April 3, 2009

Farmworker housing project approved in Ventura County

A long-awaited development of manufactured homes for Ventura County farmworkers was approved Thursday for the Limoneira Co.’s ranch outside Santa Paula.

The county Planning Commission approved a permit for the 74 units of family housing almost four years after the agribusiness firm applied for permission to add the housing.

Limoneira and county officials have blamed each other for the delays, but the commission’s approval Thursday was believed to be the last hurdle.

With most farmworker housing going up in cities, the project is unusual because it would add housing on a grower’s land.

Limoneira submitted its application to the county Planning Division Aug. 18, 2005, for 92 homes, but the figure fell to 86, then 74 as problems arose with potential flooding and subdivision issues on the historic ranch off Cummings Road.

Limoneira CEO Harold Edwards was not immediately available for comment after the 4-0 vote in Ventura.

The approval could be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, but county planners do not expect it.

Limoneira once provided 500 units of housing for farmworkers, but the number has declined through the years to fewer than 200 bungalows rented at below-market rates, company officials say.

Historically, growers provided most farmworker housing in Ventura County. That practice has declined dramatically since the 1960s, a development tied to labor disputes, liability issues, cost and movement of workers to town.

Advocates say more homes for farmworkers are desperately needed in Ventura County’s high-cost housing environment. Estimates suggest that more than 20,000 agricultural workers live in the county, many with young families.

Faced with high rents and low wages, they often double and triple up in apartments or live in garages.