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Half Moon Bay farm says new housing to be built for workers in wake of mass shooting

Half Moon Bay farm says new housing to be built for workers in wake of mass shooting
Half Moon Bay farm says new housing to be built for workers in wake of mass shooting 03:15

HALF MOON BAY -- The operator of a Half Moon Bay mushroom farm which was the site of a mass shooting last week will build new permanent housing in a separate area of the property for workers and their families as new light is shed on the workers' squalid conditions.

California Terra Garden said in a press statement Monday the decision to build new housing came "after collaborative discussions with local officials that uncovered a series of code and permitting requirements unknown before the tragic shootings that occurred last week."

Four people were killed at California Terra Garden and three others at Concord Farms, a second mushroom farm nearby, in a mass shooting on Jan. 23 by a former California Terra Garden worker. An eighth worker was injured and was in stable condition as of last week. Authorities said the massacre 

The San Mateo County Sheriff's office said the accused shooter, Chunli Zhao, was a co-worker or former co-worker of each of the victims. Following the massacre, workers and their families living at California Terra Gardens were relocated to hotels and offered mental health and other support. It was unclear whether Concord Farms also houses workers on site.


California Terra Garden said it was working with local officials on a plan to provide workers and families with affordable housing over the next year while the new housing is constructed.

Last week, San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller tweeted images of what he said were the crime scenes at one of the mushroom farms where workers lived in dilapidated, makeshift living quarters fashioned out of shipping containers or mobile homes, calling the conditions "deplorable, heartbreaking."

Mueller echoed the comments by Governor Gavin Newsom during his visit to Half Moon Bay a day after the mass shooting, who said agricultural workers in the area were living in conditions that were "simply deplorable" while earning $9 an hour with no health benefits.

David Oates, a California Terra Garden spokesman, said Newsom's comments did not apply to his company, where he said workers earned between $16.50 and $20 an hour, plus benefits. Oates told the San Francisco Chronicle the living quarters, in which workers pay about $300 a month in rent, "are not elaborate accommodations but they certainly are comfortable." 

In 2021, California agricultural workers earned an average of $15.28 an hour, a yearly wage of $31,770, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Labor Department shows about 60% of California's agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants. Farmworker advocates say fears of deportation or other workplace retaliation keep workers from speaking out about unfair or illegal labor practices.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the state Labor Commissioner's office have pledged to investigate the labor conditions at the sites. A Cal/OSHA spokesperson told KQED that most California workers, including agricultural workers, are "protected by the state's labor laws and workplace safety and health regulations, regardless of their immigration status."

San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe has said his office would prosecute the owners of the farms if labor violations were uncovered.

"The workers were living in very, very poor conditions. Some were in very old trailers and others were living in shacks without running water or electricity," Wagstaffe told KQED last week. "Really a type of living circumstance that I don't think any of us think should exist in this country."

At a news conference Wednesday, described the workers' living conditions as "squalor" and said the county executive told him "Now we know about it, and we have to act on it."

In 2021, Wagstaffe prosecuted the owner of a Half Moon Bay hemp farm for withholding workers' wages. Farmworker advocates say the combination of soaring real estate prices on the Peninsula coast combined with cheaper farming options overseas have created the poor conditions in which local farmworkers find themselves.

Mueller pledged he would be working with the county to identify other problematic farmworker sites.

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