By Sarah Varney, California Healthline
That bag of frozen cauliflower sitting inside your freezer likely sprang to life in a vast field north of Salinas, Calif. A crew of men and women here use a machine to drop seedlings into the black soil. Another group follows behind, stooped over, tapping each new plant.
It is backbreaking, repetitive work. Ten-hour days start in the cold, dark mornings and end in the searing afternoon heat.
More than 90 percent of California’s crop workers were born in Mexico. But in recent years, fewer have migrated to the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Researchers point to a number of causes: tighter border controls; higher prices charged by smugglers; well-paying construction jobs and a growing middle-class in Mexico that doesn’t want to pick vegetables for Americans.
As a result, the average farmworker is now 45 years old, according to federal government data. Harvesting U.S. crops has been left to an aging population of farmworkers whose health has suffered from decades of hard labor. Older workers have a greater chance of getting injured and of developing chronic illnesses, which can raise the cost of workers’ compensation and health insurance.
“The slowdown is happening,” said Brent McKinsey, a third-generation farmer and one of the owners of Mission Ranches in Salinas. “You start to see your production drop, but it’s difficult to manage because there aren’t the younger people wanting to come in and work in this industry.”
After a long day hunched over, cutting and bunching mustard leaves, Gonzalo Picazo Lopez, a farmworker, said the pain shooting down his leg is acting up. Lopez has been working in the fields since the 1970s, when he crossed over from Mexico. At 67 years old, he looks timeworn, with silver hair and a white beard. Deep lines mark his face.As Lopez described how he carefully picks the leaves with his right hand and bunches with his left, he opened and closed his fingers with difficulty.
“In 2015 my left hand started to hurt,” said Lopez. “I went into work one morning and my hand was cold — ice cold.”
Lopez is a U.S. citizen and has Medicare. He hopes to work for almost another decade, until his wife, who is 61 and picks broccoli, can collect her Social Security.
Chronic pain is a common complaint at Clinica de Salud in Salinas. Nearly all of the patients at this community clinic are farmworkers. Many don’t have health insurance and pay what they can for medical care. Those who have immigration papers, rely on Medicaid.
Oralia Marquez, a physician’s assistant at the clinic, said older farmworkers often develop arthritis, back pain, foot infections and breathing problems from pesticides.
Many of her patients, like Amalia Buitron Deaguilera also struggle with diabetes. Deaguilera is 63. She has Medicaid for insurance, but she’s losing her vision from the disease.
“When I was working in fields,” said Deaguilera, “I never had time to take care of myself and my health.”
Workers in the fields who have diabetes often cannot take their insulin because they have no place to refrigerate it, said Marquez. And they miss doctors’ appointments during the busy harvesting seasons because many don’t get paid when they don’t work.
“Most of our patients want just something to relieve the pain and to continue working,” she said. “Most of the time they don’t ask for disability. They don’t ask for days off. They say they don’t have time to miss days.”
Field laborers often delay health care, and that can lead to serious medical problems. Compared to older whites, older Latino farmworkers are much more likely to end up in the hospital, according to researchers at the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.
Faced with an aging and dwindling workforce, Mission Ranches’ McKinsey says farmers are trying to mechanize planting and harvesting to reduce their labor needs.
But machines can only do so much, McKinsey said. You can replace the human hand in a factory, perhaps. But out here, the fields are bumpy and the winds are strong and you need people to bring the plants to life.
This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Mortgage delinquencies decreased in September to their lowest levels in more than a decade. Serious delinquencies are at their lowest level since October 2007 and the foreclosure rate is now at its lowest level since June 2007.
SANTA ANA — The owner of a Los Angeles-based firm, and four of his workers, pleaded guilty to their roles in a scheme to underpay wages for public works projects in Orange County, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
The owner of Mackone Development, Scott Sung Yang, 46, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty Monday to felony charges of underpaying wages on a public works project and filing false documentation, said Orange County Deputy District Attorney Donde McCament.
Yang is expected to be sentenced March 12 to 60 days in jail and placed on five years of formal probation, the prosecutor said.
Yang’s project superintendent, Michael John Ferrin, 42, of San Pedro, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of not keeping accurate records of work hours. He was sentenced to 30 days of Caltrans service, McCament said.
