WOODLAND (California) DAILY DEMOCRAT

September 26, 2017

 

Yolo County supervisors acknowledge farmworker needs

By Hans Peter

 

Yolo County owes much of its agricultural success to farm laborers, and supervisors nodded in their direction Tuesday.

Carolyn West, a management analyst with the county administrator’s office, pointed during the supervisor’s meeting some of the county’s key issues surrounding farmworkers, and presented them to the board. Based on her information, the county must implement more tangible support for workers and their families, and must also cultivate trust among a community that fears deportation on a daily basis.

Part of the county’s research derived from an ad hoc subcommittee designed to aerate that community and address workers’ needs. That subcommittee comprises District 2 Supervisor Don Saylor and District 1 Supervisor Oscar Villegas, who both reached out to people this past spring and summer.

Saylor mentioned during the meeting that Yolo County contains nearly 7,000 farmworkers among 400 farms, and problems discussed on Tuesday would mark “just the tip of the iceberg.”

West began her presentation by stating issues are numerous and tangled, and many of them are beyond the county’s reach. With policies regarding immigration in limbo on a federal level, Yolo can only do so much to assist workers, documented or otherwise.

“So what are some local ways that we might be able to help?” West asked supervisors hypothetically.

After interviews with local farmworkers, West dug up 15 issues, only a few of which she showcased as “county actionable.”

First, West pointed out that regardless of immigration status, farmworkers have access to medical care and even insurance coverage. Although, granted, many face language barriers and have less access to preventative care.

Food, housing and transportation were also recurring issues among workers. With limited funds and often only seasonal access to reliable work, many families struggle to keep food on the table. Moreover, some farmer housing units only provide air conditioning for summer months and no heat for the winter, according to District 5 Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, a long-time farmer himself.

“Farming’s more of a year-round thing these days,” Chamberlain said.

Further, West said many families only have one vehicle, which serves as the primary transport for them. Rural stretches of farmland have no bus route regular enough for workers to use.

Further complexities arise regarding land use and rural housing. Recent supervisor talks on agritourism — the hybridization of Yolo’s farmlands with event centers and bed and breakfasts — have hoped to make sense of complicated Land Use ordinance. Permanent or temporary housing in the agricultural zones of the county could tangle policy further.

Education also arose as a concern, especially in light of President Donald Trump’s recent decision to rescind DACA, a program that has supported students who were brought to America illegally.

Many immigrant workers want to excel in their fields or branch into new careers, according to West. However, these workers have little access to the education needed to do so and face language barriers, to say nothing of Trump’s recent jabs at illegal immigration.

West said recent federal-level activity has only sharpened fears regarding deportation, and Villegas acknowledged this.

“The farmworker community wants what everybody wants,” he said, referring to housing, food and reliable work. “We made it clear (in stakeholder meetings) that there are forces we cannot control here.”

Part of the presentation called for more official recognition that supervisors support immigrants. West also said staff recommended that supervisors appoint a nonprofit outreach coordinator to continue to address farmworkers — having a non-governmental entity conduct this outreach would likely mean more participation from the community. Moreover, West suggested that the county have the Health and Human Services Agency to bridge the gap between workers and the county-provided health care available to them.

Housing and transporting workers will encompass a myriad of new hills to climb, and staff recommended the Community Services Department explore options within the county’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and return to the Board of Supervisors with options.

Supervisors pushed the recommendations through unanimously.