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Santa Maria Planning Commission tables H-2A ordinance review until the New Year

The Santa Maria Planning Commission has tabled a controversial ordinance affecting housing regulations for migrant workers.

City officials will resume discussions surrounding the H-2A visa program in the New Year.

Agriculture stakeholders took to the podium Wednesday night expressing concern. Those involved with the Ag industry felt like the city’s proposal was rushed and holding the meeting the day before Thanksgiving raised some eyebrows.

Agriculture representatives say had the ordinance been voted through as is, the industry would suffer a huge economic loss because seeds for 2019 have already been planted.

To combat allegations that guest workers are taking over residential neighborhoods, the city is proposing that if seven or more workers are living under one roof, they are limited to a low or medium density area and they must apply for a conditional use permit.

That application would then go through a new zoning administrator hearing process. No permit would be necessary to house less than six people in a residential property.

Members of the agriculture industry say they haven’t had a seat at the table and the city’s proposal, which wasn’t made public until November 15th, would have detrimental effects to an industry that is the life blood of Santa Maria.

“We’re not making widgets right? When you plant, you’re ordering plant either from your transplant companies, so those checks have been mailed. The seeds are in the transplanters, you have fertilizer, all the input. When it comes to this program, leases have already been signed,” said Carlos Castaneda, a Farm Labor Contractor.

“Now that the Planning Commission has slowed the process down and continued the meeting on this item to January 16th of next year, we will be able to engage in a more leisurely process. We’re looking at a target presentation to the City Council in early Spring,” said Philip Sinco, Assistant City Attorney.

Industry professionals say there’s a federal process for applying for your employees that takes 75 days and prior to that you must show that you have housing available and it can pass inspection. Some in opposition say the rushed nature of the proposal shows that the Planning Commission doesn’t quite grasp how the H-2A program even works.

There were 1,700 H-2A workers in Santa Maria during the 2016-17 fiscal year, with around 900 of them living in residential dwellings while the remainder were housed in hotels or motels.

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