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LADERA HEIGHTS : Day Laborers Rankle Residents

April 11, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

The debate over day laborers has come to Ladera Heights, with irate homeowners accusing the workers of bringing problems to the neighborhood and the laborers saying they are being unfairly blamed.

At a recent Saturday meeting, about 200 residents gathered at St. John's Armenian Church to voice their complaints about the 50 to 100 Latino immigrants who regularly line Slauson Avenue.

"You get fed up with it," said Don Lopez, a 16-year resident who, along with neighbor Shirley Miles, organized an effort last month to get the laborers out of the community. "Why should I have to live with guys gambling, fighting and passing out on my front lawn?"

But the laborers, who have gathered daily for about two years at the Home Base store on Slauson between La Tijera Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, say they are being made scapegoats.

"I don't know why people are saying these things," said Marcos Morales, a day laborer who has frequented the area for two years. "We don't touch anything, we have good manners. We only come for work."

Lopez lives on Slauson across the street from the shopping center that includes Home Base. He and others say the laborers have caused problems in Ladera Heights, a small but relatively affluent community known for its spacious homes and hilly, tree-lined streets.

Many of those at the meeting said they had seen laborers urinating in public, obstructing traffic, making obscene remarks and gestures to passersby, and abandoning cars in the driveways of homes.

But many laborers say homeowners are exaggerating the actions of a few or wrongly assuming laborers are responsible for trouble in the area.

"Anybody can steal cars, but they think it's us right away," said Jorge Sanchez, a native of Mexico. "I don't know of anyone doing bad things. I come here because there's a lot of work. It's important because I have two sons."

Some homeowners blamed Home Base for the problem, saying the store is indirectly a source of employment for laborers and should be responsible for dealing with them. Home Base district manager Fred Knox said that he is working with homeowners to address the problem, a common one in Southern California.

"It's a problem that's inherent in the home improvement business," said Knox, who said 15 other Los Angeles-area Home Base stores had similar situations. "We value our customers and want to work with them, but this is a socioeconomic, not a Home Base, problem."

Although residents blame recent break-ins and thefts on the laborers, Sheriff's Department spokesman Rudy Walker said robberies have not risen dramatically in Ladera, and that overall crime has decreased by 20% over the past two years.

Sheriff's deputies, however, have kept pressure on the day laborers by regularly forcing them off private property and into business areas. Capt. Jack Scully of the Lennox substation said there is no simple solution to the day-laborer problem.

"We have to make major changes in immigration laws to really address this," he said. "We have identified the problem, but it isn't something that's going to be solved overnight."

Scully and others have suggested providing restrooms and other facilities for the laborers, as has been done in other parts of the county, such as Agoura and Topanga. Residents opposed that idea.

"We shouldn't have to tolerate them," one homeowner, who asked not to identified, said. "I worked hard to move here, and I pay taxes . . . this is our neighborhood."

However, not all homeowners agreed that moving the laborers out of the neighborhood is the solution. "Pushing them out doesn't resolve anything," said Faz Elahi, a Ladera resident for 20 years. "It makes more sense for Home Base and others in the private sector to provide space for them. I mean, where are these guys going to go?"

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