Some Waited Overnight : 2,000 Line Up to Apply for 3 City Jobs

Times Staff Writer

When 27-year-old Freddie Abernathy walked out of the Balboa Park Clubhouse about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, he felt tired, hot and disappointed. He knew that he had little hope of accomplishing what he came there for.

Abernathy was among almost 2,000 men and women who waited in a line spanning a city block to place their name on one of San Diego’s job eligibility lists.

As of Thursday afternoon, the city had only three jobs to offer the applicants.

Abernathy, like many of the applicants, was angry when he realized that he was waiting in line to place his name on a waiting list to fill out a job application.


“They make you wait in line to put your name on a list, and then make you come back and fill out an application,” Abernathy said.

But wait in line they did, some for almost eight hours. Abernathy arrived at 8 a.m. thinking he would be among the first in line. But there were already hundreds queued up ahead of him.

A group of 20 or so applicants camped out overnight on the clubhouse sidewalk. Ronald Simpson, 27, brought along a sleeping bag and rations to get him through the night. Simpson also carried a picture of his daughter for inspiration.

“When I look at my baby’s face, I can wait as long as it takes,” Simpson said.


The clubhouse doors opened at 7:30 a.m. and Simpson, who had been waiting since 5:30 a.m., still had to wait until 9:30 to fill out an eligibility application. Many of those who arrived after sunrise brought lawn chairs and radios. Others carried hand-held fans in anticipation of a warm Thursday.

The city has not accepted names for general laborer, grounds maintenance or custodial positions since 1983, when more than 2,000 people placed their names on the city’s waiting list. Eligibility lists are normally effective for 6 to 18 months but the civil service commission said this year’s list, like the list compiled in 1983, should be effective for at least two years because of the high number of applicants.

The deluge took city officials by surprise. According to a state labor analyst, San Diego County’s unemployment rate was 5% for May--down from 6% a year earlier.

“Everyone sees the 95% bustling around in their cars going to work,” said Rich Snapper, San Diego’s personnel director. “Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how many people that 5% figure really represents.”


To qualify for the three positions, workers had to be 18 years old, with the exception of 17-year-olds who were recent high school graduates or had received a GED. The city also required that applicants be U.S. citizens or that they be able to show that they have the legal right to work in the United States.

Snapper advised applicants not to be discouraged by the low number of jobs available. Various city agencies use the eligibility list to interview prospective employees. “It’s hard to predict how things are going to go. Job requests usually trickle in,” he said.

Since 1983 the City of San Diego has hired 60 grounds maintenance workers, 75 general laborers and 30 custodians from a list of 2,072 eligible applicants.