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As a moratorium on housing more than six H-2A farmworkers in a single-family home or medium-density residential building is set to expire this week, a few Santa Maria residents expressed disappointment with the Santa Maria City Council during its Tuesday meeting.

After about 10 farmers and growers raised concerns, the council declined to extend the emergency ordinance, which prohibited housing more than six H-2A workers in a single-family home or medium-density residential building, at its April 17 meeting.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, Santa Maria resident Gale McNeely said the council seemed to be prioritizing the short-term needs of the growing cycle over the decades-long investments city residents have made in their homes.

“You created this situation by not continuing the moratorium, or creating a sensible city ordinance,” McNeely said. “Now, agribusiness can rapidly buy or rent neighborhood homes and fill them to the brim, knowing they would be grandfathered in, until you decide what to do.”

Santa Maria resident Cheryl Ausan said the council was putting the needs of growers over the city’s homeowners.

“We weren’t happy when you let them have six people, but we thought that was fair,” Ausan said. “Now we have nothing and they have everything. You have to realize we are committed to our neighborhoods — they’re not. They’re there for a short time and then they leave.”

Ausan also said she was disappointed that Mayor Alice Patino didn’t return two of her calls.

“She never called me back,” Ausan said. “She never called me in as I asked for an appointment to talk with her about what was going on.”

Councilman Mike Cordero told Ausan to call his office, while Patino told Ausan that the issue was not over.

“This is not dead and this is not done,” Patino said. “You will be at the table, along with other people. It just got to the point where it was complicated negotiating with people out in the audience.”

Assistant City Attorney Philip Sinco said there will be town halls in different neighborhoods once a month from June to October to determine if there’s a solution that can work for both growers and homeowners.

“I’m hopeful that at the conclusion of this process, people will be very educated about the facts,” Sinco said. “I intend to keep open the dialogue.”

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In other business, the council adopted a resolution authorizing the city to enter into a three-year-long agreement with government relations firm Thorn Run Partners for federal lobbying services. The cost of the contract is $81,000 for each of the first two years and $84,000 for the third year.

Lobbyist Greg Burns — a partner in Thorn Run — has represented the city of Santa Maria in Washington, D.C., since 2006 on issues including water resources, transportation and infrastructure, public safety and other issues. City officials credit Burns with helping secure federal funding for community projects like the rehabilitation of the Santa Maria River Levee, which provides flood protection and relief from flood insurance premiums for more than half of the city. Other projects include construction of the Santa Maria Public Library and Santa Maria Area Transit Center.

In honor of the 75th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo and Parade, the council proclaimed May 31 to June 3 as “Go Rodeo Days” and encouraged city residents to begin wearing Western clothing in the weeks before the events.

Patino gave the proclamation and said the rodeo was “considered by many to be the event of the year.”

“It’s been a long-standing tradition to start wearing Western clothes several weeks before the parade — And that means you, too, Mr. Cordero,” Patino said, referring to Cordero being the only council member wearing a coat and tie.

The council made seven other proclamations designating certain days, weeks or months for honoring fallen peace officers, water awareness, the March for Moms Rally to Improve Birth, among other issues.

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

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