Santa Maria city planning leaders approved a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE facility in a 3-1 vote Wednesday night.
A private developer won a federal contract to build a new ICE building near the corner of Oakley Avenue and McCoy Lane on the south side of the city.
The proposed 12,000 square foot ICE facility would include staff offices and at least three temporary detention cells.
The project requires a re-zoning of the nearly one acre property from industrial or light industrial to office construction.
Currently ICE operates out of a facility on the campus of the Lompoc Federal Prison.
Opponents of the project include immigration reform advocates who worry about random immigration sweeps on undocumented field workers and others concerned about a law enforcement detention center near residential areas.
"This is not a place or a neighborhood for a law enforcement center", says former Santa Maria city councilwoman and local Latino activist Hilda Zacarias. "That needs to be connected just as it is now to a penitentiary in Lompoc or to the new Sheriff Substation, some other area, not in our neighborhoods."
The issue became so big in the community that the City of Santa Maria took the unusual step of moving Wednesday's Planning Commission meeting to the Santa Maria Fairpark.
"We had over a thousand people at the City Council a couple of weeks ago", said Larry Appel of the Santa Maria City Planning and Development. "We wanted to make sure we had room for everybody to come in and sit down because they were in the hallways, and outside and so by going to the Fairpark we were able to use the large Convention Center and they will have set up 1100 seats for us so we're hoping to accommodate the people that are wanting to be there."
The project's approval by the Planning Commission can still be appealed to the Santa Maria City Council.