Gavin Newsom threatens Half Moon Bay with legal action over ‘egregious’ farmworker housing delay

Posted on: May 9, 2024

Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown speaking about the mass shooting in Half Moon Bay in January 2023, has threatened legal action against the city for delaying a plan to build farmworker housing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown speaking about the mass shooting in Half Moon Bay in January 2023, has threatened legal action against the city for delaying a plan to build farmworker housing.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle 2023

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday threatened potential legal action against Half Moon Bay after officials stalled a project to build farmworker housing in the aftermath of a mass shooting that exposed poor living conditions at local farms.

Photos taken by a San Mateo County supervisor after the 2023 shooting depicted uninsulated, one-room storage sheds with no running water where workers were apparently living. County officials soon found that neither mushroom farm where workers were shot had proper registration to house laborers on their premises.

In response, two nonprofits proposed a five-story, 40-unit building to house senior farmworkers in downtown Half Moon Bay. The city’s planning commissioners discussed the project at two public meetings last month, but each time put off voting. Although most members of the public who spoke at the meetings said they supported the project, commissioners raised concerns that the building would be too tall, increase traffic and parking competition and look out of place.

The commissioners will have a third opportunity to vote next week. This time, Newsom said, state regulators will be watching.

“This delay is egregious,” Newsom said in a statement. “The state’s Housing Accountability Unit is reviewing the city’s actions and will take all necessary steps to hold Half Moon Bay accountable if the project does not move forward as state law requires.”

Newsom didn’t specify which laws the city may be violating.

“Affordable housing, especially for farmworkers, is a dire need” and a “top priority” for the city, City Clerk Jessica Blair wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “We’re excited to see this project get to the permit review level which will help ensure this is the best project for the community. The City has no further comment at this time.”

Newsom started the Housing Accountability Unit to pressure cities and counties to approve more housing as the state struggles with a housing shortage and sky-high rents, sometimes through legal action.

The unit has secured various concessions and judgments against local governments across the state who state regulators say failed to follow housing laws. It has sued over individual proposals, such as Anaheim’s rejection of a transitional housing project for recently homeless women, and over broad violations of state housing law, such as its lawsuit last year against Huntington Beach after the city failed to approve a compliant housing plan. The unit also began an unprecedented review of San Francisco’s housing approval process, which last year found the city’s process violates multiple laws and is the most drawn-out in California.

Newsom met with farmworkers and other community members after the shooting, which killed seven people.

“Some of you should see where these folks are living, the conditions they’re in. Living in shipping containers, making $9 an hour,” he told reporters after meeting with the workers. “No health care, no support services.”

Newsom didn’t immediately announce any plans to investigate or respond, which drew criticism. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former state lawmaker who now leads the California Labor Federation, pointed to state laws intended to help ensure farmworkers are paid at least minimum wage, currently $16 an hour.

“If he’s hearing firsthand that these workers are being paid subminimum wage … why is that not being investigated?” she told the Chronicle at the time. “There is a crime going on right in front of the governor.”

Shortly afterward, his office announced that state regulators would investigate the farms. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health ultimately fined one, California Terra Garden, $113,800 for 22 violations, including failure to immediately notify employees of an active shooter threat and instruct them to seek shelter. It fined the other, Concord Farms, $51,700 for 19 violations, including that it failed to address previous incidents of workplace violence. A spokesperson for Newsom did not respond to a question about whether the state found any wage violations at either farm.

Reach Sophia Bollag:; Twitter: @SophiaBollag

Posted in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Van Meter Williams Pollack LLP