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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 6th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 48

Santa Maria Planning Commission approves development permit for an ICE facility

Amy Asman


Quite a crowd
People started filing in for the Feb. 5 Santa Maria Planning Commission at the Fairpark more than a hour before it started. At least 2,000 people showed up—the majority of whom was vehemently opposed to having an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing facility in town.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

After 4 1/2 hours of public comment and discussion at its Feb. 5 meeting, the Santa Maria Planning Commission voted 3-1, with Commissioner Robert Dickerson dissenting, to approve a planned development permit for construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing facility in Santa Maria.

More than 2,000 people showed up to the meeting--the majority of whom was vehemently opposed to the project. Residents started descending on the Santa Maria Fairpark as early as 5 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. meeting. A line of men, women, and children carrying neon signs and sporting stickers emblazoned with the words "NO ICE" snaked its way around the main building and out onto Thornburg Street.

"... No other issue in our history has been able to bring out 2 to 3 percent of our population," said Dickerson, who chaired the meeting after Commission Adrian Andrade recused himself because he lives less than 500 feet away from the proposed project site.

At total of 85 people signed up to speak at the meeting, which was conducted in English and translated into Spanish. A loudspeaker system was also set up so outside the crowd standing around the building could hear what was going on. The people inside often broke into uproarious applause, which made it difficult for the commissioners to hear. Eventually, people started waving their hands above their heads--the American Sign Language sign for applause--to show their support.

"I do not agree with the ICE [facility] because of the children," said one of the first speakers of the night. "We need our jobs so we can provide for our children."

She pumped her fist in the air as she walked back to her seat to a cacophony of approving claps and cheers. Many of the speakers voiced concerns that having an ICE office in town would lead to "round-up" operations and the separation of families.

According to ICE officials, the proposed office would serve as a processing facility for undocumented inmates coming out of the Lompoc Penitentary, the California Men's Colony, and the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbra County jails. ICE representative Steve Finn said it takes his office approximately two to three hours to fingerprint, photograph, and interview the inmates before transporting them south to detention centers in Camarillo and Los Angeles.

The Santa Maria facility would include three holding cells: two that can house a maximum of six people, and one for solitary confinement.

Finn told the commission the single-person cell would be used for a criminal who is sick or a woman or a juvenile.

The 12,700-square-foot office would have 6-foot-tall picketed iron fences in front, an 8-foot-tall curved iron fence in the back, and a small "sally port" fence with barbed wire in the back. The façade of the building would be similar to nearby medical offices, with stone and stucco veneers.

Numerous other speakers voiced concerns that the facility would devalue nearby properties on McCoy Lane and hurt the city's overall economy.

Richard Quandt with the local Grower-Shipper Association said, "[The association] views the presence of an facility that will damage the economy of our city as undesirable to the community.

"Many of the people here tonight view the facility as detrimental to their welfare," Quandt continued, and then added to the commissioners, "You may not think it's detrimental to your wellbeing, but you have thousands of residents in attendance who do. I encourage you to give some weight to their testimony."

The majority of the commissioners ultimately disagreed with the crowd. Commissioners Fred Quigley, Etta Waterfield, and Rodger Brown all mentioned that approval of the project as proposed would give city government more say in how ICE operates in the area, at least in terms of the building.

Commissioner Dickerson said he opposed the project because he thought it would have a detrimental effect on the city's economy and the mental health of many of its immigrant farm workers and other laborers.

"To not listen or not act on the concerns of that many citizens, I just don't think is conscionable," Dickerson said.

He added that, regardless of what the commissioners think, there appears to be "a genuine fear of ICE" in the community, and that should be taken into consideration.

"I could not imagine walking down the street in fear of just living my life," he said.

The project now moves on to the City Council for final consideration.

For more information, visit www.cityofsantamaria.org.