Unanswered questions regarding ICE facility

Although more than 1,000 people came to Santa Maria City Hall recently to urge the City Council not to change the zoning of a small parcel of land at McCoy and Depot in Santa Maria, they did.

The zoning change was designed to accommodate a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. Councilwoman Terri Zuniga was the only one to vote against it both times it came before the council.

Two weeks later, nearly 3,000 people came to the Fairpark to urge the Planning Commission not to approve a permit for construction of the facility. Yet they did.

When this many people are opposed, why move forward with these changes? Why not conclude that this use is incompatible with the neighborhood? Why not get answers to all the many questions before taking action?

We had a lot of questions then, and do now.

Why is this facility needed, whether at the Lompoc prison where it is now, or in Santa Maria? Convicts released from custody — whose processing ICE officials say is the main purpose of the facility — certainly have been fingerprinted. ICE knows who they are and what crimes they’ve committed. If they are destined for immigration court in Los Angeles, why stop here? Doesn’t that open up the possibility of their release or escape here?

Why were people told this was just a zoning matter and that their concerns and fears should be brought to the Planning Commission meeting, yet people were told there the rezoning had already been done by the council, and this was just a permit that needed to be found consistent with the zoning?

Where are people with legitimate concerns to be heard?

There are two adjacent properties that were rezoned to commercial/professional office. These changes were listed as one item before the council, but were separated into two items for the Planning Commission.

Should the council have also voted on the General Plan amendment and zoning change as two separate items, since there are different property owners applying for different permits and different uses?

The environmental review document said, "... due to the unique nature of the C-4 McCoy ICE Facility that will house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the project has been separated into two separate planned-development permits ..."

Could the facility be unique because it has holding cells, a weapons-cleaning room, an ammunition room, a tall barbed-wire fence, and a sally port to allow secure access for vehicles with prisoners? And should this unique facility be considered differently because residential neighborhoods are about 400 feet away?

Could you imagine that a commercial/professional office designation includes a building that, in most respects, appears to be a jail? The rationale is that only 13 percent of the floor space is holding cells.

The sally port, ammunition room, weapons cleaning room, and offices/cubicles, however, are all part of that same use — processing of prisoners. This use belongs in a government/institutional land-use designation, not in a CPO designation next to medical facilities and residences.

Should property owners or developers be able to build whatever they want, even when it devalues surrounding properties? Do they have rights over homeowners? Who will represent local homeowners, those who have supported the city with property and sales taxes, if the majority of the City Council and Planning Commission won’t?

When can you remember 1,000 people showing up at a council meeting, or 3,000 at a Planning Commission meeting? Who will represent them? Will our council members listen to them when they consider the appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval?

Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.