The Santa Maria City Council approved two measures at a packed meeting Tuesday necessary to clear the way for a development that includes the relocation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility from Lompoc to Santa Maria.
ICE officials, who currently occupy an office inside the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, find undocumented criminals incarcerated in Santa Barbara County and processes their deportation.
Hundreds of people filled the council chamber, the hallway outside, the plaza in front of the building and the courtyard behind it, chanting slogans like “No Tea Party” and “El pueblo unido jamas será vencido” (the people united will not be defeated).
The council voted 3-2 to pass a negative declaration of environmental impact, a general plan amendment for a lot near the intersection of Depot Street and McCoy Lane and the first reading of an ordinance, which the council would have to pass again at its next meeting Feb. 4. The McCoy project would include the ICE facility and two medical buildings.
That moves the discussion to the Planning Commission, which will meet Feb. 5 to decide whether to approve the developer’s
permit. The commission will discuss the permit without voting on it at a study session Thursday.
Councilmember Jack Boysen, one of the three members voting in favor of the motion, said that the discussion is more suited for the Planning Commission, because the council was discussing the land use as opposed to the specific businesses that would move onto the property.
“I do look at this as being a property rights (issue),” he said. “I do look at this as being a signal to businesses.”
Others on the council who voted in favor of the motion include Councilmember Bob Orach and Mayor Alice Patino.
Councilmember Terri Zuniga, who dissented, said she couldn’t ignore the feedback she’d heard on the item and treat it simply as a matter of land use.
“I appreciate the fact that we are here looking at primarily a zoning change, however, we do have information before us about the uses that are going to go into this area,” she said. “And I think that for me I have a lot of concerns.”
Councilmember Willie Green cast the other dissenting vote.
Members of the council said it was the highest turnout they’d ever seen at one of their meetings.
Patino said she appreciated their input and encouraged attendees to speak to the Planning Commission.
“(Those who have commented) should not be scared to live in this community, and it really bothers me that they’re scared,” she said.
Jose Luis Castellanos, the vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Santa Maria, spoke to citizens in the building’s courtyard who couldn’t get into the council chambers, prompting rounds of applause as onlookers waved signs as well as American and Mexican flags.
He said the act of relocating the office from Lompoc to Santa Maria would serve to make people in the city feel unsafe.
“Many people feel it’s another form of intimidation,” Castellanos said. “We’re all stakeholders, because we live here, we pay taxes.”
Rafael Gudino, a 33-year resident of Santa Maria, said that fear would creep into people’s daily lives.
“A lot of people are going to be scared coming to work here,” he said. “They won’t feel free walking anywhere. They’ll be scared.”
Miguel Baez, a student studying automotive technology at Hancock College, said he’s concerned about the economic impact the office’s presence could have.
“Less people would come to our city, because it has immigration services, so I think it will affect a lot of businesses,” he said.
Steven Finn, a supervisory detention and deportation officer representing ICE at the meeting, said the organization’s current facilities in Lompoc are located in old trailers. The location in the penitentiary means ICE officials can’t bring people they’re dealing with inside.
“If we bring someone inside, it’ll be more humane than putting them in a van and transporting them south,” he said.