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Backers Praise Ban on Day Laborers : Jobs: Ladera Heights residents who first sought the measure express surprise and satisfaction that the county adopted it despite protests by the ACLU and others.

May 29, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ronnie Cooper could barely contain her jubilation.

"By God, she (County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke) did it!" exclaimed Cooper, president of the Ladera Civic Assn. and one of the primary supporters of a county law adopted Tuesday that bans laborers from curbside solicitation of jobs in unincorporated areas of the county. "She's taken a lot of stuff. . . . People can say whatever they want, but politicians are supposed to represent the community. And she represented us."

Cooper and many other Ladera Heights homeowners reveled in their victory last week after the County Board of Supervisors voted for a law that residents had sought for years.

The ordinance was essentially the same measure proposed last month by Burke at the prompting of Ladera Heights homeowners, who had complained for years about traffic and other problems they said the laborers caused. But that measure was temporarily scaled down after the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups loudly protested that the law violated the laborers' constitutional rights.

Adoption of the new ordinance followed a state appellate court ruling two weeks ago upholding a similar law restricting day laborers in Agoura Hills.

Don Hellwig, a 24-year Ladera Heights resident, said laborers crossed a line when they began urinating and defecating on private property.

"I'm not against anybody seeking work, but there has been a bit of a problem," he said. "People felt uneasy about passing by them."

The ordinance takes effect in July and makes curbside job-seeking a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"It's shocking that it passed," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. "It's another one of those attempts by government to pander to the public to make people think they're really doing something about a problem."

Burke, whose district includes Ladera Heights, said that the strong opinions voiced for several years by her constituents left her no choice but to vote for the measure. She added that her office worked hard to find a hiring work site as part of a compromise between homeowners and laborers, but none could be found.

"We simply could not find (a site)," she said. "We'd still like to find one. But the bottom line is the community doesn't want the day laborers negatively impacting the area. They and their kids want to able to come and go peacefully."

Alvaro Maldonado, director of the Pro-Immigrant Mobilization Coalition, said that the ordinance capitalizes on anti-immigrant sentiment and unfairly targets poor Latinos who simply need jobs.

"This is very, very devastating," said Maldonado, whose group picketed against Burke's original ordinance last month in front of her field office. "It's criminalizing people who need work."

Some area residents sided with Maldonado or expressed sympathy for the plight of the day laborers.

"We are talking about human beings here," said Faz Elahi, president of South Ladera Neighbors. "There's nowhere for them to go, nothing for them to do. A law is fine, but this law is not consistent with reality. It's not really going to change anything."

Michael Anderson, a 10-year resident of Mosley Avenue, said he understands homeowners' frustration but believes the larger issue of civil rights supersedes it.

"The bad behavior of one guy magnifies everybody in a negative way," he said. "I may have seen one of (the laborers) with a beer bottle, but that's it. I really don't think they're interested in making nuisances of themselves."

Cooper said she is confident that most residents will help enforce the new law by promptly calling sheriff's deputies.

"All we want to do is preserve and maintain our community and not have a bunch of outsiders who don't pay taxes come in and take advantage. We just wanted them to not be there."

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