by while congregating on Malibu street corners and in parking lots.
An estimated 150 day laborers, many of them immigrants from Latin America, commute to Malibu from Los Angeles Monday through Saturday in the hope of finding jobs clearing brush or helping at construction sites in the area.
Modeled on a similar facility set up last year by Los Angeles in Harbor City, the center provides the workers with English instruction, access to public restrooms and a noon meal. Employers seeking workers are asked to register, and a minimum wage of $5 an hour is requested, although not required.
Although its sponsors say the center has been a success, it has faced opposition from nearby residents.
Critics insist that a public beach is no place for an immigrant hiring facility, and contend that the center has served as a magnet for men with nowhere else to go who camp overnight in the brush near the center, creating a fire danger.
Opponents contend that a house trailer used as the center's office, which had been donated by a resident, was placed on the site illegally, without a permit from the California Coastal Commission.
About 100 people signed a petition earlier this month asking that the center be moved from Zuma Beach, sparking accusations by the center's supporters that its critics were motivated by racism.
Opponents have angrily denied the accusation, saying their opposition is based on the inappropriateness of having the center located at the entrance to a public beach.
Critics say that the center is poorly located to attract would-be employers, and insist that many day laborers continue to frequent the same street corners that were popular before the hiring center opened.
Although acknowledging that not all day laborers in the area use the center, supporters say that, for those who do, it represents a big improvement over the streets.
Besides being given a meal and English instruction, workers who get jobs there are less often exploited, supporters say. They also do not face the risk of being arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which has agreed not to conduct raids there.