Los Angeles city officials will open the first official hiring center for day laborers in the San Fernando Valley this morning on a dusty lot in North Hollywood, hoping it will replace the street corners and parking lots where many workers now wait for jobs.
Coordinators of the center, on the north side of Sherman Way between Radford and Hinds avenues, said several workers already have begun stopping by. The gathering place is intended to serve 150 to 200 laborers who currently congregate on Lankershim Boulevard between Strathern and Saticoy streets.
This site, and a similar center opened by the city last fall in Harbor City, are meant to reduce problems caused by loitering workers.
Countywide, several communities have expressed concern over the growing numbers of day laborers congregating on streets. Shop owners and residents have complained of workers leaving trash and scaring away customers as they wait for contractors and other potential employers to drive by and offer them work.
"These types of problems present themselves any time you have a large number of individuals hanging around," said Ray Magana, field deputy for Councilman Ernani Bernardi, whose district includes the center.
The center will be operated by two administrators from the city Community Development Department, and will provide the men with portable toilets. While they wait for work offers, the men will be offered free coffee, pastry and English classes.
Bill Molina, management analyst for the CDD, said canopies will be erected to provide shade. Several oleander bushes have been planted and picnic tables will be installed before the center officially opens July 19.
The program will cost the city about $3,500 a month, Magana said.
The center is the product of several months of preparation by city agencies and community organizations. The City Council last year approved establishment of the two hiring centers.
The center at Harbor Regional Park opened in October. Between 120 and 130 men show up at the Harbor City site each day, Molina said, and about 20% are hired.
Finding a location for a similar operation in the Valley was difficult. Plans to locate the center at Sun Valley Recreation Center were scuttled in May when residents and business owners complained that the workers would interfere with normal activities at the park.
"Wherever you place a center like this, someone is going to complain," said Leo Guerra of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrant rights group that has worked closely with the city in the development of the site. Many of the laborers are from Mexico or Central America.
Don Eitner, executive vice president of the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the not-in-my-backyard attitude of some center opponents is "totally irresponsible."
"These people out there on the street corners looking for work are members of this community," he said. "To do nothing is absolute nonsense."
Eitner said the chamber supports the center because it will organize the casual system that now exists. He said homeowners have begun to solicit laborers from the Harbor City site because they feel more comfortable hiring from a city-managed program.
Molina said unscrupulous employers may be less likely to cheat workers hired from a government-run center.
But many workers, some of whom are illegal immigrants, may also fear leaving their established hangouts and coming to the center, the organizers said. To calm those fears, Molina said, city employees have been circulating among the workers on the streets, answering workers' questions about the center.
For the first days of the program, the city will provide bus transportation from the current traditional street corner sites to the center, Molina said. Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department also will direct workers waiting for work elsewhere to the center, Capt. Dan Watson said.
Workers at the center will sign in, and when employers come to the center, employees who fit their needs will be chosen by lottery. Molina said city employees will not take part in negotiations between employers and employees.
"We are not a referral service," he said.