<strong>TOUGH ROW: </strong> Santa Maria field workers harvest celery. 
Paul Wellman

A “farm labor camp” capable of housing up to 600 workers under the federal H2-A program could be built near Santa Maria if the county Planning Commission approves a conditional use permit at its next meeting.

The site, also known as the Curletti Farm Employee Housing Project, but referred to as a “farm labor camp” by staff, will consist of 30 bunkhouses at full build-out, capable of providing sleeping quarters and bathing facilities for 20 laborers each, according to a county report.

Geographically, the project is located west of Orcutt, at 3650 Highway 1, approximately one mile northwest of the intersection of Highway 1 and Black Road.

Each bunkhouse is 1,443 square feet in size, and includes four lavatories, two toilets and two showers. Three common houses, providing cooking and laundry areas for 200 laborers each, also are included in the proposal.

While a maximum of 600 workers could live at the site at any one time, the agent for the project, David Swenk, predicted that the average occupancy will be 450 workers, according to county staff.

The H2-A program allows employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs, provided they file the necessary forms on behalf of a prospective worker, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

H2-A workers are not considered undocumented.

In accordance with the H2-A program, the applicant and owner Robert Ferini, of Betteravia Properties, will provide his farmworkers with the necessary transportation needed to get to and from the workplace.

“The primary method of transportation for H-2A employees will be school-type buses to (and) from work, and a combination of buses and vans for lower occupancy, personal needs trips,” said Angela Ruberto of Tartaglia Engineering in a letter to Swenk.

“Since employees within the H-2A designation are not authorized to have personal vehicles, the area roads will realize a net reduction in total vehicle traffic involved with the applicant’s operations,” Ruberto said.

The anticipated work schedule is Monday through Friday, starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., Ruberto said.

“A typical harvest day starts very early when ambient air temperature is cool,” Ruberto said. “The goal is to have the product picked, packaged in the field and into the cooler before peak daily temperature are realized.”

Each worker will be provided three personal need trips per week, which Ruberto predicts will require 36 bus trips and 32 van trips per week.

The project will require one manager to live on site and one full-time maintenance worker responsible for routine maintenance and repairs.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is set to discuss the issue June 1 in Santa Barbara.

This story originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.


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