An effort to help ease a shortage of farm workers on the Central Coast is underway in Santa Barbara County, as plans for a large housing project for temporary field workers are in the final stages.
If approved, the Curletti Farm Worker Housing Project would house 600 farmworkers under the H-2A visa program. The project is associated with Bonipak, a Santa Maria-based company that annually ships millions of cartons of produce worldwide.
All farmworkers would exclusively work in Bonipak fields and the company would provide the housing for those temporary employees.
For some time now, there’s a been a shortage of workers to do the picking of fruits and vegetables on local farms and throughout California. Dr. Glenn Russell is the Director of Planning & Development for Santa Barbara County and said the project could alleviate the shortage by bringing in workers.
However, plans like this are not always a popular option for communities. Earlier this year a similar farmworker housing project in Nipomo was destroyed by arson. This new site is located off Highway one, west of the Santa Maria Airport.
Russell said its isolation should make it easier to integrate into the community.
“The people who come to work will be living in this camp, in these bunkhouses. And they will be bussed to the fields and bussed to town, to do the things that they need to do in town, to buy the things they need to buy in town," said Russell. "Therefore, they’re not in the middle of an already existing neighborhood.”
The housing camp would accommodate workers in bunkhouses equipped with common dining and kitchen areas, with twenty workers per house.
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the project June 1.