April 1996, Volume 2, Number 2
Watsonville/Santa Paula, California
Watsonville, California has been hard hit by the closure of food
processors who froze vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. In
February, 1996, the Norcal-Crosetti plant in Watsonville that had
been bought by Dean Foods was closed, eliminating 700 jobs. There was
an 18-month strike at the plant in 1985-86 to protest company plans
to cut wages and benefits.
The consolidation of the vegetable processing industry is also
eliminating jobs in the midwest--both Dean Foods (Birds Eye), the
nation's leading frozen foods processor, and Stokley USA have
announced plans to close plants in Wisconsin.
Retail frozen vegetable sales in 1995 totaled about $1.4 billion,
of which 52 percent were private label, and Green Giant and Birds Eye
each accounted for another 20 percent of sales.
Retail canned vegetable sales in 1995 totaled about $1.3 billion,
of which 46 percent were private label, and Del Monte and Green Giant
each accounted for another 25 percent of sales.
In Santa Paula, Mexican-Americans, whites and newly-arrived
Mexican immigrants are finding that they have little in common--
there is little mixing between Mexican Americans and whites. Some say
that the fractured city is like a time bomb.
According to the 1990 census, about 60 percent of the population
of Santa Paula was Latino, and 39 percent are white--but only 39
percent of the city's 160 employees are Latino. The city is trying to
hire more minorities, but city managers say few qualified minorities
want to work in Santa Paula because the pay is low.
There is too little housing for newly-arrived immigrants, but the
city council has opposed constructing low-income housing for the past
20 years, fearing that more low-income housing would attract more
poor people to the city.
Santa Paula has the lowest per capita income in Ventura county,
the highest ratio of teenagers giving birth, and the highest ratio of
residents on welfare in the county.
A study of how Mendota adjusted to the drought of 1987-91 found
that land values fell 30 percent since 1986 as a result of
uncertainty over the future availability of water.
There is much speculation about the "sleeping giant" of Latino
political power in California. The number of Latinos in the
California Senate and Assembly doubled from seven in 1992 to 14 in
1996, despite a decline in the number of Democrats in California.
There are 10 Latinos in the 80 member Assembly and four Latinos in
the 40 member Senate.
About nine percent of California voters were Latino in 1992, 11
percent in 1994, and possibly 15 percent in 1996.
Christina Lima, "Culture Clash; Santa Paula: A Tale of Three
Cities Seeking Unity of Mexican Americans, Whites, Immigrants," Los
Angeles Times, March 24, 1996. Richard Gibson, "Declining vegetable
prices wilt processors' earnings," Wall Street Journal, February 20,
1996. Reese Erlich, "Latina Workers Lose Out as Big Companies Move
In," Interpress, February 8, 1996.