The construction of farmworker housing should be a bit simpler in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County after a series of actions by the SLO County Board of Supervisors. The country increased the number of housing units that can be built, and the number of beds allowed in group quarters before arising to the need to obtain a minor use permit. The requirement that farmworker housing be within five miles of the worksite was also eliminated.
“One of the highest costs that a farmer incurs is the ability to house these workers. So, anytime that we could go to an administerial permit process or waive some of those restrictions here at the county level, that’s a positive,” said Brent Burchett, Executive Director of the SLO County Farm Bureau. “The county was willing to look at the practices they had and try to make it a little bit more friendly for farmers.”
The ordinance amendments apply to agricultural and rural land categories. The new changes dictate that 12 dwellings can be constructed, and group quarters can have 36 beds before a minor use permit will be required. While farmers may not have gotten everything they had requested, such as lowering the site requirement from 20 acres down to five, Burchett still described the actions taken by the county as a win.
“Any time you work with the government you don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth just because you don’t get everything on your wish list and everything that your farmers have said is important,” Burchett explained. “It’s pretty refreshing to have a county that takes a look at something they can control here locally to make it easier to farm.”
As growers continue to struggle to address labor challenges, the new rules dictating farmworker housing should also allow for easier use of the H-2A program. The elimination of the distance requirement for group quarters in particular will be especially valuable to growers who use H-2A workers. “We have such a difficulty in getting workers that if you don’t go through the H-2A process you’re oftentimes short of workers when you really need them,” Burchett noted.
Listen to the interview below.