Yang and Ferrin were ordered to pay $100,000 to the victim witness emergency fund, the prosecutor said.
Part of the case involved Yang’s contract for work at Harvey Street Elementary School in Santa Ana in 2012. Workers were paid $10 to $14 per hour despite the contractor’s agreement to pay a wage of about $44 per hour, according to court documents.
No Sung Pak, 76, of Hollywood, a subcontractor who owned a cabinet- making business, pleaded guilty in August of last year to not paying the proper amount of wages and was sentenced to 120 days in jail, McCament said.
Co-defendants Craig Roger Pierce and Robert Dequilla, who worked as foremen, and Myra Cruz, who was a bookkeeper and office manager, also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of labor code violations and are expected to be ordered to perform 30 days of Caltrans service, McCament said.
As part of the plea deal, none of the defendants can work in the public works industry again, McCament said. Yang must sell his business and will lose his contracting license, she added.
Sentencing was put off to give them time to sell the business and find employment elsewhere, McCament said.
RealPage, a provider of software and data analytics to the real estate industry, announced Tuesday that it completed its $300 million acquisition of Lease Rent Options and related assets from The Rainmaker Group.
A mixed-use project with two 15-story buildings in Irvine, across the street from John Wayne Airport, finally received a green light.
The City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 28, voted 3-1 in favor of overriding the Airport Land Use Commission for Orange County’s decision and allowing the development of The Landmark project by developer Great Far East. Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott opposed it, and Councilman Jeff Lalloway was absent.
“The project is safe,” Mayor Don Wagner said. “The project is good for Irvine.”
The council’s approval came after an independent consultant, Johnson Aviation, evaluated the air traffic safety issues and recommended doing so.
“I still can’t get comfortable with the project,” especially because the Airport Land Use Commission and the state’s transportation agency had safety concerns, Schott said.
The proposed seven-acre development, along MacArthur Boulevard just north of Campus Drive, would feature a 386-room luxury hotel, an office building, ground-level shops and restaurants, as well as a parking structure.
Irvine estimates the hotel would eventually generate about $1.3 million annually in transient occupancy taxes and $316,000 in hotel improvement district assessment fees. The project could also generate about $270,000 per year for the city in property tax and $100,000 in sales tax.
The issue, however, was the heights of the two buildings — the office tower at 253 feet above ground level and hotel 204 feet — when they are so close to the airport.
The FAA has determined that the buildings “would not be a hazard to air navigation” as long as they are marked and lighted properly, according to the agency’s report.
“The City of Irvine should accept the Federal Aviation Administration’s Determinations of No Hazard to Air Navigation for The Landmark hotel and office structures as the only authoritative source of aviation safety findings regarding The Landmark Project,” Johnson Aviation stated in its report.
Great Far East pointed out that several buildings around the project site are taller than the proposed hotel and office building.
The city’s Planning Commission approved the project June 15. But the seven-member Airport Land Use Commission, which shares authority over developments near the airport with the city, unanimously opposed the project on April 20, requesting that the hotel height be reduced by 47 feet and the office by 95 feet.
The airport commission’s flight tracking data showed that some planes were flying as low as 305 feet over the project site, which raised safety concerns.
Instead of redesigning the buildings, the project developer asked the City Council to override the commission’s decision as allowed by state law. The override requires a two-thirds vote.
Lalloway, who showed safety concerns about the project, proposed hiring an independent aviation consultant in July. Great Far East agreed to pay for the city’s consultant expenses.
“It’s difficult for our businesses to have to go through these hoops as I said to get to this point,” Councilwoman Christina Shea said Tuesday. “It’s very costly to them.”
Schott at Tuesday’s meeting brought up concerns about additional traffic the project may create.
“Weighing all that, I can’t justify that the benefit outweighs what I see as costs both in terms of traffic and safety concerns,” she said.
Great Far East CEO Sean Cao said the site had already been zoned for such commercial uses when his company bought it in May 2015. The company plans to build less office space than allowed to alleviate some traffic concerns, he said.
No start date has been set for construction, which could take a little less than 600 days, Cao said. He will continue to work on the design for six to nine months while monitoring economic trends and how other commercial developments are doing in the area, Cao said.
