Supervisors Approve Mecca Farmworker Rest Station
RIVERSIDE – The Board of Supervisors today voted 4-0 to approve an agreement with the Galilee Center to construct and operate the Mecca Comfort Station, a permanent shower, restroom and laundry facility for migrant farmworkers, in early 2015.
The agreement with the Galilee Center will provide a readily accessible location in downtown Mecca for these services, closing a long-running chapter in the county’s legal obligations to improve the working and living conditions of farmworkers.
Certain times of the year bring a large influx of migrant workers to Mecca, many of whom don’t live in conventional housing and lack showers and restrooms. As many as 200 farmworkers each day are expected to use the comfort station.
“Today’s vote is a significant milestone in our efforts to help the farmworker communities and provide necessities that are often taken for granted,” said Supervisor John J. Benoit. “I am extremely pleased to work with the Galilee Center, and I appreciate their vital role in making this very worthy project happen.”
The Galilee Center provides food, clothing and other basic needs to low-income families in the eastern Coachella Valley communities of Mecca, North Shore, Oasis and Thermal.
In 2013, a vacant warehouse was donated to the Galilee Center and renovated into the nonprofit’s office, thrift store and food distribution center. A portion of the Galilee Center’s building, at 66-101 Hammond Rd., will be renovated into the Mecca Comfort Station.
“I thank the Board of Supervisors and especially Supervisor John Benoit for his leadership and resolution to helping the eastern Coachella Valley and the poorest of the poor,” said Gloria Gomez, founder of the Galilee Center. “The Mecca Comfort Station is a greatly needed facility that is important for farmworkers and the community.”
In 2000, the county entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to settle complaints addressing the working and living conditions of farmworkers. The county has complied by producing 9,242 affordable housing units for low-to-moderate income residents since 1999 and providing other programs and services. The construction of a permanent Mecca Comfort Station is the final obligation in that agreement.
Blaz Gutierrez III, a staff attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., said farmworkers were bathing in canals and washing their clothes in runoff. He praised the supervisors for the many community improvements that were inspired by the agreement, including the Farmworker Service Center in Mecca, the redevelopment of the fire station, library and roundabout.
“Not having the ability to wash your clothes for a week after working in the fields or a safe place to shower limits your membership in society,” Gutierrez said. “When that occurs, you can’t go to a market, a bank, or even church without feeling some level of discomfort. This comfort station will help people integrate themselves better into our marketplace and into our community.”
Since 2006, the county has partnered with the Desert Alliance for Community Empowerment to operate a temporary facility containing portable showers and restrooms but no laundry services. However, the facility is 1.5 miles outside the town and has cost approximately $100,000 per year to operate, including transportation to the facility.
Plans for a permanent facility were delayed for years due to the search for a suitable location and the state’s elimination of redevelopment, which removed a key funding source.
The Galilee Center expressed an interest in using 8,000 square feet of their facility for the Mecca Comfort Station. County staff and the Galilee Center negotiated the agreement approved today, in which the Galilee Center will receive $1.2 million to construct the Mecca Comfort Station and $75,000 per year to cover the facility’s operational costs over a ten-year period.
The Mecca Comfort Station will have a men’s and women’s restroom facility, each with at least five shower stalls, toilets, sinks and lockers, and an additional family restroom. The laundry facility will have eight washing machines and dryers. The renovations are expected to begin by February 2015 and be completed by June 2015.