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County eases restrictions on farmworker housing

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After nearly three years of work with the agricultural industry, SLO County recently passed a series of amendments to its land use ordinances that are intended to make it easier for farmers to build housing for their workers. But last-minute changes to the proposals made some in the local farming community less enthusiastic about the win.

FINDING HOUSING At a meeting on June 17, the SLO County Board of Supervisors passed several ordinance amendments that county staff say will streamline the approval process for farm worker housing, which farmers say is desperately needed in California's tight and costly housing market. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FINDING HOUSING At a meeting on June 17, the SLO County Board of Supervisors passed several ordinance amendments that county staff say will streamline the approval process for farm worker housing, which farmers say is desperately needed in California's tight and costly housing market.

At a meeting on June 16, the SLO County Board of Supervisors passed several ordinance amendments to streamline the approval process for farmworker housing, which farmers say is desperately needed in California's tight and costly housing market.

"We can't produce food without workers," said SLO County Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett, "and finding a place for workers to live is a significant challenge for our local farmers."

Through the recent changes, farmers will be allowed to build 12 single-family dwellings or a 36-bed group quarter dwelling before the county requires a minor use permit, a significant increase from the four single-family dwellings and 20 beds allowed previously.

Farmers also used to be required to build housing within 5 miles of the site where their employees would be working, a requirement that Burchett said made it nearly impossible for growers to find the necessary space to build. On June 16, that requirement was eliminated.

But a proposal to decrease the minimum acreage required for a group quarters from 20 acres to 5 didn't pass. Some supervisors said that change wasn't needed, because farms without a site 20 acres or larger wouldn't have enough workers to house in a group living facility.

"It was frustrating to see confusion on the board about the 5-acre minimum site area for group quarters," Burchett wrote in an email to New Times after the meeting. "This question had not been raised previously during our discussions with some members of the board. At the end of the day, our farmers face such an uphill challenge to get enough workers, any small step forward is progress."

Supervisors Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold, who took issue with lowering the acreage minimum, also pulled cannabis nurseries from the ordinance changes. Cannabis, they agreed, is not considered an agricultural crop, and its housing needs should be considered separately. Δ

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