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Half Moon Bay farmworker summit to scope growing needs


Nicholas Mazzoni

Daily Journal staff


May 20, 2023

Updated May 20, 2023


A call to provide coastal farmworkers with clean running water, affordable housing and health care will be the focus of public community discussion between them and local and state officials on the coast.


The first public farmworker summit May 20 is to give the farmworkers an opportunity to interact directly with officials and express to their needs to them, said Victoria Sanchez De Alba, chair of the Farmworker Affairs Committee of San Mateo County Democratic Party.


“The tragic shootings in January really shed the light on all the inequities,” Sanchez De Alba said. “It reminds us, even more urgently, of how important it is to expand our efforts, and include the public in the discussions of the challenges.”


In January, Chunli Zhao entered a mushroom farm, where he worked in Half Moon Bay, shot and killed four people and seriously wounded a fifth. He then drove to a nearby farm where he worked previously and killed three more people. The mass shooting shed light on the inequities farmworkers on the coast face, such as access to health care and affordable housing and living wages are the biggest concerns.


Housing


Joaquin Jimenez, Half Moon Bay vice mayor and farmworker program director for Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, said he expects the summit to nudge the county and state officials to find feasible solutions for affordable housing for coastal farmworkers.


“The living wages, and the struggles that farmworkers are going through to find housing is affecting the farming business,” Jimenez said. “Because they are forced to do another job or leave the area. We owe it to them, to bring them better housing, provide health care and give them mental health services, there’s a lot of depression and anxiety and stress for these workers.”


Ray Mueller, San Mateo County supervisor for District 3, said he visited one of the farms in January where the shootings took place. He discovered deplorable living quarters when he was on the property with County Executive Officer Mike Callagy. He took pictures and posted on Twitter sites of living quarters, an outdoor kitchen and an indoor gathering place.


“I wanted to move people, I wanted to get people to see it, and in doing so, we have to address the issue,” Mueller said. “But in part, it added political capital to put together a task force to inspect the local farms and invest money along with partnering with the state to accrue grants and funds to build sufficient and affordable housing for farmworkers.”


One of the grants the county is waiting for is the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant Program, which will enable the farmworkers to buy the homes the county is hoping to build.


“We are looking at building 45 to 60 modular homes in Half Moon Bay and are waiting for the grant funding so the farmworkers will be able to buy the homes,” Mueller said.


Rita Mancera, executive director of the nonprofit Puente de la Costa Sur, said she hopes to gain support from elected officials at the summit.


“Hopefully we can overcome some of the barriers that we will face and some of the housing solutions that we are exploring,” Mancera said. “We know this is important and there is attention on housing now.”


Some of those barriers include funding and rezoning for multifamily developments, she said.


Clean water


Pescadero doesn’t have a laundromat and a mobile service is expensive, said Mancera, adding she wants to expand those services.


Jimenez said one of his concerns for Pescadero is its issues with clean running water. Pescadero High School doesn’t have clean running water and the students are provided bottled water. Water for the rest of the city is trucked in, he said.


Mueller said the county has been working on solutions, one of which was championed by Don Horsley, former San Mateo County supervisor for District 3. He said Horsley set the framework to bring clean water to the high school through a pipeline running from the fire stations.


“We are waiting for the Coastal Commission’s approval to install a pipeline from the old fire station to the new fire station and that will then go to the high school,” said Mueller, who added there’s talks about running a pipeline to the local farms for agriculture purposes and drinking water for its workers.


The January storms also affected septic and well systems and the county is working to make sure the water tests are accurate and the wells are safe to use, he added.


Health care


Lastly, the mass shooting shed light on mental health issues and a lack of services for coastal farmworkers. Jimenez said the farmworkers are making an average of $16.50 to $20 an hour, which he said is half of the poverty level.


“And that’s why I want the state to pass legislation to give free health care to the farmworkers, if they make less than half the poverty line then why not provide them with free health insurance,” Jimenez said. “We owe it to them, to bring them better housing, provide health care and give them mental health services, there’s a lot of depression and anxiety and stress for the workers.”


The county is looking at ways to bring health care to the coast for acute emergency care, Mueller said.


Health care providers claim there are not enough patients to open a facility on the coast, he said. However, Mueller argues there are enough patients, but they are spread out over various providers. There needs to be a buy-in to consolidate coastal patients to one health care provider that can then open a facility there, Mueller said.


Sanchez De Alba said the summit was organized so the farmworkers will have an opportunity to speak to state and local officials. Jimenez said he hopes what is brought up at the summit will lead to action.


“We can talk about the farmworkers’ needs all they want but, if there is no action, there is no point in doing another summit,” Jimenez said.


The summit is 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside Event Center, located at 530 Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay.



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