After hearing several hours of public comment opposing the relocation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility to Santa Maria, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 Wednesday to approve the project’s planned development permit, with Robert Dickerson dissenting and Adrian Andrade not present.
The controversial issue, which drew more than 1,000 people to the Santa Maria Fairpark for the meeting, involves moving the ICE facility from the federal penitentiary in Lompoc to West Century Street in Santa Maria. While some of the 85 speakers expressed fear that residents would be rounded up on the streets, Planner Neda Zayer assured the audience that the facility would only target incarcerated criminals.
“What ICE does is they go to the five jails in Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County,” she said. “These are criminals that are in the jail system. They locate them in the computer system. They wait for their sentence to be over. When they are released out into the community, into the neighborhood of Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo and this area, they go to the jail when they're let out, they take them to this facility, they fingerprint them, they do their paperwork – it takes about two hours – they put them back in the bus and then they take them to … Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, they go before a judge and a court that decides whether they will be deported or what happens to them at that point. This building is just for processing.”
The decision can be appealed to the City Council, which passed a general plan amendment and zone change to make the land use conform with the ICE facility. But City Manager Rick Haydon said it wouldn’t appear on the council’s agenda until at least its March 4 meeting.
Public commenters at the Planning Commission meeting including nearby homeowners, farm workers and community organizers spoke on a range of concerns about the facility. Richard Quandt, a former president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, said farmers in the area rely on many of the people who spoke against the ICE facility to work in their fields.
“They are here tonight because they believe that this proposed use will be detrimental to their welfare,” he said. “Planned development permit finding number four, which is in the green sheet in your packet, clearly states that to approve this project, you have to make the finding that under the circumstances, this particular case will not be detrimental to the health, safety, morals or welfare of the persons residing or working in the neighborhood.”
Speaker Dennis Apel said the city presented the facility in a misleading way because it is not office space, but rather a holding center. According to staff materials attached to the agenda, the facility would be able to hold a maximum of 13 detainees for up to 12 hours each.
Gloria Acosta, a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said they didn’t think the establishment of a federal bureau was consistent with the use of the site, which the City Council changed to “Commercial Professional Office” on Tuesday.
Alva Maravilla, the first person to speak during the agenda item related to the ICE facility, said deportation brings hardships to families.
“It is not fair that we as parents be taken away and leave our children abandoned without parents,” she said, speaking through a translator.
Will Smith, a board member for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District who spoke as a private citizen, argued that it could be dangerous to transport and house criminals at the proposed location. Homeowners in the area also gave their concerns about having barbed wire fencing on the property close to their houses.
“Where you're putting that detention facility (concerns me) because it's very close to where we have three schools and possibly will … build another,” Smith said.