NewsCovering Kern County


Wasco farmworker labor camp is crime-infested, community asks HSRA to demolish camp

We need them to be held accountable
Posted at 7:13 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 11:01:26-04

WASCO, Calif. — When the Railroad Authority started construction in Wasco some time ago, they helped move farmworkers from a labor camp to another place in town because of the close proximity to their work. Since then, some say, this camp has been vacant to farmworkers and a hot spot for gang members and crime.

"These are impacts that have sent ripples through our community, and we need them to be held accountable and responsible for what they've done by choosing to build through Wasco," said Alex Garcia, mayor of Wasco.

While the California High-speed Railroad Authority has a big vision for transportation through the state, Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia says HSRA's plan has derailed their relationship with the community.

"I'm absolutely frustrated with that because what they told us when I was mayor in 2019 was that no matter what happens Alex we will resolve it," said Garcia.

But that hasn't happened according to Garcia, the issue being the vacant farmworker labor camp.

Now turned into a hotspot for criminal gang members and crime, according to Wasco City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez.

"In a room like this, they'll close all the doors and barricade themselves using the pieces of lumber to secure the doors so that the deputies can't turn the knob and or just can't open the door just by kicking it in."

HSRA contributed $10 million to help move families from the labor camp to a new location in town, which started in 2018. Soon after, Wasco officials noticed the spike in crime at the vacant camp, prompting the city to ask the HSRA to demolish the property, which was denied.

In a statement to 23ABC News, an HSRA spokesperson said Wasco agreed "in a contract that the authority was not responsible for the abatement and demolition of the former housing complex."

"Why is it that they can turn around and ask for extensions, unforeseen circumstances can arise for them, but when it comes to small, disadvantaged communities like Wasco, it's a no-go," asked Garcia.

Garcia would go on to say that they typed up a new proposal and put it before the railroad board last Tuesday, they are hoping that they reconsider and help them out.

City officials say they have to patrol the camp constantly, specifically, the Kern County Sheriff's Office, in fact, this additional responsibility has taken away from their ability to respond to other calls sometimes according to officials.