Santa Maria City Council rejects emergency H-2A hotel ban, continues discussions

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The heated debate surrounding the future of Santa Maria’s H-2A housing ordinance took center stage again Tuesday night with an emergency ordinance on the agenda.  

The council debated imposing a temporary moratorium on the new and future use of any motel, hotel or or efficiency unit to house migrant workers. 

City officials didn’t vote on the issue, instead they came to a consensus that they would discuss where hotels and motels come into play with H-2A at a later date, basically kicking the can down further down the road for the valley’s largest economic engine. They're set to make some tough decisions regarding the program in residetntial areas at their April 16th meeting. 

“I’m having some difficulty coming up with enough evidence to support blocking this and blocking this and blocking this,” said Councilman Mike Cordero. 

Cordero was very vocal about the so-called urgency of this last minute agenda item, many giving public comment siding with his thoughts on this issue.

According to city documents, Mayor Alice Patino heard a rumor that the Vandenberg Senior Residences on South Broadway was going to be converted into H-2A housing.

After extensive back and forth, the city council was assured that there are procedural measures in place that would involve the Planning Commission and city officials if that were actually going to happen. 

The renovation of the former Econo Lodge on Nicholson Avenue into H-2A housing is also said to be behind the proposed hotel ban. 

City officials believe there are around 2,000 H-2A workers being housed in Santa Maria for up to 10 months of the year. 53 percent of those workers are believed to reside in older motels and hotels in the area.

Business owners in the lodging industry stood in solidarity with farmers and community members that the conversion of hotels and motels into farm worker housing has been beneficial for the community and putting this stop gap on the program would have detrimental effects. 

“I was very hesitant having them there but they actually ended up being model tenants,” explained Andy Patel with Motel De Ville. 

“The refurbishment of that hotel and the improvement in the area around there has been very welcome,” said a community member that lives around a newly repurposed hotel in Santa Maria. 

“If you guys pass this ordinance, it’s going to force us to plant less or just be out of business, it’s quite simple,” said an area farmer. 

Councilmember Gloria Soto echoed Councilman Cordero’s concerns, with Councilor Etta Watterfield speaking in opposition of using hotels and motels to house migrant workers. 

The majority of public comment centered around the notion that the rhetoric being used to discuss the program is racist and we’re not respecting the workers who are members of our community about ten months out of the year. 

The issue will be brought to the forefront again on April 16th but it is not believed that city officials will be able to solve the entire ordiance at one meeting. 

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