A farmworker housing bill signed into law Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom is aimed at addressing what advocates say is a shortage of quality, affordable lodging for California ag laborers.
Assembly Bill 1783, the Farmworker Housing Act of 2019, sets up a streamlined process for approving construction of non-dormitory-style housing on land zoned for agricultural use.
A state analysis says projects eligible for ministerial permits under the law would have to be operated and maintained by a qualified affordable housing organization. The projects would need to be made available to low-income ag workers for at least 55 years.
Authored by Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, the legislation was supported by the United Farm Workers union and other ag-labor advocates who said it would help overcome restrictive zoning laws and sometimes stifling opposition to farmworker housing proposals.
It was opposed by a farmers group, Western Growers Association, which argued that few, if any, growers would be willing to turn over their property to a third party for 55 years while remaining "ultimately responsible for the housing and any liability claims associated with its operation."
Notably, the law forbids spending state money on any projects that, though eligible for expedited permits under the act, serve ag workers in the country temporarily under the H-2A federal visa program.
"The inclusion of this provision in the bill," the growers association asserted, "ignores the reality … that farmers here and elsewhere are turning to the H-2A program in desperation" because of Congress' failure to enact immigration reform.
A state analysis estimates the law's annual cost to taxpayers at more than $9 million per year, mostly because of additional state-level staffing requirements.
Kern's Sacramento delegation was divided over the bill. State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, voted against it, as did Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield. Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, voted in favor of the bill, along with state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger.
UFW co-founder and local resident Dolores Huerta called the legislation a milestone in farmworker rights.
"This new law is a major victory for farmworkers and farmers — who desperately need quality housing for our workers," Huerta said in news release Tuesday from Rivas' office.