Whether they gather on street corners or in shopping center parking lots, workers seeking jobs for a day can cause problems. Motorists try to dodge both the day laborers and other motorists who stop to negotiate a price. Merchants worry that shoppers might be intimidated from patronizing their stores, or might be unable to find parking spaces.
Huntington Beach has faced those problems and has joined other Orange County cities in coming up with a sensible solution. The City Council has approved the establishment of a job center where day laborers can congregate to await offers of employment.
As has been the case elsewhere, it was the city's Police Department that proposed setting up the job center. One police lieutenant said when laborers by the dozens crowd shopping centers, it is "not a criminal problem, it's an annoyance problem."
In Orange two years ago, the police chief told City Council members who were considering doing away with the city's hiring hall that any money saved by shutting the facility would have to be spent by law enforcement. With nowhere to go, the laborers would be back on the corners, leading to complaints and closer police monitoring or orders to disperse, the chief said. The council wisely decided to keep the hall open.
Brea and Costa Mesa also have job centers, and Laguna Beach has a staging area for workers and those seeking to hire them. All three cities set up their facilities after receiving complaints similar to those that have been heard in Huntington Beach.
Huntington Beach plans to use $40,000 in federal grant money for the job center off Gothard Street, near Talbert Avenue. It would include restrooms, a trailer for office use, benches and shade trees. The site, now vacant, would be fenced and partly paved.
The city should not find it too difficult to publicize the new location to job-seekers and potential employers. Letting everyone know that the process is changed and new rules need to be followed is important. A property manager at a 40-business shopping center at Main Street and Beach Boulevard, not too far from the proposed job center, said merchants think the day laborers make the property look "slummy."
Moving the day laborers is an answer, so long as they are given somewhere else to go. It is clear the workers fill a need. Repair people and homeowners daily seek workers willing to help lift heavy loads or plant gardens. Huntington Beach is right to find a place to centralize hiring. The job center deserves support.