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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 2nd, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 4

Santa Maria City Council approves a building permit for ICE, despite emotional protests from the community


Embattled Vandenberg Air Force Base protestor Dennis Apel showed up at the March 27 Santa Maria City Council meeting to voice his disapproval of having an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in town.

Attendees were in for a long and emotional night at the Santa Maria Fairpark on March 27, as more than 1,200 locals turned up to protest the construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Facility (ICE) in town.

The Santa Maria City Council’s special meeting to discuss four appeals against the Planning Commission’s February decision to grant a development permit for the project started at 3 p.m. and dragged on for more than eight hours.

After listening to presentations from city staffers, the appellants, and the developers—as well as public comment from dozens of concerned citizens—the council voted 3-2, with Mayor Alice Patino and Councilmember Terri Zuniga dissenting, to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision.

The vote did not sit well with the meeting’s several hundred remaining attendees and spurred some to start chanting what sounded like “We remember the KKK!” Others wiped away tears as they made their way outside and back to their homes.

Dennis Apel—who recently made headlines because of his protests at Vandenberg Air Force Base—approached the dais with a sign reading, “NO A ICE EN NUESTRA COMUNIDAD,” and loudly challenged the council members’ decision. The move prompted Police Chief Ralph Martin and other officers to form a human barricade between the public and the council members and developers as they left the building.

The meeting started in the mid-afternoon with some comments from the public, including Janet Cruz, a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who scolded the council for starting the meeting so early.

“If you look around, there aren’t many people here, and that is because right now they are working very hard [in the fields] so you can have food at your house and so they can make a living for their families,” Cruz said, calling on the council members to vote with the voice of the people.

Next up, the city’s director of community development, Larry Appel, presented to the council a staff report on the appeals and a recap of the project.

According to ICE officials, the proposed office would serve as a processing facility for undocumented inmates coming out of the Lompoc Penitentiary, the California Men’s Colony, and the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbra County jails.

The Santa Maria Fairpark was filled to capacity (1,200 people) for the recent special City Council meeting to discuss a building permit for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The council ultimately voted 3-2, with Mayor Alice Patino and Council Member Terri Zuniga dissenting, to grant the permit.

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

The appellants—LULAC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a group of neighboring homeowners, and Santa Maria resident Scott Fina—argued that there were several problems with the project, including:

  • • The use of barbed wire fencing, which staffers later said had been removed.
  • • Adverse impacts on the neighboring properties and the city’s overall economy.
  • • Detrimental effects to the health, safety, morale, and welfare of city residents.

Appel, however, told the council, “None of the four appeals provide substantial evidence or quantifiable data showing ICE at this location as having a detrimental effect on the surrounding neighborhood.”

He said this meant there wasn’t enough evidence to “factually conclude that the Planning Commission made an error” in its decision and recommended that the council deny the appeals and uphold the permit approval.

In their rebuttals, the appellants also argued that the project didn’t adequately address the potential increase of traffic or the long-term economic and emotional impact of having an ICE facility in town.

“It’s already devastated our community. It’s caused a ripple effect throughout the community,” appellant and LULAC member Gloria Acosta said, through tears. “I would hate to see hardworking families leave [because of ICE]. … The city of Santa Maria has always had open arms to newcomers. Please do not tear our city apart.

“Yes, we are emotional, but this is our city,” she said. “You have done well advocating for a business owner, but not the citizens of Santa Maria.”

Homeowner John McConnell argued that the city’s choice to use documents comparing the McCoy area to the Foxenwood area, which didn’t experience a drop in property values after construction of the Santa Maria juvenile detention center, was irrelevant because the neighborhoods are completely different.

He called the ICE building “more of a police station than an office facility.”

In his rebuttal, ICE representative David Marin told the council that since the Feb. 5 Planning Commission meeting, the agency has met with numerous community groups to “address the misconceptions and concerns about what the office is being used for.”

He also said ICE wouldn’t being raiding local agricultural fields to find undocumented immigrants. Many audience members, however, silently shook their fingers at Marin as he spoke, as if to indicate that, in their opinion, he wasn’t telling the truth. Several community members later recounted to the council their experiences of being deported or having a loved one deported.

Later, during public comment, Richard Quandt with the Grower-Shipper Association of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties told the council, “Considerable fear has been generated by this project, and the fear of families being separated is real and genuine” because ICE’s mission to target only undocumented criminals “could change at any moment.”

Project designer Bruce Fraser countered that the majority of these claims were purely emotional and based on “vague fear and conjecture.” He asked the council to “return to objective, fact-based information,” and argued that there’s no other suitable location for the facility because of certain legal requirements and that ICE’s mission “will not change because of relocation of the building.”

After numerous questions, the council members each made a personal statement. Most noticeably, Terri Zuniga said, “I think we should end the trauma and discord in the community tonight, that we should do what we were elected to do, which is to hear from our community, address their concerns, and do what makes the best sense for all of us.”

She then made a motion to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision and to deny the building permit for the facility, but failed to get a second from any of her colleagues.

Bob Orach then told the audience that there are several federal agencies with offices in Santa Maria—to which Dennis Apel responded, “None of them have detention cells!”—and that the council members “took an oath to support and defend federal, state, and city laws.”

“The community has been very liberal in enforcing some of these laws,” Orach said, adding that the facility will help protect people by removing ex-convicts from the country.

He then made a motion to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision, which council member Willie Green seconded. Jack Boysen followed suit, despite concerns that the project wasn’t properly zoned. Zuniga maintained her stance against the facility, and, in a somewhat surprising move, Mayor Alice Patino voted “no” as well, saying, “This is about more than a building for me.”


Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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