CIRS Blog about Rural California
Noé Montes has photographed and interviewed people in the Eastern Coachella Valley for two and a half years as part of a photo documentary project (which can be found at https://coachellafarmworkers.com). Recently, he answered the Rural California Report's questions about what the work.
Rural California Report: What is the Coachella Valley Farm Workers project and how long have you been working on it?
Noé Montes: It is a photo documentary project about the community of farmworkers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. It focuses on the individuals that are working in various capacities to address the many social justice issues and issues of inequality that exist in the community. Most of the people photographed and interviewed have been farmworkers themselves or are the children of farmworkers. It is comprised of photography, writing and audio interviews. I started working on this in January of 2015.
Photo of Castulo Estrada by Noé Montes
RCR: What inspired you to pick the Coachella Valley? Why did you want to photograph farmworkers and other community members there?
NM: One of the main reasons I wanted to photograph and interview farmworkers is that I myself come from family of farmworkers and I know that there is a lot of value on the community. There is a lot to learn from about how to develop our communities in a positive way. A lot of the previous work done about farmworkers focuses on the problems in the community and often farmworkers are depicted very simply, either as examples of inequality or to illustrate some social justice issue. I wanted to add to the conversation and our understanding of this community and see what we can all learn from them.
I picked the Coachella Valley because it is a good representative example of a rural farmworker community in California. It is a microcosm that contains all the elements present in many rural American communities. Logistically it also worked in that it is close enough to where I live (Los Angeles) that I was able to travel there regularly and often.
There is not enough farmworker housing. A combination of economic incentives, stricter regulation of housing quality, and worker preferences suggests there will continue be a shortage of affordable and decent housing for seasonal farmworkers.
Until the 1960s, many farmers housed seasonal workers on their farms in a bid to attract them and to have workers available when they were needed. On-farm housing was often offered at little or no cost, and workers did not incur costs to commute to work.
Unionization and tenant rights, as well as tougher regulations and enforcement, encouraged many farmers to eliminate on-farm housing, which they could do in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and continue to attract workers because unauthorized migrants flooded into the United States. Today, most farmworkers live in farmworker cities, often crowded into single family homes, and many commute in car- and van-pools to work.
Federal and state governments operate farmworker housing centers, most of which give preference to families and offer a range of health, education and other services to workers and their children. Solo males generally live off of the farm and away from subsidized centers, especially when they work in short-season crops, such as the three-month table grape harvest in the Coachella Valley.
California needs more housing, but zoning laws that require developers to "maintain neighborhood character" and limit how many unrelated people can live together raise housing prices and slow the migration of poorer people to boom areas such as San Francisco. Many of the tech workers in San Francisco earn $150,000 to $200,000 a year, and the city's median house price in summer 2016 was $1.1 million.
By some estimates, United States GDP could be increased by 10 percent if zoning restrictions were eased so that poor people could move to richer areas and enjoy higher wages without spending their extra earnings on housing. A state law supported by Governor Jerry Brown would make it harder for cities to saddle developers with open-ended design, permit and environmental reviews. Many people in desirable places want to pull up the drawbridge, arguing that allowing more people into their cities would degrade the quality of life.
Despite one of the most severe droughts in California history, the Coachella Valley's overall consumption of water largely held steady during much of this year.
A review of water agencies' data by The Desert Sun has found that the total amount of groundwater pumped during the first eight months of 2014 was down only about 0.8 percent compared to the same period last year.
The data show the area has made some progress in conserving water during the past five years: It used 5.5 percent less water in 2013 than it did in 2009. But the total amount pumped by all users — including water agencies, golf courses, farms and others — has actually increased since reaching a low in 2010 and has remained about the same since 2011.
From January through August this year, despite the drought, the area's total use of groundwater was up 3.9 percent as compared to 2010.
California’s primary election will be held on Tuesday, June 3. The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot from county elections offices is Tuesday, May 27. On election day, polls will be open from 7:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Turnout is expected to be very low, as is often the case in primary elections in non-presidential election years, which means that your vote is even more important than usual.
California currently has more than 6 million residents who are not registered to vote. Registration is simple, and it is not too late, yet. Today, Monday, May 19th is the last day to register to vote or update voter registration for the June 3 primary.
California is one of just three states that uses a “blanket primary” system which allows many candidates to run, but only the top two candidates in terms of overall votes proceed to the general election. This is the case regardless of party or political affiliation, and results in general elections that often come down to two candidates from the same party.
This year, there are dozens of races underway, varied local measures, two statewide propositions (41 and 42), and State Senate primaries for even-numbered districts. 2014 promises to be an especially interesting year for gauging the status of the Republican Party in California.
Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is up for reelection this year. Republican gubernatorial primary candidates include tea party favorite Tim Donnelly, State Assemblymember from Twin Peaks, and the significantly more moderate Neel Kashkari, former U.S. Treasury official. Donnelly and Kashkari squared off in their first (and likely only) debate last week. Glenn Champ is also a candidate for governor and has received a lot of attention but generally not for his political beliefs; he is a registered sex offender and has branded himself as a “new breed of Christian soldier.” Several other candidates have impacted the political conversation this year, but are unlikely to win the primary. There are 15 registered gubernatorial candidates including incumbent Jerry Brown.
California is experiencing a long term drought. As a result, CIRS is examining various aspects of the California water system. This week, we are looking at a desert region where per capita water use is the highest in the state for a non-industrial area at 736 gallons per person per day.
(Graphic from of the San jome Mercury News)
The Coachella Valley is located in eastern Riverside County, California. The entire valley sits in the basin north of the Salton Sea bounded by various strands of the very active San Andreas Fault System. The San Andreas Fault traverses the Valley's east side. The Santa Rosa Mountains to the West are part of the Elsinore Fault Zone.The Inland Empire-Salton Trough region is geologically and seismologically the most complex part of the San Andreas Fault system in southern California. Over the past 15 million years, several strands of the main San Andreas Fault have moved coastal California northwestward in relation to the desert interior. The trough of the Coachella Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges rising up to 11,000 feet in elevation while the valley floor drops to 250 feet below sea level at its lowest around the town of Mecca. In the summer, daytime temperatures range from 104 ° F to 112 ° F and winter temperatures range from 68 F to 88 F making the Coachella Valley a very popular winter resort. The Valley is the northwestern extension of the Sonoran Desert to the southeast and is extremely arid. The majority of rainfall occurs during the winter months. Rain may sometimes fall during the summer months as a result of the desert monsoon.
PALM DESERT —The Coachella Valley Water District voted to scrap its at-large election system on Tuesday after a complaint by a group of voters that argued the system violated the California Voting Rights Act and was unfair to Latino residents.
The water agency’s five-member board voted unanimously to make the change, joining a growing list of cities and school districts across California that have similarly altered how elections are held in response to legal challenges.
This press release was issued by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
SACRAMENTO, CA (February 19, 2013)
On Friday, February 15, 2013, Judge Perantoni of the Riverside County Superior Court, after learning that RBI Packing, LLC of Mecca, California fired approximately 55 farm workers, ordered RBI to stop discriminating against its employees on the basis of their union activity and to offer them priority in hiring for all agricultural jobs at the company’s Blythe-based lemon ranch.