| Opponents and supporters of placing the Day Worker Center at a downtown church made their points at a crowded hearing last week at Trinity United Methodist Church.
About 70 residents, many affiliated with the center, attended last Thursday's hearing, where some argued that the center would not be a good fit in the neighborhood, while others were strongly supportive.
Officials of the church, at the corner of Hope and Mercy streets, decided several weeks ago to offer its fellowship hall to the Day Worker Center, which is being forced to leave its home at Calvary Church on Escuela Street.
Some residents gingerly stated their concerns at the hearing, citing concerns about property values, crime and whether the church should house undocumented workers who may or may not pay taxes. Day Worker Center board members and staff fielded questions, and proponents reassured neighbors that the site is only temporary.
One neighbor said he was concerned that the presence of day workers inside the church and on the street would affect the value of his home. Those present were assured that the workers would not be loitering outside.
"It's a problem," the neighbor said. "By putting the Day Worker Center here you are hurting me and my wallet. I beg of you to look for another location. I hope you don't take it the wrong way."
One church member explained that the church had been wrestling with how it could contribute to the community for several years, and that "One thing we do have to offer is this space. It's a good, solid gift to the community."
Some neighbors didn't see it that way.
"I'm sitting here next to people who have lived here for 60 years," one neighbor said. "What makes you think we would welcome these gifts?"
But just as many neighbors seemed to support the use of the site, with one saying she would be "proud to have it here."
"I would like to see this community open up their hearts so these people can have what we have," said neighbor Jeannie Ortiz.
Another neighbor expressed frustration that the center would add to problems she has experienced -- her car had been vandalized and trash was left in her yard.
Police Officer Tony Lopez said he knew there would be questions about crime.
"From a crime standpoint, there is no impact," because there was no day worker-related crime at the old site, he said.
Board member Steve Olsen said peer pressure is strong for the workers to not loiter or damage the center's image, "because we know if we don't take care of things we'll be out on the street."
One selling point for the new site is that day workers could help with repairs to the aging church buildings. Trinity United has had to close down its nursery playground after finding used syringes and drug paraphernalia in the sand box. Proponents said the workers could work on that and other much-needed repairs to the church. On a recent Monday morning, day workers were seen working in the playground area.
"These people are here to make an honest living," said Beby Wells, who teaches English at the center.
Despite the reassurances, one neighbor was still upset.
"We have tried to make our concerns known and it seems like we're just spitting in the wind," he said. "I pay state taxes, I pay federal taxes." He asked whether the workers were documented and if they paid taxes, because, "if not, I'm not sure this is a good thing."
He concluded by saying, "just find a place you are welcome."
This led to a wave of responses from board members, center supporters and day workers themselves, who said workers often pay income taxes but aren't likely to get any benefits from them. They also pay sales taxes and contribute benefits to the economy that everyone enjoys, said Matt Tompkins, office assistant for the center.
As for traffic concerns, neighbors were told that day workers will primarily come on bike to the center because they don't qualify for driver's licenses. Contractors' trucks are a rare sight, they said, and customers are usually homeowners who come in a steady trickle.
Over the years the center has operated under "benign neglect," board member John Rinaldi said, because nearly every other day worker center in the state gets significant help from their city governments. Board members hope the city of Mountain View will step in when $200,000 in yearly funding dries up from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and various Catholic charities.
"I believe that in this moment, this is the right place to be," said center director Maria Marroquin.
Associate city planner Melina Dennis told residents the city must approve an application for the site. A yet-to-be-scheduled zoning administration hearing will provide the public with another chance to speak on the issue. No City Council hearing will be necessary.
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