Salinas City Council votes to allow temporary workers to stay in motels, hotels longer

There is a severe shortage of housing for temporary workers in the fields near Salinas.  Government wants to spend money, tax dollars to provide some housing.  Then it will take property off the tax rolls, forcing higher taxes and less basic services for everyone.  Or, they can allow local motels to rent rooms to these workers.  Whey should government “allow” a motel to rent a room to a temporary worker?

Because that is what motels are for—renting rooms to worker, visitors and husbands that have been thrown out of their home.  This is why people have little trust in government—holding hearings, gnashing of teeth, spending tax dollars, when the private sector has the answer—with NO tax dollars being spent.

“Many of these hotels and motels that already house workers would be empty if not for existing seasonal labor, according to Megan Hunter, Community Development director for the city.

“This is a way of us also knowing who’s doing this,” she said. “Right now, we don’t.”

The ordinance increases goes beyond the 28-day restriction previously imposed on hotels and motels within city limits, and is meant to give more oversight for these temporary housing units. A management plan is also included in the change, along with city inspections, performance standards and parking for agricultural companies that use these units.

See a crisis?  You see government at work.

Hotel California

Salinas City Council votes to allow temporary workers to stay in motels, hotels longer

Eduardo Cuevas, Salinas Californian, 3/19/19

With harvest season fast approaching for the area’s $4.4 billion-dollar agricultural industry amidst a prolonged housing shortage, Salinas City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday meant as a short-term fix to better utilize hotels and motels to house temporary workers.

The move followed discussion on the need for farm labor housing as well as studies calling for building thousands of units to meet local demand. Local residents have also pushed back on use of residential areas to house seasonal workers, many brought to the U.S. through the H-2A work visa.

As a zoning code amendment, council passed the ordinance to allow worker housing in properties developed as hotels or motels using a temporary land use permit. Occupancy can last six months with a six-month renewal up to a year.

Many of these hotels and motels that already house workers would be empty if not for existing seasonal labor, according to Megan Hunter, Community Development director for the city.

“This is a way of us also knowing who’s doing this,” she said. “Right now, we don’t.”

The ordinance increases goes beyond the 28-day restriction previously imposed on hotels and motels within city limits, and is meant to give more oversight for these temporary housing units. A management plan is also included in the change, along with city inspections, performance standards and parking for agricultural companies that use these units.

But as the council report noted, the amendment “would facilitate the urgent need for short-term housing while the city works with key stakeholders to develop a long-term solution.”

“Unless we stop growing things here, this is the situation we’re in with this tight housing,” Councilman Tony Villegas said. “We need to build out and look for viable alternatives where we can provide people with safe, sustainable and affordable housing.”

City staff pointed to a National Resource Network report on the city’s finances and housing crisis that included a recommendation on adapting motels and hotels for seasonal agricultural workers.

There were an estimated 91,433 farmworkers in the Salinas and Pajaro valleys in 2017, according to a study and action plan released last year. About five percent are H-2A workers, though that number has increased exponentially in recent years.

In addition to substandard housing, the study found an “additional 45,560 units of farmworker housing are needed to alleviate critical overcrowding.”Over 5,300 units of permanent affordable farmworker housing are also needed to maintain access for subsidized housing.

Companies who contract H-2A workers are required by law to provide housing, as well as transportation to and from work. But lax oversight has in part resulted in severe overcrowding, as seen by a November action city council tabled meant to ameliorate conditions for these workers.

Some local agricultural growers, including Tanimura & Antle and Nunes Company (which owns Foxy), have built worker housing in the area.

“It’s about your employees and how they’re being treated, period,” Councilman Scott Davis said, applauding Tanimura & Antle and Nunes for their efforts. “And yet we have people in the city of Salinas who want to continue to line their pockets and exploit the hardworking agricultural workers that drive this economy, and that’s not right.”

And last year, federal incentives meant to increase housing opportunities for farmworkers opened up, though those were mostly concentrated around those with H-2A visas who mostly come from Mexico. The Trump Administration has voiced support for increased numbers of H-2A workers instead of workers in the country illegally.

Nonetheless, council agreed utilizing these motels and hotels as temporary housing is a step in the right direction, if only short-term.

Councilman Steve McShane said there still needs to be more done to improve agricultural labor housing.

“To a certain extent, this is kicking the can,” he said. “We still face a real challenge of housing inventory and there still will be bad players. There always is.”

Along with this ordinance, the city plans to address long-term solutions for housing later in the year, Hunter said.

In a timeline from the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, most crops grown in Monterey County will be harvested starting in a few weeks.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.