Urban viewpoint destroying farms
Some legislators in Sacramento who represent urban areas are proposing laws, regulations and restrictions that are squeezing the life out of the farm community.
In a couple of cases the extreme language of their proposals has been so far off the mark that it not only appears ridiculous, but it threatens the stability and strength of agriculture, the state’s number one economic driver.
One example is the bill proposed by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler regarding protection of agricultural field workers from extreme heat. She represents an area that kind of surrounds LAX, including parts of Marina Del Rey, Torrance, El Segundo and two beach cities, Redondo and Manhattan..
Prevention of heat illness for the state’s estimated 350,000 farm workers has been on the legislative plate for at least three years. Laws have been passed and new, stringent regulations have been invoked to ensure greater worker protection. Fields from Tracy to Tulare and Arvin to Artois are dotted with mobile shade, water supplies and rest stations wedded to portable toilets. Significant progress has been made.
But for the urban legislative crowd progress is not enough. Apparently they want absolute subjugation. The language of some of their proposals aimed at farmers is punitive, even vindictive.
Senator Ted Lieu, whose district overlaps Assemblywoman Butler’s home turf, lives in Torrance and maintains his district office in Redondo Beach. His bill regarding the prevention of heat stress. which failed in the legislature, would have allowed workers to sue employers if they don’t provide enough protection, and it included penalties reaching a million dollars.
On the other side of town, the area referred to by Latino comedians as “EastLA” — all one word — the Calderon brothers, one a senator, the other an assemblyman occupying overlapping districts, entered the heat illness protection game with legislative bills.
Charles Calderon, the assemblyman, authored a bill that compared farm workers without the required heat protection to animals suffering cruelty. As demeaning to workers as it was it gained full support of the union that purports to represent field workers as well as other unions and labor sympathizers. It is now on the governor’s desk.
No doubt the districts the legislators on both sides of Los Angeles represent are liberally laced with Hispanic voters, and the “get even with farmers” tone of their legislative bills might appeal to some of the militants among them.
Representing their constituents, appealing to them for re-election is one thing, but divisive, harsh and extreme legislative language is inexcusable and plainly indecent. The state’s welfare and stability of its most consistent economic provider should be the higher calling for every legislator.
It is not an exaggeration to believe that widening the gap between urban and rural lifestyles can lead to the kind of ecoterrorism agriculture in the Central Valley has been subjected twice in recent months. Two times is too many.
While these urban legislators use their bully pulpits to pit their constituents against farmers and food producers, subtly creating distrust and implying that cruelty is basic to the farm operator, agriculture is doing the opposite.
Agricultural organizations in California at several levels are making diligent efforts to encourage urban dwellers and all consumers to get acquainted with the state’s farmers and with day to day life on the farm.
Practicality tells us that elected representatives must be motivated by contributions to their campaign funds, leading to re-election. But our heritage insists that they must first be dedicated to the common good.
Bills by these two might gain them support, but they do serious harm to not only the common good, but to the trust between the state’s citizens. After police nearly beat him to death a recovered urbanite Rodney King asked: “Can’t we all just get along?
Apparently neither these two legislators nor their party supporters believe we can.
Don Curlee is an agriculture consultant in the Valley. His column appears each Monday in The Recorder.