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City of Santa Maria to repeal ag worker housing ordinance or face a $400K fine

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Posted at 7:09 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 22:48:57-04

Federal housing officials are asking Santa Maria City Council members to repeal an H-2A housing ordinance or face a potential fine of $400,000.

The ordinance regarding H-2A, or temporary agriculture workers, was adopted back in June of 2019 and was back up for discussion at last week’s city council meeting on June 1.

"What the ordinance did is permit employee housing in the multifamily zones but in the single-family zones, permit a conditional use permit,” said Chuen Ng, City of Santa Maria Director of Community Development.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told city officials that because the ordinance regulates H-2A employers specifically, it could be considered discriminatory against their workers who are in a federally protected class because of national origin.

At the June 1 council meeting, Mayor Alice Patino disagreed, saying, "For the federal government to say we're being discriminatory really bothers me. They're overreaching their arm, telling us how we can and can't house people."

Council members argue that the ordinance was made to benefit community members living in single-family residential areas.

The ordinance states in part, "Common living areas (kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, etc) within existing units shall not be converted to, or used for, additional sleeping areas."

Councilmember Mike Cordero said the only reason the city revisited the ordinance at all was because of the potential fine, but he believes their hands are tied.

"If I didn't have this threat of litigation from the federal government, I wouldn't even entertain the thought about repealing this. I don't believe we have a choice on the matter and the general public needs to know that,” Cordero said.

In order for the city to avoid paying the fine, the ordinance has to be repealed and members have to participate in sensitivity training.

"I am just very sad for our constituents and everything that council member Cordero said and madam mayor said, I completely agree with them,” said District 4 Councilmember Etta Waterfield.

The city council will revisit the issue at its June 15 meeting next week.