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End of the Line : Malibu: A day laborer hiring center near Zuma Beach will close Saturday. Merchants and neighbors had complained about the workers, and a new site could not be agreed upon.

February 28, 1991|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A hiring center for day laborers at Malibu's Zuma Beach, which has been opposed by neighbors and unable to attract widespread community support, will shut down Saturday, its sponsors said this week.

"We did everything we knew how to do to stay open, and it's sad that it wasn't enough," said Honey Coatsworth, who heads the Artifac Tree, a nonprofit thrift shop that led the effort to set up the center last year.

The center, on county property at the entrance to the beach, opened last May at a time when merchants and others complained that day laborers were harassing their customers and passersby on street corners and parking lots.

But it quickly ran afoul of Zuma Beach residents, who claimed it was a magnet for men with no place else to go, and that fires lit by laborers camping overnight in the nearby brush posed a threat to the area's expensive homes.

Others said the center failed to noticeably reduce the number of workers standing on street corners.

"If the purpose of this site was to keep day workers off the streets and make customers going to places of commerce more comfortable, it didn't work," said Paul Kinloch, who was among about 100 residents opposed to the Zuma Beach location.

An estimated 150 day laborers commute to Malibu from Los Angeles each day in the hope of finding jobs clearing brush or helping at construction sites. Many, including most who were regulars at the center, come on Southern California Rapid Transit District buses.

"The mood among the men, and the volunteers, is understandably very sad," volunteer Connie Fox said. "It's as if everything we worked so hard for is about to be swept away."

Modeled after a similar facility that the city of Los Angeles set up in Harbor City in 1989, the center provided day laborers with English instruction, access to public restrooms and a noon meal. Employers seeking workers were asked to register, and a minimum wage of $5 an hour was requested, although not required.

The center has continued to attract about 50 workers per day, although volunteers say that in recent weeks the number of men who obtain employment has dropped sharply, to fewer than 10 per day.

Detractors have insisted that a public beach was no place for a hiring facility.

Critics complained that a house trailer used as the center's office, which was donated by a local real estate broker, was placed on the site illegally, without a permit from the California Coastal Commission.

After the neighbors complained, Los Angeles County officials last November said the center violated zoning laws and ordered that it be removed. The Board of Supervisors intervened, allowing the facility to remain open while sponsors searched for a new location. But the effort--which was unsuccessful--became almost as controversial as the center.

An ad hoc committee of day worker advocates, community officials and other residents settled on a new site in the civic center area after being unable to secure any of several more preferable locations.

But the Artifac Tree group, which has been at the forefront of the effort to sustain the center, announced two weeks ago that it was bowing out, calling the proposed site behind county government buildings in Malibu's main commercial area unacceptable.

"It was essentially a place that was out of sight and out of mind, which may have satisfied some people in the community. But everyone we talked to, including the men themselves, indicated it would be a waste of everyone's time and effort (to put it there)," Fox said.

"Our feeling was why should we be asked to raise money and shoulder the burden for something that, because of the location, wouldn't do the men any good," she said. "We were being asked to sacrifice for something we didn't believe in."

Meanwhile, participation on the committee dwindled from about 20 last November to fewer than six, she said.

Last month, the center's supporters sponsored a seminar at a local community center, hoping to generate widespread community interest in the dayworker's plight, but aside from a panel of experts, volunteers and about 20 dayworkers, only a handful of others attended.

"Let's face it, helping dayworkers is not a very sexy issue," said Sheriff's Capt. Don Mauro, who helped coordinate the effort to set up the center. "It's a hot issue when someone's ox is being gored, but you remove the horn, and the interest drops off sharply."

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