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Santa Maria City leaders and community members discuss future of H-2A housing

Posted at 11:12 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-17 10:09:53-04

The City of Santa Maria is still trying to figure out how to house farmworkers through H-2A housing.

A divided council took another stab at this hot topic Tuesday night to discuss a proposed ordinance.

This matter was first brought about in February 2018, when neighbors complained to the city about single family houses used as H-2A housing.

The city is tasked with pleasing the agricultural industry by keeping those workers housed in the area while also hearing out neighbors who say H-2A housing in their family neighborhoods is wrong.

Two options were on the table.

Option A would require Conditional Use Permit approval for units housing seven or more workers in residential areas.

There would also be a discretionary public hearing process and would require notification of neighbors within a 300-foot radius.

This option also comes with an 18-month expiration date that would eliminate any type of employee housing in the single family housing zone.

Option B would allow seven to ten workers per unit with an over-the-counter permit and would not require neighbor notification

After that, 11 or more workers in one unit would then require a hearing and notification.

Many neighbors supported option A.

“Nobody is going to want to come because why would you buy a house and not know who your neighbors are and have a house be vacant for four months and look like it’s deserted,” said Cheryl Ausan, a Santa Maria resident.

However, Option B was favored by farm workers and contractors.

“This has been a long process, well over a year and a lot of us are just trying to feed our families,” said Carlos Castañeda. “These gentlemen [H-2A workers] want nothing more than to work here and feed our families and they are scared to death.”

After public comment, the council decided to move forward using the framework of Option B, but made changes.

In those changes, R2 and R3 zoning (medium to high-density zone) would have no H-2A housing restrictions. In R1 (low-density single family housing), 7 or more workers per unit would need a conditional permit with a public hearing and neighbor notification.

Council also directed staff to come up with ways to compensate people who are displaced from H-2A housing.

The discussion Tuesday night only addressed a short-term solution.

The council and the community are hoping to eventually reach a long-term solution, which, like many cities in the state, is affordable housing.

The city could revisit this issue again at their next meeting on May 7.