“We are at the ending period of a cycle,” he said. “We want to be cautious.”
Cao and Great Far East’s project partner, Landon Wright, said they hope The Landmark will rekindle the aging MacArthur Boulevard.
“The project probably alleviates traffic in large measure because folks don’t have to fly into that airport and then go drive out to other places,” Wagner said. “They can stay local, do conferences local and etc. Having vetted all those issues and having now completely alleviated, in my mind, any concerns over safety, I’m quite happy to support the project.”
A federal judge ruled with President Donald Trump’s pick for CFPB acting director, giving him full control of the bureau. Over the weekend, the CFPB erupted into chaos as two leaders showed up to the office as acting director – and no one knew who to follow. Now, however, a judge put an end to the confusion.
Strip malls such as this one in Murrieta give immigrants a foothold in entrepreneurship, said Ray Young. (Photo by Frank Bellino/ SCNG file photo)Strip malls such as this one in Costa Mesa, which often contain personal care services, are a big part of Orange County’s retail landscape. (Photo by Christine Cotter/SCNG file photo)Community centers, bigger than strip malls, typically contain one or more big box stores and draw from 4 to 6 miles away, said Cal State Fullerton professor emeritus Ray Young. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)South Coast Plaza, a super regional mall, draws tourists from as far away as China and Korea. (Photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG)Events such as the annual Shop and Dine Week celebration at the Orchard Shopping Center in Lake Forest make malls a social destination, says Cal State Fullerton professor emeritus Ray Young. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)Walmart stores, such as this one at the Village at Orange, are taking over spaces vacated by departed retailers, says Cal State Fullerton professor emeritus Ray Young. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)A Walmart Neighborhood Market on Beach Boulevard near Garden Grove Boulevard is part of the retailer’s strategy toward smaller stores. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)An Amazon robot carries a portable storage unit at the Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy in April 2016. Such innovations have helped propel the online retail giant, said CSUF professor emeritus Ray Young. (Photo by Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)Show Caption of Expand
“Whatever happened to Bullock’s?”
That question posed by Cal State Fullerton geography professor emeritus Ray Young might sound like nostalgic yearnings geared to his largely senior audience at a recent Osher Lifelong Learning Institute lecture.
But it’s really the question still at the heart of Orange County’s retail market health, he said.
Because what happened to Bullock’s – and Robinson’s, the May Co., Mervyn’s and other local retail stalwarts of the mid- to late 20th century – is still happening to our legacy chains today, Young said. Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Kmart have been closing stores, not just in forgotten pockets of the country but right here in the retail stronghold of Orange County.
And while an easy response to that decline might be to blame online retailers such as Amazon, the real challenge posed to the health of our local shopping centers isn’t so cut and dried, Young said.
Multiple forces have contributed to the closure of Southern California’s stores, he said, and not just the big national chains. He mentioned Hinshaw’s, which drew North County shoppers until the early 1990s, eliciting fond sighs from several in the audience.
“I would caution against making a sweeping assumption that online retailing has been the major culprit behind loss of customers at major department stores,” Young said in an email after his talk.
“In Orange County, primary diversion forces drawing customers away from ‘legacy general merchandisers’ since the mid-1990s have been the opening of key discounters such as Costco, Target and Walmart, coupled with a relative stagnation of household incomes since the Great Recession of 2007-09.”
Young is an urban geographer, studying what he calls the internal spatial structure of cities (think major types of land uses). He is particularly interested in urban retail patterns.
Cal State Fullerton geography professor emeritus Ray Young. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)“Retail holds a fascination for me because it is central to our everyday behaviors since we are consumers of what it offers, and yet we take the retail landscape for granted, seldom thinking about why the retail areas are the way they are and how they may be changing,” he said.
Competition has risen sharply in the O.C. retail landscape since the mid-1990s, he said. Costco and Target pull a large share of middle- and upper-middle-class households away from the legacy department stores. Walmart draws moderate and lower-income householders.
Since 2000, Orange County has seen the completion or major renovation of seven large-scale shopping centers, Young said in his talk. Six included a Target or Costco as anchors.
“Discounters have come to the mall because shoppers are going to the discounters,” he said.
