8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY october 19-25, 2023 www.montereycountyweekly.com news In a stunning win, construction students from Rancho Cielo in Salinas won the top prize at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon on Saturday, Oct. 14, beating out students from top universities in the U.S. and England. Out of 10 categories, the team won first place in five categories and second place in three. The three weeks the vocational students were in Costa Mesa for the competition, they attended class everyday with a teacher who traveled with them. Unlike their competitors, Rancho Cielo students are still working toward graduating high school. “Miraculous,” was Rancho Cielo Executive Director Chris Devers’ response when the overall prize was announced in a ceremony at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. After being told by some that they’d never be able to build a competitive entry on campus in Salinas in time—to then take apart and ship the 750-squarefoot home in pieces by truck to Orange County and put it back together for the contest—“the first thought was, ‘We did it,’” Devers says. Rancho Cielo’s home was the first to pass inspections and one of only three entries out of 17 that passed all three inspections for construction, electrical and plumbing, Devers says. The win was a lesson that Rancho Cielo emphasizes to its students, he says, that hard work, perseverance and teamwork pay off. The other lesson is that it “takes a community to be really successful”—the team was mentored over the last year by construction professionals and others who also offered donations of materials to complete the home. An open house for the community to see the winning home is scheduled for 3-6pm Thursday, Nov. 9, at Rancho Cielo’s campus. Cinderella Story Rancho Cielo vocational students win big in an international sustainable building competition. By Pam Marino On a sunny Saturday afternoon on Oct. 14, a handful of women wearing high heels and little clothing are walking along Kings and Roosevelt streets in Salinas. A block away, on North Madeira Avenue and Kern Street, neighbors are protesting their presence—and that of other sex workers—in the city. Over the past year, the visible presence of sex workers walking the street has grown, from maybe five to 25 women, says Salinas City Councilmember Orlando Osornio, whose District 4 includes this neighborhood. Residents organized the march to bring attention to the paradox presented: to bring awareness to human trafficking, of which many sex workers are victims, but also to express to city leadership that it’s out of control. They say workers are in the area 24/7 sometimes wearing as little as G-strings or mesh dresses with no underwear, while parents take their kids to school or church. Traffic is another issue, with dozens of cars slowly circulating in the area. “On weekends it looks like Main [Street], as cars pass by very slowly,” Rocio Flores says in Spanish. Flores adds that men have approached her 31-year-old daughter, soliciting her for sex, unaware she is not selling. Patty Hernandez, who has lived at Las Casas de Madera for 40 years, says sex workers and johns frequently use residents’ parking spots to engage in sex acts and in the morning they find used condoms. “I understand that it’s not against the law to walk around, but you can plainly see they’re not just walking around,” Hernandez adds. “They are half-naked. That’s what we don’t want our kids to see. We can’t stop prostitution. We just want them out of our neighborhood.” For two hours on Oct. 14, neighbors marched with signs. At public meetings, they have voiced concerns; dozens showed up with signs to an Oct. 10 City Council meeting. Mayor Kimbley Craig did a police ridealong the following Friday, and talked with a couple of sex workers that night; they told her they traveled to Salinas from the Central Valley, and that it is “safer” to work here. The Salinas Police Department has successfully reduced the issue before using decoys to arrest johns, but SPD is severely understaffed. “We need to figure out how to address it comprehensively,” Craig says Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 357 into law, repealing penal code sections that made it a misdemeanor to loiter for the purpose of prostitution. (It did not decriminalize prostitution itself.) SB 357 aims to protect people from profiling, harassment and discrimination based on appearance and what they wear. “I do believe that decriminalizing loitering for prostitution is a roadblock for law enforcement to be able to engage in open communication with somebody who might be a victim of human trafficking,” says Donna Bakich, a deputy district attorney and prosecutor for human trafficking cases in Monterey County. This year, the District Attorney’s Office has won two convictions in cases involving human trafficking and sex work among minors. Craig says SB 357 is making a challenging problem more challenging: “It has caused problems in cities across California, and particularly smaller cities.” Salinas city officials may talk with state legislators Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, about rolling back SB 357. Marchers carried signs with messages including, “Stop! We want our neighborhoods back!” Councilmembers Kimbley Craig, Tony Barrera and Orlando Osornio joined. Oldest Profession Salinas residents are fed up with sex workers in their neighborhoods, and want them gone. By Celia Jiménez Several families of Rancho Cielo students traveled to Costa Mesa to see the school’s finished home. It will be taken apart and trucked back to the Salinas campus to be used for display. “We just want them out of our neighborhood.” Daniel Dreifuss courtesy Thomas Rettenwender