HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) — One month after a deadly mass shooting claimed seven lives, KRON4’s Stephanie Lin sat down with Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose. Mayor Penrose invited KRON4 into her home and an in-depth conversation which you can watch in the video above.
A transcript of the conversation is included below.
KRON: You only became mayor in December. What has the last month been like?
MAYOR: It’s been a whirlwind. We started out with the flooding, of course, and we had flooding in some of our neighborhoods here where some of our folks got their homes flooded, lots of trees came down, roads closed. As you may well know, Highway 92 went out because of road slippage, and then a big boulder came down on Highway 1. So that followed by the horrendous shooting on the 31st has made it quite a, quite a couple of weeks. Quite a month. Yeah.
KRON: What’s been the most challenging part of navigating all of this?
MAYOR: I think trying to understand how we can help, trying to figure out what we do from here on out. How do we take a situation that’s pretty awful and do something for the folks that suffered and do something for our community and take advantage of the love and the humanity that’s here?
KRON: How has this most recent event affected you?
MAYOR: Well, I… you know, at first it was a matter of being in shock. It’s, nobody believes that a, a shooter is gonna come in and kill seven people and attempt to kill an eighth in their small, lovely coastal town. So at first, it was shock. Now it’s grief. It’s pain. And trying not to be so absorbed in the pain that you can’t be useful.
KRON: How do you get in that mindset?
MAYOR: There’s so much to do that you’re forced to be in that mindset. We have got to get our folks rehoused those that have been displaced, and we’ve gotta take a very, very serious look at the offenses that had been committed by our farm owners.
KRON: Historically farm workers have always been known to live in poor conditions. What is the response to people who would ask, why does it take a mass shooting in order for change to happen?
MAYOR: One of the problems has been that we don’t know about the folks that are being employed on farms and their housing situation. There are many unpermitted housing situations. So, unless somebody goes for a permit with a county, and there are wonderful farm owners who have housed their workers for years and done it with grace and with love and care. But there are others that have not. And we’re just finding that out now. So it’s hidden. A lot of our farm workers, as you know, are undocumented workers and they always carry around that fear. Is ice gonna come get me? Is somebody gonna kick me out of the country? Because I spoke up and complained.
KRON: So, what were some things that really came to light following this shooting?
MAYOR: Yeah, Terra California Gardens for one, is unpermitted.
KRON: What does that mean?
MAYOR: They never went to the county to get a permit to house their workers. And I did a tour of that site. And it’s pretty outrageous the conditions that they’re living in. If someone has a farm and houses more than four persons on that farm, they must obtain a county permit, or a city permit if they’re in the city. But they did not.
KRON: So you’re saying that they were operating illegally?
MAYOR: They were operating illegally and, and in disgraceful conditions.
KRON: Can you describe what you saw?
MAYOR: Oh, holes in the roof where rain comes in, holes in the walls where rats could get in. Um, propane burners with very dangerous situations where a fire could start at any moment. No heat, no bathrooms, porta potties, not even a kitchen sink. It was pretty outrageous.
KRON: What sort of conversations have you had with other policy makers in Half Moon Bay in terms of change that you’re hoping to introduce?
MAYOR: The county, the state, and the federal government have all promised to help. And currently, the county has formed a task force, which is made up of the department of building and planning, building and community development, I think it’s called. And the agricultural weights and measures. The county attorney and the county district attorney, and this task force is tasked with surveying the county and the city and trying to find out how many farms actually exist and who’s living on them. So, they have funding. And that’s been number one, let’s figure out where, what’s going on in the county. And that’s in addition to the work that’s been done with the families that have been displaced. When a shooting takes place, people are not allowed to live there any longer. They’re asked to leave, so they’re displaced. And they lived in a hotel, a local hotel for a couple of weeks, and then with the help of Airbnb, they have a nonprofit organization that helps. We’ve been able to house 18 families, some 30-some folks, on a temporary basis at least for the next year.
KRON: What’s the plan for those displaced families moving forward? I know you mentioned they have a place to stay for the next year, but how about after that?
MAYOR: That’s the big job, and that’s where we’re going to have to depend on county health and state help, because it’s an expensive prospect. We not only want to help these folks, but we want to help anybody who’s living in substandard conditions. So any of our farm workers, and we don’t know what that situation is yet, but we expect there will be more. So, the idea is to get permanent housing, and we are looking at two or three sites right now that are potentially good places to build. But nothing has been determined yet. It’s still in the planning stages.
KRON: So it sounds like the county’s gonna offer to build permanent housing. It’s not up to the employers?
MAYOR: Well, it’s a combination. If an employer wants to build housing, then we’re grateful that they do and happy that they will. If they don’t, then the county and the city and the state all know that it’s our responsibility to make sure the people are housed in decent conditions.
KRON: It sounds like the county is working with the state to do an audit of all the different farms?
MAYOR: Yes. We call it a survey. Okay, and that’s to figure out how many farms are in the county. How many of them are permitted? I don’t know. And how many exist that we don’t know about, how many that have housing? We don’t know. So, until we get all of that information, it’s very difficult to say how great the scope of the job is. But we do know it’s going to be a big job and it will require everybody chipping in and doing their part.
