Urged on by upset residents, the City Council has toughened its law requiring that day laborers seek work exclusively at the city’s hiring lot.
As a result of the council’s 3-1 vote Tuesday, the city’s work solicitation ordinance, which holds employers liable if they attempt to hire workers anywhere except at the Laguna Canyon Road hiring lot, will now also target the day laborers themselves.
Councilman Robert F. Gentry opposed the action, saying the city should not create a law that singles out a specific group of people.
“I do not agree that in the city of Laguna Beach we ought to be arresting people who are looking for work,” Gentry said. “What group is next? Is the next group maybe the gay community because it gathers at Mountain Street?”
Gentry’s comments were met with boos from the audience.
“Five years is a long time and I’m surprised we’re still talking about it,” North Laguna resident Thomas Jeavons said. “The situation is really intolerable.”
Supporters of the tougher law say the workers cluster at North Coast Highway and Viejo Street and at various areas in the canyon, intimidating residents and visitors. They say the dayworkers urinate in public, behave aggressively and make inappropriate comments to women.
In March, a divided council had approved the one-sided law while appointing a task force to monitor the ordinance and make further suggestions.
From the onset, police said it would be more difficult to enforce a law that only targeted employers. Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr. said only three citations have been issued and that workers have continued to gather at locations other than the hiring lot.
Last week, acknowledging that the law was not working, the task force agreed to recommend the stricter ordinance.
“The problems created by the dayworkers not only continue, they’re getting worse,” task force member Ilse Lenschow told the council on Tuesday.
Mayor Lida Lenney, who has opposed laws restricting the activities of dayworkers, was not at Tuesday’s meeting. Final approval of the expanded ordinance is expected Aug. 3.
The maximum penalty for disobeying the law will be a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
The council also agreed to place a second toilet at the hiring lot, which is located in the 1800 block of Laguna Canyon Road.
Members of the city’s Cross Cultural Task Force say they favor a “more humane” approach to solving the problem and will work to raise money to create a hiring hall and resource center for dayworkers and others seeking jobs.
A fund-raiser for that purpose will be held in September.