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Ventura County Perspective

Supply and Demand at Work

March 11, 2001

It ought to be easy.

Ventura County is full of contractors and homeowners who need short-term, low-cost labor. Although each employer's needs might vary, the overall demand is fairly constant.

Ventura County also has plenty of people looking for work, able and willing to do most anything for a few hours, days or weeks in return for a modest paycheck or--better yet--quick cash.

So why is making the connection between one group and the other such a perennial headache?

Although efforts to provide hiring halls for day laborers have met with limited success elsewhere in Southern California, most Ventura County cities remain stymied. As a result, crowds of hopeful job seekers congregate on street corners, making neighbors nervous and sometimes clogging traffic. Every few months someone mounts a campaign to run them off.

In Thousand Oaks, dozens of mostly Latino men gather most mornings at Fairview Road and Crescent Way to try their luck at landing a temporary job. After area residents complained to the City Council in September, Councilman Andy Fox vowed to find a better way. "We're on track," he told The Times recently, "but it's taking time."

In Moorpark, the impromptu labor pool pops up each morning in front of the Tipsy Fox convenience store at Spring Road and High Street. This city has tried for years to create a hiring center but none of the experiments have worked.

Elsewhere in the region, communities including Orange and Costa Mesa have established job centers or hiring halls. Although such facilities do help some workers, officials have found that only a fraction of the day labor pool uses the centers. Most centers require workers to prove that they are in the country legally to register for work, and many of those seeking the jobs are illegal immigrants.

For an example of one approach that has operated successfully for more than a decade, Ventura County and its cities could look to North Hollywood.

There a hiring center operated by the Coalition for Human Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, provides workers with job and language training as well as a safe place to wait for work. CHIRLA funds the center through government grants and workers pay nothing. Jobs are handed out by lottery, avoiding the competition that sometimes causes chaos elsewhere. About 100 men a day register for work and about half find it.

Many cities have tried to restrict the hiring of day laborers on street corners. Until a workable alternative is offered, such laws are not likely to overrule the law of supply and demand.

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