HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) — After the murders of seven farmworkers in Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County created a new task force to help migrant workers who are “living in the shadows,” county supervisors said.

The county announced that the new task force will ensure hundreds of farms along the coast are in compliance with local and state housing rules and regulations.

On Jan. 23, eight farmworkers were shot — seven fatally — on two farms in Half Moon Bay. The accused gunman, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, lived and worked on a mushroom farm at California Terra Gardens.

In the wake of the shooting, officials who toured the farms’ housing conditions said they found shacks, trailers, and shipping containers with no insulation or running water. County Supervisor Ray Mueller said families were living in “heartbreaking” and “deplorable” conditions.

Chunli Zhao lived in his shack with his wife, according to county supervisors. (Image courtesy County Supervisor Ray Mueller)

“The January 23 mass shooting revealed that the displaced farmworkers working on those farms were living in unpermitted housing in conditions that were crowded and unsanitary,” county officials wrote Sunday. “The total number of farm labor sites is not known. The task force will rely on complaints and relevant state and local laws to identify any unpermitted farm-labor housing sites. The focus is on improving living conditions at all farm-labor housing sites throughout the county.”

Mueller said, “We understand many farmers and ranchers in the county are doing things the right way, providing legally permitted farmworker housing. But the goal must be 100 percent compliance, to find those living in the shadows.”

Children’s toys are seen inside a farmworker’s home. (Image courtesy County Supervisor Ray Mueller)

The county’s $100 million annual agricultural industry relies on a mix of migrant and more permanent laborers whose children are enrolled in local schools.

Farmworkers are often reluctant to speak up or complain about their employer, county officials said. Mike Callagy, the county’s chief executive, said treating farmworkers with “respect and dignity” starts with safe and healthy housing.

A 2017 Agriculture Census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture counted 241 total farms in the county. Under local regulations, farm operators are required to obtain permits from the county if they provide housing for five or more workers.

The task force includes the county’s Planning and Building Department, Environmental Health, Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures, Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney.

Since the mass shooting, the county has provided emergency housing and support services for 19 families displaced by the tragedy.