FOR THE RECORD
A story in the May 25 Coastline Pilot, “Day Labor Center lease terms set,” erroneously stated that no bids were received for the Caltrans-owned property. Caltrans rejected all bids for the land.
Laguna Beach will pay $5,040 per year in rent to the state to keep the Day Labor Center open on Laguna Canyon Road.
After nearly a year of negotiations, officials recently came to an agreement with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on how much rent the city will pay for use of the land.
City Manager Ken Frank said the city will pay $420 a month for use of the site for one year. Frank was authorized by the City Council to negotiate the lease terms.
The lease agreement was worked out last year and states the city will pay a monthly rent of whatever the “fair market value” for property in the canyon is.
When the lease was written in 2006, the fair market value had yet to be determined.
The lease also stipulates that the city will have to pay a security deposit of one and one-half times the rent.
The lease will run out June 30.
The city began using the half-acre space, located in a Caltrans right-of-way on Laguna Canyon Road, for the Day Labor Center in the early 1990s.
Unauthorized use revealed
Last June, Caltrans ordered the site closed after anti-illegal immigration activist Eileen Garcia, a Laguna Beach resident, researched the issue and discovered that the land belonged to the state.
Garcia’s queries to Caltrans resulted in the agency’s determination that the city had no authorization to use the site, which is developed with a small office and portable toilets.
City officials had opened the site in order to move labor-seekers from congregation areas in North Laguna and elsewhere. A city ordinance prohibits solicitation for work anywhere in the city except the designated Day Labor Center.
City officials are concerned that, if the labor center were to close, the ordinance would be unenforceable because of U.S. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech.
After the issue came to light, Caltrans ordered the labor center immediately closed, but city officials acted quickly to arrange a lease.
The subsequent year-long lease allowed the center to remain open until June this year, with the rent to be determined.
‘A great deal’
Real Estate agent Rick McIntire of the Laguna Board of Realtors said $420 a month isn’t much to pay for property in the canyon.
“It seems like a great deal,” McIntire said.
Assistant City Manager John Pietig said after the lease is up in June, the city will most likely pay a month to month lease.
He also said it’s possible the city will try to buy the land if Caltrans puts it up for auction.
The site went to auction once already with a $1.2 million price tag but no one bid on the property, Pietig said.
Pietig said if the price is lowered to a more reasonable amount, the city would consider buying it.
“The city tried to negotiate with Caltrans to reach a reasonable price, but a reasonable price could not be agreed upon,” Pietig said.
Caltrans officials did not return phone calls.
‘Aiding illegal immigrants’
Garcia had hoped to close the site permanently by bringing the situation to the attention of Caltrans. She said now that the city will be paying to use the area she will be even more dedicated to closing the site.
Garcia claims that illegal immigrants use the site and documentation proves it.
Garcia believes that any assistance to illegal immigrants should be halted.
“The second that’s found out, the city of Laguna Beach should yank the funding,” Garcia said. “It’s aiding and abetting illegal immigrants. It’s against the law.”
Garcia filed a lawsuit in October against the city, accusing officials of misusing taxpayers’ money by supplementing the center, which is operated by the Cross Cultural Council, a local group.
The suit, filed by Judicial Watch, a national conservative organization based in Washington, D.C., accuses the center of being a business and therefore subject to the same legal requirements that other businesses must adhere to.
Businesses are required to ensure workers are legally eligible to work in the United States, which Day Labor Center operators do not.
Garcia claims that, because there is a $1 fee for workers and a $5 fee for contractors to use the site, it is a business and should be held accountable to the federal law as other businesses are.
Nonprofit or business?
David Peck, of the Cross Cultural Council, said the lawsuit’s accusations are baseless.
He said the cost is a suggested donation rather than a service fee.
“We’re asking people to donate so we can keep it open as a service to the city,” Peck said.
The money helps pay the center’s staff, water and electric bills, Peck said.
Peck said the site serves the community by keeping day laborers off the streets and in one place. It also serves to protect workers from being taken advantage of by dishonest employers, Peck said.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Should the Day Labor Center be closed down? Write us at P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA, 92652, e-mail us at email@example.com or fax us at 494-8979. Please give your name and tell us your home address and phone number for verification purposes only.