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City agencies have been collaborating and reaching out to the community to redesign Cesar Chavez Street with new bike lanes, trees and safer crosswalks, but with much of the design planning behind them, the issue of a few hundred day laborers remains.

Cesar Chavez Redesign project managers from the SF Planning Department, SFTMA, Department of Public Works and Public Utilities Commission held a lunchtime forum Tuesday downtown to let the community know how they plan to fix the sewage system and increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Cesar Chavez Street between Guerrero and Hampshire Streets.

When the forum opened to the audience, a man raised the question of the day laborers currently occupying the sidewalks and asked whether they had been factored into the plan or had been included in the community outreach.

“At the end of the day, it’s sort of a challenge because you hear both sides,” responded Andres Power, the project manager for the Planning Department. “On one side, people will push very strongly to provide the infrastructure that the day laborers would want and you hear things from people who are immediately against that.”

La Raza Centro Legal currently operates a Day Labor Program at 3358 Cesar Chavez St.

Power explained the city has been working with the Day Labor Center because of plans to acquire a site along Bayshore Boulevard to create a new space for day laborers.

“It would be a legitimized infrastructure at that location,” Power said. “Chavez is a dangerous place. It’s not a location where you want people waiting to be picked up by cars, regardless of how you feel about the day laborer issue.”

The current center runs as a community center and meeting place for day laborers — most of whom had not heard about plans for a new site.

One such man had been going to the center just to hang out, but after losing his job as a house painter two years ago, he started going regularly to try and find more work.

“They tell me no one’s hiring or it’s the weather,” said Constantino Marenco. “I had to get rid of my transportation because I couldn’t afford $5 a gallon for gas.”

Still, living on Harrison Street means that the center and the other day laborers on Cesar Chavez Street are all he has come to know.

“This is our zone right here,” Marenco said. “They shouldn’t kick us out of here.”

Others agreed.

“Now that we have something that’s comfortable and good for us, they expect us to leave,” said Andres Rios, who has been a day laborer for 15 years. “People looking for day laborers already know us and know this street.”

Fran Taylor, the co-chair of CC Puede, a community organization working to make Cesar Chavez Street more livable, also countered during the meeting that such a plan will run into resistance.

“Some people in the city have been pushing that solution but it’s not something that people necessarily agree with,” said Taylor, a Mission resident since 1976. “The idea of just shoving the day laborers to Bayshore has been proposed in the past and the people who proposed it even admitted they would have to create a shuttle bus because it’s so hard for the day laborers who live predominantly in the Mission to get to Bayshore on foot.”

Roel Aguirre, supervisor of La Raza Centro Legal’s Day Labor Program, said he had heard from the city about plans for the new center but also that change can be a good thing.

“People are going to go where the work is,” Aguirre said. “If they want to work, they’ll get there — whether they walk there or bike.”

The current focus of the redesign plan is working toward safety and efficiency and will occur in two phases.

IMG_9950The first phase will be spearheaded by the Public Utilities Commission and will involve redoing the sewage system to reduce flooding. Construction most likely will begin this summer, said Sarah Minick, project manager of the Public Utilities Commission.

Above ground, the second phase will be a collaborative inter-agency effort focusing on streetscape. More trees will also be planted and the street lamps will use more energy-efficient lighting.

The largest changes will be converting the three lanes of traffic in each direction to two lanes. With concerns over safety, a 14-foot tree-lined median and widened curbs will be paved to decrease the time needed for pedestrians to cross the intersection. Bicyclists will also be able to enjoy the additional street space through permanent bike lanes.

See today’s piece on an immigrant story.

Related Story: Day Labor Center Offers Few Jobs, Dec. 13, 2009