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Loiterers Bad for Business, Retailers Say

March 18, 1993|ROBIN GREENE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — Day after day, year after year, in good weather and in bad, dozens of men hang out at Broadway and Jackson Street in Glendale hoping to pick up a day job as a laborer.

They annoy area business owners who accuse the men, many of them illegal immigrants who speak little English, of loitering, blocking sidewalks and parking lots, harassing women, littering, gambling, drinking, and urinating and defecating in public.

Most important, the store owners say, the men interfere with their businesses by intimidating customers.

"I think it's a real problem for businesses in the area," said Ben Saraceno, owner for the past 20 years of the 7-Eleven store at Broadway and Jackson.

"Some ladies don't feel comfortable with the whistling," Saraceno said. "These guys throw cans, litter, go to the bathroom on private property. People need to abide by the law."

In an effort to respond to such complaints, City Atty. Scott Howard asked the City Council on Tuesday to consider changing the trespassing ordinance, which requires a business owner to be present when a complaint is made about a trespasser.

Under the new law, business owners could authorize police to act for them in enforcing the trespassing laws. The council is scheduled to vote on the measure March 23.

City officials say the proposal will not solve the problem of finding a place for the men to congregate. Last year, city plans to fund a service center for the men fell through. And the numbers of those gathering for work have grown as the number of jobs has dwindled in the recession.

"I see the same guys standing here all day long," Saraceno said. "They'll stand out in the rain. I don't understand it. I say to them, 'Why don't you go home? There's no work in weather like this.' "

One man, Lee Nam, said in broken English that he has been coming to the corner for 11 years but that he has had almost no work in seven months.

The workers are drawn to the area by the Dunn-Edwards Paint Store in the hope that contractors picking up supplies will also pick up a couple of laborers to help out on a job site.

"The perception in the past is that the paint store didn't care," said Sgt. Lief Nicolaisen, a police spokesman. "But they are concerned. Homeowners are afraid to go to the store because they don't want to be surrounded by laborers looking for work. They've had assaults and vandalism of customers' vehicles."

For years city officials have grappled with the problem of getting the men off the streets without violating anyone's civil liberties. In fact, Howard emphasized that the new ordinance, which does not mention day laborers, was just "another tool to assist private property owners."

But he acknowledged that the day laborer issue was "one of the driving engines" behind the new law and that "complaints from merchants in the area and acts of vandalism and threats" prompted the city to review the trespass ordinance.

Under the proposed law, Howard said, the owner or the owner's agent could make a written request--renewable every 90 days--to the police, enabling officers to enforce the trespassing law without that owner being on the property.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund declined comment on the ordinance until their lawyers have a chance to examine the wording.

But spokesmen for both groups expressed concern that the ordinance would give police broader powers in arresting day laborers.

"Just as a business has the right to protect itself, laborers have a right to work," said Vibiana Andrade, regional counsel for MALDEF. "To the extent that the police department would look for shortcuts in arresting people, that would concern us."

Both the ACLU and MALDEF have challenged city ordinances around the state that are designed to limit areas in which day laborers are allowed to congregate.

Business owners contacted about the new law, however, were generally positive about it. In fact, Judee Kendall, publisher of the Glendale News Press, which has its parking lot on Jackson Street, said she had already written a letter to police giving them authority to deal with trespassers.

Saraceno said he would do the same.

"I think it needs to be done," Saraceno said. "They (the laborers) take it out on us. They want to blame us for the problem, and actually they are the problem."

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