The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors honored the victims of last week’s mass shootings in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday, as supervisors pledged to improve living conditions for farm laborers at sanctioned farms in the county and to identify housing in unsanctioned locations.
Seven people were killed and another was wounded during shootings at two farms in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23. An employee at one of the farms, Chunli Zhao, is facing seven counts of murder after being arrested in a Sheriff’s Office substation parking lot following the shootings.
Multiple memorial services were planned around Half Moon Bay this week in addition to a standing memorial at Mac Dutra Plaza.
Supervisor David Pine said at Tuesday’s meeting that he was heartbroken about the shootings.
“I also feel a sense of anger,” said Pine. “I’m angry that we have farmworkers that have to live in such difficult conditions and receive sub-standard wages.”
Living conditions at both farms came under scrutiny following the killings, which the Sheriff’s Office has described as motivated by workplace issues.
“It sounds like folks that have been there were traumatized by even seeing the living conditions for the farmworkers,” said Supervisor Noellia Corzo. “For many people in our community, it’s normal. This is what they have.”
Victims’ names read
The board began its meeting by having the Rev. Lauren McCombs, of the Episcopal Diocese of California, give reflective remarks and recite a prayer from St. Francis, as well as read the names of the victims killed.
The names were again read in Mandarin by Virginia Chang Kiraly, spokesperson for the San Mateo County Organization of Chinese Americans, who noted that last names are read first in Mandarin. Six of the victims in the shootings were farm laborers of Chinese descent. Kiraly was invited by Supervisor Ray Mueller to speak and was asked back later to give public comments by Pine.
During her public comments, Kiraly said the shootings had exposed a resource gap for Chinese workers in the county, calling it a wake-up call for the county to provide more culturally appropriate counseling for its farmworkers. She said there was a complete lack of understanding and respect for Chinese farm laborers, which she attributed to ethnocentric behavior.
“We Chinese cannot and will not remain invisible,” Kiraly said.
“We have to plant a signpost in the ground to say we’re going to do things differently.”Supervisor Ray Mueller
The shootings took place in the county’s District 3, represented by Mueller. He said he was in the district a year ago marching with farmworkers in support of victims of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and would never have believed that Half Moon Bay would be the scene of its own shooting a short time later.
Mueller said the shootings had shined a light on how vulnerable people and farmworkers are living in the county and said that many of the farmworkers in the county are functionally homeless.
“The best way to honor them is with policy,” said Mueller. “We have to plant a signpost in the ground to say we’re going to do things differently.”
He said the county needs more permanent affordable housing for farmworkers like the Moonridge complex that opened in 2001, as well as needing to work with farmers to upgrade existing housing. He also requested that a survey and report be compiled detailing how many Asian farmworkers were living and working in the county, saying that that figure is not well known.
Tragedy of historic proportions
Supervisor David Canepa said housing solutions rely on state and federal help, and he recommended that the state expand both its emergency COVID-19 housing programs and Project Homekey hotel purchases as options.
“This is the most tragic mass shooting in San Mateo County’s history, and there is a lot of grief,” said Canepa.
The county activated its crisis response team to provide mental health counselors to those in need. It can be reached at 800-686-0101.
Canepa said $1.5 million had been spent on farmworker housing since an effort started with the county’s housing department in 2014, and this year’s budget includes $1.8 million for the issue. Funding has primarily been available through money raised from Measure K, the county’s sales tax extension approved in 2016.
The county is currently providing housing for the 37 people displaced by the shootings, which include 18 families and 11 children, according to County Executive Mike Callagy. He called on community members to be part of the housing solution, asking people to open their doors to the affected families, especially those with children in Half Moon Bay schools who do not want to relocate.
Callagy said several services are being offered, including translation, meals, employment services, victims’ services and mental health counseling. Displaced individuals were given between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on family size, to make up for lost compensation, which was provided by the nonprofit Coastside Hope.
There are 18 farms registered in San Mateo County with at least five residents on-site, but Callagy said there are likely more than that and the county is now working to identify those locations, which he called shadow sites.
“We can’t allow this to continue in our county,” he said.
Later in the meeting, in separate proclamations that were previously on the agenda, the board recognized the week of Feb. 2 through Feb. 7 as National Gun Violence Survivors Week and proclaimed January 2023 Lunar New Year in San Mateo County. The latter proclamation noted that 32.4 percent of the county’s population is of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.