Housing Effort Stalls; Migrants Being Uprooted
As authorities continued to drop the boom on migrant worker camps across North County, an array of bureaucrats and special-interest groups gathered Friday in Carlsbad to develop ideas about housing for farm workers.
Although the officials and experts took the vital first steps toward establishing a coalition to build permanent housing, no headway was made to ease the plight of migrants being uprooted.
Indeed, eviction notices were issued Friday morning to migrants inhabiting one of the larger camps in North County, a sprawling complex of hooches on the southern flank of Carlsbad known as Valle Verde (Green Valley).
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The camp, which has been in the media spotlight since late last year, is now slated to be shut down by Feb. 1. Like many other camps in the region, Valle Verde is being closed because authorities have declared the longtime alien enclave a health hazard.
Supporters of the migrants said they still hope to either delay the eviction or provide alternative shelter of some sort, but no solutions have been reached.
“Where are they going to go, particularly the 11 families that are living out there?” asked Osvaldo Venzor, director of Friends of the Immigrant Workers, a North County organization. “I just don’t know.”
Meanwhile, the officials who gathered a few miles away at Carlsbad City Hall appeared reluctant to tackle short-term solutions to the migrant housing issue, pointing instead toward more permanent projects that could be years down the road.
To that end, the group agreed to return to their respective governing bodies with the general concept of forming a broad-based coalition to apply for state and federal funds for farm-worker housing.
About 20 officials attended the meeting, including representatives of the county, the cities of Escondido, Encinitas and Oceanside, the county Farm Bureau and other groups.
Richard Ledford, an assistant to Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad) and the driving force behind the meeting, said he hoped to put together a technical committee to identify financing sources for housing.
About $4 million of the more than $550 million in federal funds funneled to the state as part of the new immigration law has been budgeted for migrant housing in 1989-90, state officials say. Moreover, state and federal funds for housing the homeless could be tapped.
Ledford said Frazee also plans to pursue legislation to provide money to build housing for farm workers. Last year, a Frazee bill that would have provided $500,000 was vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian, largely because of a perception that the bill lacked widespread local support.
Marcus Brown Jr., staff attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento, said farm-worker housing “can be done and it has been done” in other areas of the state.
In Coachella Valley, for example, a nonprofit group has already developed several projects for migrants.
John Mealey, executive director of the outfit, said his group has completed a 100-unit complex featuring three-, four- and five-bedroom flats. Rents are set at a tenant’s ability to pay, he said.
The organization has also received funding for an additional 150 units of housing, has rehabilitated 60 houses for farm workers and has a self-help program that will culminate in the construction of 40 single-family houses.
“These projects are very visible,” Mealey said after the meeting. “It looks like regular apartment housing. When you drive by, you can’t tell it’s anything else.”
Mealey said he felt San Diego County has “a farm-workers housing issue as bad as any place in the state.” Despite that grim assessment, many officials were upbeat after the meeting Friday.
Claudia Smith, regional counsel for California Rural Legal Assistance, said she was pleased by the meeting and felt the participants recognized that “there’s a permanent problem here that we’ll have to deal with.”
But some migrant advocates criticized the group for failing to address the immediate needs.
“We’re easily talking two to three years for these projects,” Venzor said. “We have immediate problems.”
The situation has escalated across North County in recent months as authorities have turned to a new strategy to crack down on the encampments.
With the new immigration law giving many of the migrants legal status, the U. S. Border Patrol has been all but handcuffed in dealing with complaints from residents of the new subdivisions springing up across the region. Increasingly, residents and politicians are turning to the county Health Services Department.
Because the migrant enclaves consistently fail to meet county sanitation requirements, health officials cite the property owners for the infractions and order a remedy. Invariably, landowners accomplish that task the quickest and simplest way possible--by uprooting the aliens.
Some migrant advocates questioned Friday whether the pursuit of housing strictly for farm workers might leave some displaced immigrants out in the cold. Many of the migrants are turning to jobs such as construction and restaurant work as farm lands are chewed up by development.
“These people are working in the community,” said the Rev. Rafael Martinez, chairman of a group that aids migrants in North County. “These people are not all necessarily in agriculture.”
Ledford, however, suggested that the focus should remain on housing farm workers before officials try to branch out.
Moreover, Smith said that the migrants invariably fall back on work in the fields to supplement their incomes. As long as 50% of an immigrant’s wages are from agriculture, he could qualify for farm workers’ housing, she said.