The farm in Half Moon Bay where a mass shooter lived and worked has announced that it will be building new structures for its employees.
California Terra Garden spokesperson David Oates confirmed the development to KTLA sister station KRON on Monday.
On Friday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed to Bay Area News Group that the shooting spree was a result of a $100 equipment bill that the suspected shooter was facing. Chunli Zhao, 66, of Half Moon Bay was reportedly angered by the bill because he believed that the equipment damage had been caused by a coworker. After a confrontation with his supervisor and coworker, he shot them both to death before going on a rampage that resulted in several more fatalities.
After the shooting, which killed seven people and injured an eighth, questions about past violence and living conditions at California Terra Garden, formally known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, started to come to light.
Local and state officials toured the facilities in the days after the shooting, calling them “deplorable.” California Governor Gavin Newsom told media the farmworkers were, “living in shipping containers” and “getting $9 bucks an hour.”
San Mateo District 3 Supervisor Ray Mueller posted photos of the facilities after his tour. The photos showed floors covered in thick layers of mud from recent flooding. He saw buildings with no insulation and no running water.
Oates told KRON that there were certain code and permitting requirements which California Terra Garden was unaware of before the shooting. He states that after meetings with local officials, the company has come up with a plan to build permanent structures to house their workers.
California Terra Garden anticipates that the development could take about a year to finish due to permitting requirements. As the company waits for the project to be completed, it plans to work with local officials on a plan to find affordable housing for the employees for the 12-month period.
Last week, the farm disputed the claims of low wages and substandard living conditions. A statement from Oates on behalf of California Terra Garden reads:
We have 8 families that reside on the property in County-inspected mobile homes and large recreational vehicles. They are all equipped with kitchens, bathrooms and shower facilities in addition to standard living amenities. Additional outside toilet and kitchen facilities exist to allow the families to host gatherings as most families like to do. No one lives in anything like shipping containers or tents as was erroneously reported. The families pay approximately $300 a month to rent these living spaces, well below market rate.
Secondly, the salary of all employees range from $16.50 to $24. They also receive paid vacation days, company-sponsored health insurance, life/disability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, and access to a 401(k) plan.David Oates, spokesperson for California Terra Garden
KRON spoke with Karen Santiago, an acquaintance of one of the victims. Santiago works at a local store where some farmworkers cash paychecks. She said that she believes their pay is $9 per hour.
“Those people are always saying they don’t feel comfortable to raise their voices,” Santiago said.
Antonio De Loera, the Director of Communications for United Farm Workers, one of the largest and oldest farmworker unions in the nation, said many farmworkers fear the repercussions of speaking up to their employers.
“They think, ‘Either I get the cash, or I get my hours cut and don’t get to work, and I need that money for family,’” DeLoera said.
Though both local residents and the Governor reported that the farm paid as little as $9 an hour, the company continued to assert that it pays “above-market wages and benefits to all its team members” on Monday.