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Half Moon Bay Commemorates 1-Year Anniversary of Mass Shooting That Killed 7

Farida Jhabvala Romero

Jan 23

Half Moon Bay Mayor Joaquin Jimenez speaks during a roundtable discussion at the ALAS Sueño Center in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23, 2024, on the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at two farms that claimed the lives of 7 people in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Residents of Half Moon Bay gathered Tuesday to commemorate the first anniversary of a tragic pair of shootings that left seven farmworkers dead, shocking the small oceanfront town and beyond. Most of the victims — all of them Chinese and Latino immigrants — were 64 and older.

The murders at the mushroom farms, deemed an extreme case of workplace violence, also exposed what local and state officials described as deplorable housing conditions for the workers who lived on-site, as well as wages that were nearly half of the minimum mandated by California law.

The accused gunman, Chunli Zhao, was charged last year with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Zhao appeared briefly in court on Tuesday morning after San Mateo County prosecutors revealed that a criminal grand jury had indicted him on seven counts of first-degree murder, among other charges. Zhao’s defense attorney requested a continuance, and the judge scheduled an arraignment for the end of February.

The former forklift operator allegedly gunned down the first five victims, one of whom survived, at California Terra Garden, where he worked and lived. Zhao, 66 at the time of the attack, then shot and killed three more people at nearby Concord Farms, where he previously worked.

Speaking to reporters after the Half Moon Bay shootings, a visibly rattled Gov. Gavin Newsom said some of the workers at the farms had been living in shipping containers and made as little as $9 an hour, way below the state’s $15.50 hourly minimum at the time (it is now $16 per hour).

One year later, several state and county investigations of the employers are ongoing, including a “joint investigation” with state regulators at both farms for wage theft claims, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told KQED.

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office cited California Terra Garden for violations of paid sick leave and supplemental paid sick leave laws. The employer settled for $150,000, according to a spokesperson for the agency.

A successor business at the same site, Li & Son Mushroom Farms, was also cited, including for failure to maintain workers’ compensation insurance and violations under the San Mateo County minimum wage, which is higher than the state’s. But that company appealed the citations and has not paid them yet, the spokesperson said.

‘If we can’t get accountability for a case that was this public, that had this much attention from the highest elected officials in the state of California, what does that say about what’s happening in the rest of California?’Antonio De Loera-Brust, director of communications, United Farm Workers

And last summer, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, issued proposed penalties of nearly $114,000 against California Terra Garden for 22 workplace safety violations. The agency also cited Concord Farms for more than $51,000 for 19 violations.

Both cases remain open, with California Terra Garden contesting the penalties in August. A spokesperson with the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA and the Labor Commissioner’s Office, confirmed that the employers have not yet paid any of the safety citation amounts.

Others in attendance at the gathering included elected officials such as Rep. Anna Eshoo, representatives from the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor and several state agencies.

“I have never seen a community pull together the way this community has,” said Eshoo, adding that she has been in elected office for 41 years. “But out of that pain, this community understood the shame that was under it and committed from day one … to get rid of the shame and [work on] the need for decent housing for human beings, for the workers in this community.”

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