SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Housing concerns dominated Tuesday's over four-hour Santa Maria City Council meeting.
The meeting began with around a dozen mobile home residents calling on the city officials to put a rent stabilization ordinance on the agenda once and for all.
The group has been coming to city council meetings on a consistent basis for the past year.
Those that took to the podium said an enforceable rent stabilization program would help protect vulnerable, seniors on fixed incomes that feel like they're being forced out due to unchecked and involuntary rent increases.
The council is moving forward with plans to build a new 30-unit apartment complex in the southwest portion of the city.
In a three-to-two vote, officials approved the zone change from a manufacturing use to high-density residential land use.
The project is called Oakley Street Apartments.
A lengthy discussion took place about noise concerns given the proposed complex's proximity to the railroad tracks. That was contrasted by concern over housing issues and the homeless population that frequent the vacant land.
There are apartments just across the street on South Oakley Court, as well as homes nearby on South Oakley Avenue.
Landlords that gave public comment said they've never heard complaints about the Santa Maria Valley Railroad but have had problems with the homeless population that have made tunnels and frequented the now-empty and littered plot of land.
The zoning change will have to come back for another reading.
Ultimately the council also voted to build an eight-foot barrier wall around the complex after debating sound issues and contrasting reports with a sound engineer professional.
The meeting ended with fierce debate centered around tenant displacement due to H-2A housing conversion.
The council formally adopted an H-2A ordinance in June and back in April directed city staff to draft a document governing what happens if renters or families get kicked out of their property due to the high demand for farmworker housing in the region.
The Santa Maria City Council ultimately directed staff to stop working on a tenant displacement assistance ordinance.
It was suggested that three months of median rent be provided to those being displaced but there was disagreement over who should pay for that.
Landlords in attendance voiced concerns over what they call unintended consequences that this would have on the rental market.
"This is the first step, like the gentleman said, down a slippery slope you really don't want to see Santa Maria turn into a big slum and that's what messing with the housing market will do," said a landlord who said he's owned properties Los Angeles.
Councilwoman Etta Waterfield and Mayor Alice Patino argued that this could infringe on private property rights.
Gloria Soto was very vocal that the council needed to uphold their end of the bargain because people are hurting.
One woman shared a personal story of how this issue has impacted her family.
"It took seven months, and so she was eventually able to find housing but it was a very difficult situation seeing that her whole family was separated and living in literal toolsheds in backyards and so she had all her kids separated by that," said an interpreter, speaking on behalf of Francisca Varga.
Varga was kicked out of a two-bedroom apartment due to H-2A housing conversion. She spent hundreds of dollars in application fees and spent months applying for leases but couldn't find anything.
She resorted to sleeping in actual sheds with her children in people's backyard, telling her kids they were playing a game as to not traumatize them.
While tenant displacement is not off the table, the City Manager says they are at an impasse.
He plans to reach out to growers that have voiced interest in creating a fund, following up with them to see how they intend to make that happen.
Data shows that employee housing units make up about .7% of the total single and multi-family units in the city.
Pending legislation coming down the pipeline and Governor Newsom's new housing plan were discussed but Soto, who has championed for the ordinance, says that this is a separate issue.