Young warns those quick to point to low prices as the only factor drawing shoppers to discount chains.
Walmart, he said, also draws shoppers with variety of goods and services as well as long hours. It’s innovative, opening neighborhood markets where chain supermarkets have closed, as Target is now doing with its “target” store on East Chapman Avenue in Orange (he points out the small type signals the small store).
Young illustrated the shifting fates with a photo of the only remaining Kmart in Orange County – in Costa Mesa – contrasted with photos of full parking lots and long gas lines at Costco. “On Wednesday midafternoon – I counted 41 cars at 2:30!”
Individual discount stores have blossomed into power centers, with two or more so-called big-box retailers.
“Discounters are starting to cluster in ways we didn’t imagine,” Young said. La Habra, he said, enjoyed a big turnaround sparked by Westridge Plaza, a center with a Walmart, Sam’s Club, Bed Bath & Beyond and Lowe’s.
Price-point stores, such as 99 Cents Only and Dollar Tree – a sector that didn’t even exist 25 years ago – have likewise pulled in shoppers’ dollars.
Then Young addressed what he called the elephant in the room: online sales and Amazon in particular.
Everyone knows how online shopping has grown. While total U.S. retail sales increased a healthy 4.1 percent in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier, online sales jumped 16.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Young detailed some of Amazon’s pioneering efforts, such as the Kindle e-reader, 1-Click ordering, recommendations based on a customer’s buying patterns, the Alexa personal assistant, robots in its fulfillment centers, as well as reviving brick-and-mortar stores and constant diversification.
“They are innovators,” he said. The company has grown so large that just its web services subsidiary alone generates about as much revenue as all of Nordstrom.
Retailers including Nordstrom and Macy’s have taken proactive steps to capture more online purchases, Young said. One out of every four dollars spent at Nordstrom is spent online, according to the company.
And many retailers have made it easier for shoppers to purchase online and pick up in the store, or shop in person but buy by phone while in the store, for example.
But as much as online sales have soared, they account for only about 9 percent of total retail sales, according to the Census Bureau, “much smaller than most people believe,” Young said.
He pointed to a Pew Research Center study from December showing just 42 percent of Americans say the convenience of not having to make a trip to the store is an important factor to them in where they shop. More important were comparing prices, knowing the store or seller, reading ratings or reviews, and seeing or trying out the product.
Some 65 percent of online shoppers, the survey said, indicate they prefer to buy from physical stores.
Given those results, Young wonders how successful Amazon will be in its recent foray into selling Kenmore appliances (always the domain of Sears). Eighty-five percent of respondents said they’d rather buy large appliances in the store.
So as the trends toward online and discount shopping continue, where does Orange County’s retail stand? Young asked.
“Retailing in O.C. is healthy, though the market is probably saturated” as we reach a stage of maturity, he said. Other legacy stores will close, and some centers will be at risk. “Change is inevitable. The question is how businesses respond to that change, how governments will respond, how you and I as consumers will respond to those changes?”
As large stores close, shopping centers are getting innovative at filling the space, including subdividing it into smaller shops or food courts. Entertainment venues such as bowling alleys or skate parks are brought in. Revenue generators such as kiosks and car detailing services pop up. Some malls are turning part of their parking lots into four- to five-story apartment complexes.
“It’s so different from the landscape we are accustomed to viewing,” he said.
And while Young and others might think the county is already overbuilt, changing land use provides new opportunities, even when the population doesn’t grow.
“Some of you might have worked for Chevron,” Young told the audience. Its research center in La Habra is now the site of Westbridge Plaza. The former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin is now the site of The District at Tustin Legacy, Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress now sports a Costco and 24 Hour Fitness in its parking lot, and the old Hughes facility in Fullerton is now a Target.
“It depends on the choices we make. What kind of experiences do we want?” Young concluded. You can dine while watching a movie or look at a koi pond with your grandkids.”
“It’s more about experiences than the stuff.”
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a CSUF-chartered program, offers a full calendar of class offerings, as well as social, recreational and travel opportunities geared toward active, older adults. The next program is Dec. 7: “Political Women: Recording Stories of Local Women Making Change,” presented by Natalie Fousekis, CSUF professor of history and director of the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History. For more information, go online or call 657-278-2446.