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Day Laborers Spur Call for Anti-loitering Law

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

July 12 -- Carlos Gonzales stood on the corner of 11th and Colorado watching the morning traffic, hoping someone would stop and offer him a day’s work.

Five other men wearing blue jeans, flannel shirts and baseball caps stood nearby, joking in Spanish, while dozens more lined the sidewalks on both sides of the street. A pickup truck stopped and two laborers got inside. Gonzales watched as they drove off.

“We do all kinds of work, landscaping, moving, construction work, demolition, whatever,” Gonzales said. “Sometimes we work two, three days a week. Sometimes all week. Sometimes we go two, three weeks without work.”

The pay is $8 to $10 an hour, but being picked from the crowd that gathers outside Bourget Brothers Building Supplies in the early morning is largely a matter of chance, Gonzales said.

Sometimes, when a large group gathers in one place, police tell them to spread out, Gonzales said, adding that he’s never seen any real trouble in the area.

While the scene on a recent weekday morning was orderly, over the years, the City has received persistent complaints from people in the area. One of them, Linda Rider, will ask the City Council Tuesday night for an anti-loitering ordinance to “clean the place up.”

“First, I felt sorry for them,” said Rider about the men looking for work. But, she added, after seeing some of them drink and urinate in public, and after her residence was broken into twice, she decided something had to be done.

This informal labor exchange has been going on for decades on the sidewalks around the city’s only building supply store, said John Bourget, whose family started the business 58 years ago.

“Most of these guys, they want to work,” Bourget said. “I know ‘em. We say hello. They’re very respectful.” But Bourget acknowledged that having the laborers there has caused problems.

It’s not hard to find the law breakers, Bourget said. “Drinking, doping, gambling. I could take you there daily and show you the people drinking. It’s not hidden.”

Other complaints from nearby residents include assault, theft, vandalism and sexual harassment.

“I’m not trying to be mean or anything,” Rider said. “I’m just trying to do something good to improve the community.”

City staff, however, cautions that the anti-loitering ordinance Rider is asking for is probably unconstitutional and say there are laws already on the books to address her issues.

“Where these anti-solicitation or anti-loitering ordinances have been enacted, they have come under legal challenge,” the City staff wrote, citing recent court decisions against the cities of Glendale and Redondo Beach.

Staff said it would more likely support a day laborer center that would be managed by the City.

The idea, Bourget said, is nothing new: “I’ve been here since 1947, and we must have had 20 or 30 groups from the City that we’ve tried to work with to find a location for the day laborers.”

At one point he and other local businesses even offered the City money to help establish such a center, but nothing ever came of the idea, Bourget said.

“We’re willing to work with the City again,” he added.

Bourget said he understood the complaints that will be brought up by Rider, who expects to lobby the council with a group of residents Tuesday night.

“All these people that live here, they pay their dues,” Bourget said. “They blame us because our kind of business attracts them (the day laborers).”

Outside the business, day laborers are hoping to be the next ones picked up by building owners and contractors who need an extra hand.

“All these guys you see here, they don’t want problems, they just want work,” a day laborer said. “We have to buy food, pay rent, make money for families.”

Carlos Gonzales said he doesn’t care if the City passes an anti-loitering ordinance or not. He’s worked all over the United States since he left Mexico City 11 years ago and he’ll be moving on again soon.

“It’s too crowded here, too many people,” Gonzales said. “I got to find another place.

“I want to get a regular job and not just work some days. So I’m going to get my money together to get bus fare and get the f**k out of here."

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