Mushroom Farms Fined for Safety Violations After Deadly Shootings

The farms' operators allegedly failed to have a plan for active shooter threats.

A drone photo of mobile homes at the California Terra Garden in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Jan. 26, 2023.
A drone photo of mobile homes at the California Terra Garden in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Jan. 26, 2023.
Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File

California has cited two Northern California mushroom farms for health and safety violations and proposed more than $165,000 in potential fines five months after a farmworker killed seven people in back-to-back shootings on the farms in Half Moon Bay.

Chunli Zhao, who had worked at the farms, is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the Jan. 23 shootings that stunned the small coastal community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of San Francisco. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities say Zhao opened fire at California Terra Garden, where he previously worked, killing four co-workers and wounding another one. They said he then drove about 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) to Concord Farms, a mushroom farm he was fired from in 2015, and shot to death three workers.

The state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as CAL/OSHA, filed 22 violations against California Terra Garden, Inc. and proposes $113,800 in fines, according to a Monday news release. Concord Farms faces 19 violations and $51,770 in fines.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office previously said some of the farmworkers told him they made $9 an hour and lived in shipping containers. The state minimum wage is $15.50.

"The conditions farmworkers shared with the Governor ... are simply deplorable. Many workers have no choice but to tolerate the conditions provided to them by their employers," Newsom spokesperson Daniel VillaseΓ±or said in a statement at the time.

The violations at California Terra Garden include an alleged failure to have a plan in place to notify employees of the Jan. 23 active shooter threat and to tell them to take shelter.

The shooting at California Terra Garden was at least the second time an employee tried to kill a coworker on the property, records show.

A manager there was charged with attempted murder after he threatened to kill another manager in July and then fired a shot into the man's trailer. The bullet went through the trailer and into a neighboring one that was home to Yetao Bing, one of the workers killed in the January violence. No one was injured in the July shooting.

California Terra Garden did not provide active shooter training to workers after the July violence, the state agency wrote.

Violations at Concord Farms include a failure to address prior workplace violence β€” including an incident where an employee assaulted a farm resident, which the employer did not investigate β€” and to develop a plan to prevent more violence in the future.

CAL/OSHA also said Concord Farms did not provide counseling for workers after the January shooting.

Other violations for both farms included a lack of training for Spanish- and Mandarin-speaking workers in a language they can understand and failing to secure labor camp permits for onsite worker housing.

Most of the farmworkers in the area are Latino and the two mushrooms farms are among the few that employ Chinese workers, advocates have said.

Efforts to reach the farms by telephone and email for comment were not immediately successful Monday.

The farms can appeal or seek reductions in the proposed penalties if corrective measures are taken.

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