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Santa Maria City Council to consider ordinance preventing new farmworker housing in hotels

Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-03 00:25:14-04

UPDATE (9:24 p.m.) – Hazel Davalos, Community Organizing Director for C.A.U.S.E., says the item died in discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

Davalos says the City Council decided instead to continue the conversation to its April 16 meeting.



The City of Santa Maria is struggling with the best way to house temporary farmworkers, as the city sees one of the greatest increases of H-2A workers in the state.

Tuesday night, the city council will consider an urgency ordinance that would stop the use of hotels and motels for H-2A housing.

“It comes a bit of a surprise that people now are complaining about the use of hotels. We’ve seen hotels converted to H-2A housing over the past four to five years now and most city leaders have applauded that move,” said Hazel Davalos, Community Organizing Director for C.A.U.S.E.

Documents from Tuesday’s agenda show city leaders have been hearing rumors that properties like the Vandenberg Senior Residences on Broadway are being purchased by agricultural employers for H-2A worker housing.

The urgency ordinance would potentially put a stop to it until new ordinances can be made.

Those who are already residing in hotels and motels would be grandfathered in.

“Our concern is these policies in their current form would result in disproportionally housing H-2A workers in higher density neighborhoods and really putting our city at risk of losing a lot of our affordable housing stock,” Davalos said.

Those sentiments are echoed by Joe Leonard, CEO of Betteravia Farms and Bonita packing.

Leonard recently purchased a hotel off Nicholson Ave. to use for his H-2A workers.

He says he’s urging city leaders to vote no on the ordinance.

“H-2A guest workers have established a positive reputation as law-abiding visitors to our community,” he said.

But not everyone feels the same way. At recent city council meetings, neighbors of new H-2A projects have raised concerns.

“We feel these changes may threaten the peaceful nature of our neighborhoods and perhaps our safety. I feel like I speak for many residents of Santa Maria who purchased their homes with the expectations they would live with neighbors with similar circumstances,” said Santa Maria resident Jackie Brunello.

KSBY reached out to several city leaders including the mayor, city manager and the city attorney’s office but did not receive a response.

In order for this ordinance to pass, it would need the approval of four out of five city council members, unlike a typical 3-2 vote. Council members will be revisiting the H-2A housing ordinance on April 16.