Creating a more affordable California for our seasonal workforce

By Senator Andy Vidak
Thursday, September 21, 2017

Published in the Kern County Valley Ag Voice – September 2017 Issue

Last week, the 2017 legislative session came to an end. Like usual, the Legislature was sorting through hundreds of bills in the final week, but for many the week revolved around housing.

Back in February, I introduced Senate Bill 530, sponsored by United Ag, with the hope of creating a pathway for farmers and ranchers to build affordable housing for farmworkers on their own land. The lack of affordable farmworker housing in California has continuously impacted the agricultural workforce.

Farmworkers have reported entire families living in one room and even sharing an apartment with several other families. Some have even reported sleeping in closets or utility sheds without access to electricity or running water.

Many farmers and ranchers have the land and are willing to build housing for seasonal employees, but are often halted by zoning ordinances. Which is where SB 530 would have come into play.

SB 530 is modeled after similar legislation from Washington State that has been in effect since 1995.

Washington has seen a number of non-profits established to help farmers build and maintain the seasonal housing, resulting in clean, safe living conditions and a restored workforce.

Unfortunately, SB 530 never saw the light of day due to opposition from the UFW. Luckily, there were a few other bills that did make it through the legislative process this session that aim to support affordable housing for farmworkers.

One such measure that I was happy to support was Assembly Bill 571 by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. AB 571 will help speed up the distribution of over $4.5 million in state assistance and funding for the construction of farmworker housing.  AB 571 passed the Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly.

Likewise, SB 35 by Senator Weiner, of which I am a proud coauthor, helps to address the underlying cause of the farmworker housing shortage – the overall lack of affordable housing throughout California. SB 35 will give contractors a way around California’s sue-happy environmental regulations, better known as CEQA, allowing infill development in most cities throughout the state.

Reliant on AB 571 and SB 35 being signed by the Governor, I am confident that these efforts combined with my hope for SB 530 next year, will not only help to bring affordable housing to California but to create a sustainable source of housing for California’s seasonal agricultural workforce.