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040219-City-Council-H-2A

Santa Maria City Councilman Mike Cordero, facing at right, asks interim City Attorney Phil Sinco, right, and City Manager Jason Stilwell a question about an emergency H-2A farmworker housing ordinance during a meeting April 2.

Two options for a permanent ordinance that would govern how H-2A farmworkers are housed in Santa Maria's residential zones will be considered Tuesday by the City Council. 

The meeting comes a little more than a year after the Santa Maria City Council passed an urgency ordinance temporarily banning the housing of more than six H-2A workers in low- and medium-density dwellings during its March 20, 2018, meeting.

After members from the agricultural community that relied on the program spoke out, the council allowed the 45-day-long temporary ban to expire.

The federal H-2A program allows employers to bring temporary, nonimmigrant workers to the United States to work seasonal agricultural jobs. Under the program, employers must provide housing at no cost to workers.

While some community members have expressed concern that H-2A housing will change the character of their neighborhoods and displace Santa Maria families, many large farming operations in the region say they rely on H-2A workers to fill a labor need that otherwise wouldn’t be met.

The first proposed option that the City Council will consider is a more restrictive version that was recommended by the Planning Commission in a 3-2 vote earlier this year. Commissioner Maribel Hernandez and then-Commissioner Kelly White O’Neill voted "no."

That option would require a conditional use permit for the housing of seven or more workers in low- or medium-density residential buildings. The permits would be granted through a new zoning administrator hearing process. Low-density zones would only be allowed permits for more than six workers for 18 months.

When an application for a conditional use permit is made, a letter notifying all neighbors within 300 feet of the property would be sent out. In a situation where no neighbors object, the permit would be approved as a consent item.

If any neighbor has concerns, a public hearing would be held and the zoning administrator would rule on whether granting the permit would result in negative impacts. The decision could afterward be appealed to the Planning Commission.

Community Development Director Chuen Ng or someone he designates would serve as the zoning administrator.

The second proposed option would allow seven to 10 workers in a low- or medium-density home with a simpler administrative permit. A conditional use permit under the zoning administrator process would still be required to house 11 or more workers in R-1 or R-2 properties.

Tuesday's City Council meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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