AMBER AMAYA and IVAN VALENZUELA/Coachella Uninc.
MECCA — A new structure being built in Mecca, Calif. will provide field workers a safe place to shower and do laundry.
The comfort station fulfills a promise Riverside County made 15 years ago to provide a permanent comfort station in this unincorporated community in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
The county agreed to build the station in 2000, after California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) filed 30 complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that the county had attempted to close down two mobile home parks in the Eastern Coachella Valley based on the race of the residents who lived there.
The nonprofit legal services organization and the county were able to come to a voluntary settlement that included establishing a permanent center in downtown Mecca. The county was expected to break ground on it before October 2000.
But it wasn’t until this month that construction on a permanent station began.
“The county thought it was complying by having a temporary station,” said Blaz Gutierrez III, a staff attorney for CRLA. “But it was a mile and a half outside of Mecca. And for various periods of time, it didn’t have the laundry facilities. It’s been broken into because of how remote it is; it’s not convenient.”
The temporary station, funded by the Riverside County Department of Public Services and operated by the non-profit organization Desert Alliance for Community Empowerment, provided migrant farmworkers with restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and parking. But the temporary DACE station was still not in close proximity downtown Mecca, as the settlement agreement dictated, according to Gutierrez.
Gutierrez said it wasn’t until 2013, when a CRLA client sued the county, that Riverside County agreed to build the permanent station in the Galilee Center, a nonprofit organization located in downtown Mecca.
For the past year, the Galilee Center has been working with the county to get the permanent station built on its property in Mecca.
The permanent station will have at least five shower stalls, toilets, sinks and lockers for both men’s and women’s restrooms. The laundry facility onsite will have eight washing machines and dryers.
In December 2014, the $2 million project was approved 4-0 by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. The 8,000 square foot structure will be connected to the center’s current offices and thrift store. Construction is expected to be completed in June.
Lupe Torres, a manager at the Galilee Center, estimated that more than 200 workers a day will use the new facility.
“It’s important for us because without it, the families go without taking a warm shower or washing their clothes until the weekend,” Torres said.
About $1.2 million of the funds will go towards construction of the facility. Another $750,000 will be put towards a 10-year plan that will help operate the comfort station. But, Torres said, more funds would need to be raised to continue operating the station.
The center will be open Monday through Friday from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. And it will operate during the two county-designated agricultural seasons, the winter season, designated as November 1- March 31 and the summer season, which is from May 1 through July 31.
Gutierrez said the permanent station will help farm laborers who work in nearby fields, but he said there is still room for improvement.
“The idea of people having clean clothes and appropriate sanitary facilities and being able to shower, that is huge. But there is still going to be some discussion,” said Gutierrez. “There are going to be people who aren’t able to have access to that facility. A lot of nighttime agricultural workers have odd hours. It might be inconvenient for them to get to the facility, but the fact that facility is there, is very good.”