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Permits Streamlined for Farmworker Housing

County Supervisors Debate Crowded Rental Market

Santa Maria Farm Workers
Paul Wellman (file)

“This is one of the more difficult things that has ever come to us,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann at the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting. Streamlining the permit process for farmworker housing was under review, in the Agriculture I and II zones in the unincorporated areas of the county. This would make such housing easier for farm and ranch operators to build, but often at a significant distance from cities. That distance would also isolate the workers from community resources, argued members of CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy). It could lead to a lack of information, health care, and public assistance, and it could make workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, they said.

The supervisors indicated they preferred to keep farmworkers integrated in the community, but they were torn between taking no action to alleviate the housing crisis in cities like Santa Maria and allowing farm and ranch operators to house workers remotely with little oversight. “There is no good answer for this,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “We talk about conditions of what might happen in a ‘labor camp,’ but we’re not talking about the conditions that the farmworkers have to live in today.” He spoke of “thousands of people” in his Santa Maria district who lived with “dozens of people in one single-family home.”

After hours of discussion, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1-1 to begin streamlining the permit process. In the sole “nay” vote, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf stated, “There is much less regulation for many more people” of the proposed changes in permit requirements. Hartmann abstained from the vote. She’d expressed concern over shifting to Land Use Permits (LUP) for housing 5-24 employees. LUPs are not subject to hearings at which staff could comment and make recommendations.

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