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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
National
Aldo Toledo

State of California fines farms where Half Moon Bay shooter killed 7 people

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — State officials fined two farms where a mass shooter killed seven people in January for failing to provide employees with active shooter training that could’ve saved their lives, according to a Monday announcement.

Cal/OSHA said Monday it cited California Terra Garden, Inc. and Concord Farms Inc. for a combined 41 violations, nine of them defined as “serious,” for failing to have a plan or procedures to immediately notify employees of an active shooter threat and for not addressing previous incidents of workplace violence, according to a press release.

California Terra Garden — where the mass shooting began — was hit with 22 violations and $113,800 in penalties while Concord Farms Inc. — where the shooter ended his killing spree — was fined $51,770 for 19 violations.

Both employers, state regulators say, were cited for failing to establish workplace safety plans that evaluated the threat of workplace violence and train workers in a language they can understand. The majority of workers at both farms spoke either Spanish or Chinese dialects.

Both farms were also cited for failure to secure labor camp permits for onsite worker housing.

The state’s penalties come six months after disgruntled California Terra Garden employee Chunli Zhao shot and killed four of his co-workers and injured a fifth at the mushroom farm where he worked off Highway 92, then drove to Concord Farms and killed three more farmworkers.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Bay Area News Group learned of a previous shooting incident at California Terra Garden in the summer of 2022, and an investigation by public officials revealed squalid living conditions for several farmworkers there, including Zhao who lived in a rudimentary shack covered by a blue tarp on the property.

Since then county and state officials have launched investigations into living and working conditions at the farms, but the Cal/OSHA fines are the first safety penalties the two companies are facing.

“While this tragedy that took place happened six months ago, it’s far from over,” said Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, Director of Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, a local farmworker aid organization helping survivors of the shooting to pick up the pieces.

“It took this horrific incident to happen for people to really stop and look at the conditions our farmworkers are living and working in. These penalties are valid and super important but more needs to be.”

Hernandez-Arriaga and her team at ALAS have been working for months to provide financial and mental health help to the survivors of the shooting, many of whom witnessed the atrocities and have still not returned to work due to mental health challenges.

“They had their colleagues killed, murdered; it’s something that’s gonna take a lot of time to really be able to heal,” Hernandez-Arriaga said. “They’re still in a lot of pain, they’re still suffering and it still continues to be a tragedy here in our community.”

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the fines are a start but more needs to be done for the farmworkers, including continuing to provide them mental health help, financial aid and addressing the rampant work-safety violations experienced by workers at other coastside farms.

“These fines and citations, 22 at one farm and 19 at another farm, $167,000 total, is nothing compared to the seven lives that were lost,” Jimenez said. “But I’m hoping that other farms will learn from this so they’re up to date.”

Jimenez has worked with farmworkers for years. Work-safety training and emergency preparedness standards are virtually non-existent, Jimenez said.

“You don’t think of a shooting happening at a farm, they do (active shooter) trainings at schools, hospitals, and corporations… but not at a farm,” Jimenez said. “I don’t think they offer natural disaster preparedness training or even fire extinguisher training. That needs to change and we need to do more.”

San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller, who was among several public officials that toured the Terra Garden encampment in the aftermath of the shooting and labeled the living conditions there “deplorable,” said the fines are a step in the right direction.

“I am grateful to CAL/OSHA for their diligence in this investigation,” Mueller said in a statement. “But our work is not finished. We are committed to improving the lives of all farm workers in San Mateo County.”

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