KRON: How do you make sure that you’re holding these farms accountable?
MAYOR: Well that’s I think, that’s the job of the task force. And the task force includes our district attorney and our county attorney. The idea is not to be punitive. We’re not out to punish folks. What we want is to get decent housing for everyone, and that’s a job, and it’s a job that we take on gladly. But we don’t want to be blaming, especially folks who have done a great job on housing their farmers. I mean, there are farms that I know about personally where they have housing that’s just wonderful for their workers.
KRON: I wanted to ask you as well about gun violence. According to local law enforcement, the shooter involved in this case showed no red flags. They obtained their firearm legally. What do you think needs to change here?
MAYOR: It needs to come, come from the federal level. California has very decent laws, but that doesn’t prevent somebody from crossing state lines and buying an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon or getting one online. So, I think it has to come down from the federal level and it has to be a ban on guns. And it has to be guns, especially semi-automatics and automatic weapons. Nobody wants to keep people from shooting their shotgun at a clay pigeon target. That’s a sport and it should be allowed and there’s certain places where hunting should be allowed, but gun violence itself is a product of a country where we are living with huge inequality in our economic status. And people are angry about it. People are rightfully angry that they’re not getting their fair share. They’re the very wealthy and they’re very poor, and there’s no more, no longer is there a middle class here in America. So, you know, it doesn’t mean that that’s an excuse for violence, but it does help explain why people become violent. They’re angry, they’re deprived. They’ve been deprived for years. They don’t see a way forward for their children. They don’t see a political climate where anyone really cares about the poor.
KRON: We may never fully know the motive of the shooter, but do you think that this crime could have been prevented in any way?
MAYOR: I think with better mental health services and health care in, in general for our underprivileged and our farm worker population, the fellow, apparently it had something to do with workplace violence. He was, he was angry at the way he felt he was being treated at work. And so he took it out on fellow workers, people that he felt had deprived him of his rights. So, he obviously had some mental health issues, even if it’s as simple as anger. It was a mental health issue that was not controllable. And so, with better mental health care, I think we may help to prevent that kind of kind of anger. But, you know, the mental health care has to come along with equitable treatment. People need to be able to earn a decent living wage, live with a home, in a home, have decent food on the table, be able to educate their children, have time for for recreational activities. Most of the people in this community that are poor are working too many jobs, living in conditions that aren’t tenable. And it’s not just the farm workers, it’s minimum wage workers. Yeah.
KRON: Is there anything that the city is planning to do to help address the things that you just mentioned there?
MAYOR: Well, we did pass a, a minimum wage increase two years ago. And we are, I’m going to personally be looking at it again this year to increase it again. I know San Francisco just went to $18 an hour, which it’s not enough money to live on $18 an hour, even that. But I’d like us to get, we’re at currently at $16, I think, and a quarter, I’m not sure, 16 a quarter, 16 and a half dollars an hour. I’d like to see that increased, at least what San Francisco is paying. We are working, our council is working very hard on trying to find some sites to build affordable housing, but we have been working on that for eight years now, and it’s extremely difficult. The cost of building a unit and for low-income renters is, is three times what it is to build for a market rate unit. It’s outrageous.
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KRON: Why is that?
MAYOR: It’s because the income that comes out of it is not enough to sustain it. So if somebody’s renting, and they’re only able to afford to pay $2,000 a month for their rent, you’re not going to find somebody wanting to build a building where that’s all they’re getting back. It’s economics.
KRON: Looking kind of to what’s next. What are you hoping is gonna come out of all of this?
MAYOR: I think what I hope for most is that our community will continue to be the kind of community that embraces everyone. And that we will be able to see our minimum wage workers, our essential workers, housed, fed, educated in a way that our middle class and upper class are currently. I think we can do it. I think it’s not going to be quickly done, but I think if we just keep our hearts open and our minds working and keep the political will going that we’ll be able to make Half Moon Bay an even better place than it looks to be.
KRON: You’re leading a town that has gone through just unspeakable loss, gun violence. I’m sure you heard about what happened in Michigan just the other day. How do you wrap your head around that and just kind of make sure that you’re still being that symbol of strength for, for the community?
MAYOR: You know, I don’t really, I feel like I need to be a symbol. I think that my job is to do my job and my job is to lead, and my job is to be as innovative as I can, and it’s to embrace my entire community. And I love my community. I love, I am grateful that I live here in Half Moon Bay. It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to live. And even our unfortunate folks, even our underprivileged, overworked and underpaid population loves Half Moon Bay.
KRON: Do you have a message for first of all, the survivors and the local community here?
MAYOR: I guess don’t give up hope, and continue to ask for what you need. Make your voices heard. Try to let go of the fear that there’ll be punitive actions taken if you speak up and complain, and know that your counsel is listening and your city staff who has been just so amazing during these last couple of weeks, is going to continue to work. Every single one of them is working 24/7 to make sure that we all get through this and we prosper.
The City of Half Moon Bay has established a coast side victims fund where you can make a tax-deductible donation to help the families impacted.