News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Patricia Austin (standing left) and Robert Flores (standing right), both members of the League of United Latin American Citizens, are part of the discussion between AP city leaders and the Hispanic farm worker community Wednesday night.
click any photo to view this story's photo gallery
published: Friday, October 12, 2012
AP officals, farm workers meet to discuss migrant housing
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- Officials with the League of United Latin American Citizens and farm workers themselves met with city officials and candidates for the city council Wednesday night.
City Manager Julian Deleon and Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland were present and a part of the discussion.
Held in a vacant store at 1 Main St., there was no air conditioning and more than 100 people crowded into the small space. It was hot and emotions were high, but apart from a few outbursts and sharp exchanges, the meeting remained civil and productive.
At issue is the city's proposed Ordinance 15-12, which proposes rezoning boarding houses, restricting access to residential areas. Boarding houses, however, are the primary source of housing for migrant fruit and vegetable pickers.
First raised at the Sept. 8 city council meeting, ordinance 15-12 was tabled so its language could be revisited by city staff.
Patricia Austin directed the discussion from the LULAC perspective, and Deleon from the city's.
For its part, LULAC understands there are unscrupulous landlords who prey on farm workers at the expense of the neighborhood. For this reason the organization supports stronger code enforcement.
City code, LULAC says, already covers safety and nuisance violations. It is a matter of following through and taking action, they said. There was no need to rezone.
"Why didn't you just leave it alone?" Austin asked Deleon, referring to the introduction of ordinance 15-12. "A lot of people feel that the council doesn't listen. You had to know this was coming.
"There are (already) code enforcement regulations to follow," Austin said, "and open public records. This is not the farm worker's problem." Then she added, "But you have been working with us and we appreciate that."
Austin and farm worker speakers said in addition to city ordinances, to qualify for the federal special visa farm worker program, workers' living quarters must meet set standards and be inspected multiple times over the picking season. The federal regulations, they said, are tougher than the city's.
Better code enforcement, the speakers said, was the answer to the problem.
Deleon said the city has an obligation to regulate residential and commercial zoning districts. "The city is not opposed to boarding houses that can be zoned or used within the appropriate zoning districts, with the needed infrastructure to properly service the housing facility," he said in an email message to the News-Sun early Thursday.
"It was actually the LULAC officials stating that the city needed to tighten up on code enforcement and not permit over crowded houses," Deleon said, adding he agreed about the need for tighter code enforcement.
"We are here to listen to everyone, and to constructively consider all points of view," he told the audience Wednesday night.
"We need to cooperate to solve the problems," agreed Lydia Medrano, LULAC's Florida state director. "We want to collaborate," she added. "It takes an issue like this to bring people together and find solutions."
Deleon expressed concern, however, that the circulation of "erroneous information" jeopardized the cooperative progress currently underway.
Contrary to rumor, he said, because the wording is being revised and citizen input considered, Ordinance 15-12 will not be on the city council's Oct. 22 agenda.
It was agreed LULAC and the city should have another special meeting. Austin suggesting the entire community should be involved.
Deleon said it was as important to regularly go to city council meetings. "We encourage everyone to attend and present their thoughts to the city council," he said.
Terry Heston and Paul Miller, city council incumbents running for re-election, and Garrett Anderson and Jim Barnard, candidates for the council, presented themselves to the audience. Deputy Mayor Brenda Gray, also an incumbent running for re-election, was not there.
Fern & Fern (by: chavos - 10/13/2012)
Here is something that everyone has to know. Yudith Fernandez is giving Naple's LULAC Council with Valdez a FREE office in their building to get the organization to apply political pressure for the City to cave and bend rules to open over crowded housing on their building. This is a clear conflict of interest and misuse of LULAC power by the Collier County perjury convicted valdez. He is crazy if he thinks that he will muscle Deleon around or get him to cave.
local (by: Huero - 10/12/2012)
My family wife make the meeting and we were very sad to see the Lulac lady use us for her fame. The panelists fight for speaking to have one older man insult a lady in the audience that is spanish. I beg Avon Park not to listen to the Lulac organisors. They do not represent me and my wife. These people make it bad for all immigrants to make us look like fools that cant speak for themselves. I came to Avon Park in 1982 and marry my wife here in 2004. I came as an ilegal and I lived in a house with 9 other people. The leader that found our house for us told us never leave in daytime because the City could make him pay more money. I know he was wrong. The people that rent houses are most greedy and make the money from the people they hide inside.
This says it all... (by: City - 10/12/2012)
Here is the concern as written by the Reporter:
Small Banner Ads