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San Mateo County task force to investigate farmworker living conditions

Board of Supervisors authorizes funding for housing those displaced by shootings
Flowers are left in remembrance of the victims of the shootings in Half Moon Bay Jan. 23.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors this week allocated $750,000 to provide long-term temporary housing for those displaced by two mass shootings at farm sites in Half Moon Bay in January, and the county has also established a task force to investigate living conditions of its farmworkers.

The focus of the task force is to try to improve living conditions by identifying farm operators who are not in compliance with state and local regulations that impact the health and safety of farmworkers and their families, according to the county.

County regulations require farm operators to have permits if at least five people are living on-site.

County Executive Mike Callagy said earlier this month that there are 18 such farms in the county, but the number of unpermitted locations has not been determined. The task force will be made up of members of the county's Departments of Planning and Building, Environmental Health, Agriculture/Weights and Measures, County Attorney's Office and the District Attorney's Office.

At its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved funding from the American Rescue Plan meant to pay for housing for the next year for the 38 people displaced by the shootings, but left another $750,000 of the estimated $1.5 million cost unfunded, with the goal of seeking private donations to cover the rest.

Some of the cost could be mitigated by contributions from the owners of the farms where the shootings took place, as the residences have been red-tagged for code violations. The county health code requires property owners in unincorporated areas to pay up to three months in temporary housing costs in such an event. Property owners within Half Moon Bay city limits are required to cover up to two months.

"We will voluntarily seek those, but I always say that we've got the best law office in the state and if necessary, we'll utilize them to recover those damages," Callagy said.

Supervisor Noelia Corzo said the task force should not be used to force people living in substandard conditions to become unhoused, and cited what could become escalating costs if the county truly confronts how many people are potentially living in such conditions. She said there needs to be more examination of the root cause of the housing issues facing farmworkers in the county.

Supervisor Ray Mueller, who represents District 3, where the displaced farmworkers were living, said the concerns were valid and the county was working with state and local partners to try to identify housing solutions, including what he called "mercy centers" that could provide temporary housing if code violations are found to the point of causing displacement.

A $42.8 million state grant awarded Wednesday will bolster the effort to find long-term housing solutions for low-income residents in the county, although just 18 of the 212 units will be dedicated to farmworkers, according to a news release from the county.

The grant announced Wednesday will contribute funding to 212 units for low-income residents in Burlingame, Daly City and Moss Beach.

"This award is a major step forward to improve the lives of families and farmworkers on the Coastside," Mueller said in a statement.

Callagy said at the board's meeting Tuesday that it is the county's goal to encourage farm operators to come forward and work with the county on improving living conditions for workers.

"It's those bad actors that live in the shadows that don't want to come forward that if we find we will bring them into compliance," Callagy said.

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