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Day laborer rules OKd

L.A. law seeks to have home improvement stores create centers for waiting workers.

August 14, 2008|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring certain home improvement stores to develop plans for dealing with day laborers who congregate nearby in search of jobs.

The ordinance mandates that proposed big-box stores obtain conditional-use permits, which could then require them to build day-labor centers with shelter, drinking water, bathrooms and trash cans.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who first proposed the ordinance four years ago, said that this was just the first phase and that he planned to address existing home improvement stores next. He said the businesses needed to be held accountable for their role in attracting dayworkers.

The vote prompted a standing ovation by dozens of day laborers in the council chambers. The move came after years of debate and negotiations among city leaders, Home Depot officials and dayworker advocates over who should be responsible for public safety and nuisance issues created by workers gathered in parking lots and on sidewalks and street corners.

"This is an important day," said Councilman Eric Garcetti. "This is an example for the nation."

Cities nationwide have taken different approaches to the issue. Some have tried to restrict where workers can gather, while others have built hiring halls.

Home Depot officials said they were disappointed by the L.A. council's vote and said they shouldn't be solely responsible for addressing the challenges presented by day laborers.

"This is a broader social issue that goes beyond Home Depot, and the solution is certainly more complicated than placing mandates on businesses," said company spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

Nevertheless, senior manager Francisco Uribe pledged to work with city leaders to address the issue.

Dayworker advocates praised the vote, saying the action would make it easier to build worker centers at home improvement stores. There are currently eight centers in the city, each run by a nonprofit organization.

"We welcome it," said Pablo Alvarado of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "We need it. The workers deserve it."

Under the ordinance, stores making major renovations or additions could also be required to go through the conditional-use permitting process. The city plans to evaluate each proposed store independently. The city would have to make certain findings, including that there is an existing day laborer population in the vicinity, before requiring a company such as Lowe's or Home Depot to create "operating standards" to deal with dayworkers.

Stores would not have to make a plan if the city determined that there were not significant numbers of day laborers in the area or that they were not expected to generate increased trash or noise or impede traffic. The ordinance would apply only to stores of 100,000 square feet or more.

The issue is also part of the wider debate over illegal immigration.

Marvin Stewart, president of the Minuteman Project, said the ordinance was another example of how the city condones illegal immigration. "All of this is flying in the face of what the city is supposed to be doing in terms of upholding the law," Stewart said.

But Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor who has conducted extensive research on day laborers and supports the ordinance, said the city can expect to see even more such workers as the economy continues to falter. "This isn't an immigration issue," he said. "This is a labor market issue."

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

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