Sunday, April 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 19th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 51

Coastal Commission approves amendment streamlining county housing permit process

By Zac Ezzone

Santa Barbara County is attempting to overcome some of its existing labor and housing shortages by streamlining its process for developing homes for agricultural employees.

The county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance making changes to its permit process for agricultural employee dwellings during its Dec. 11, 2018, meeting. While this took care of much of the county, it still had to receive approval from the California Coastal Commission to implement the ordinance along the coast.

The commission unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s Local Coastal Program to reflect these agricultural employee dwelling regulation changes at its meeting on Feb. 13. During the meeting, commission Deputy Director Steve Hudson said the goal of this amendment is to provide the county with more flexibility when it comes to siting housing on prime agricultural soils along the coast.

“The county has indicated that high labor demand and a housing shortage countywide have created a significant need for affordable housing for agricultural employees and their families,” a staff report from the meeting states. “The proposed amendment request includes changes to help encourage the development of, and streamline the permit process for, agricultural employee dwellings.”

According to the staff report, under this amendment developers would no longer need a minor conditional use permit or conditional use permit to build farmworker housing that accommodates fewer than 10 employees in more urban agricultural zones or fewer than 25 employees in more rural agricultural zones. These changes will cut down on permit costs and the time it takes to process permits. 

Over the last few years, government officials and farmers have sought solutions to the ongoing labor shortage. Santa Maria City Council worked for more than a year on its ordinance for agriculture employee housing before approving the measure in June 2019. 

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) has proposed changes to the H-2A guest worker program that allows employers to bring temporary employees to the U.S. from another country. A bill Carbajal authored would allow farmers to hire more guest workers and provide the employees with possible paths to becoming permanent residents.

When a panel of agricultural experts met at an event the nonprofit Econ Alliance hosted in Santa Maria on Feb. 6, they said this labor shortage is one of the most significant challenges affecting the industry.

“We continue to experience an ongoing labor shortage. … There’s product people can’t harvest because there’s not enough [workers],” Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, said during the panel discussion.

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