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Ventura County

Growers, Labor Advocates Unite on Bond for Farm-Worker Housing

The statewide measure prompts local groups to put aside their differences.

November 03, 2002|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Seizing an opportunity to shore up Ventura County's stock of low-cost housing, farmers and farm-worker advocates have joined to support a statewide measure that could help shelter those who supply the muscle for the county's $1-billion agricultural industry.

Proposition 46 on Tuesday's ballot would funnel $200 million to the state's primary grant program for farm-worker housing.

If approved, the money -- part of a $2.1-billion housing bond on the ballot -- would come at a time of unprecedented attention to local farm-worker housing needs.

"I think it's important to send a message to the Legislature that the voters of California really do care about housing," said Cesar Hernandez, outreach coordinator for a nonprofit group that helped stage a rally Saturday in support of the proposition.

The rally drew dozens of sign-waving supporters of low-cost housing to the Saticoy offices of Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., the county's largest builder of affordable housing.

"Farm-worker housing is an especially critical issue," Hernandez said. "And there are a number of stakeholders in agriculture coming together to say this is an issue we need to take care of."

Indeed, farmers and farm-worker advocates have put aside occasional differences to work toward passage of the bond issue. The proposition is supported by such diverse groups as the United Farm Workers union, the Ag Futures Alliance and the Ventura County Agricultural Assn.

Also, the county Board of Supervisors and several city councils have adopted resolutions supporting the bond issue.

Opponents include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and a handful of state legislators.

In Ventura County, the spirit of cooperation, which some say is unprecedented, has been spurred in part by a growing belief that in order to keep farmers in business, steps must be taken to house those who work the harvest.

In fact, one policy group reported last year that housing for farm workers was in such dwindling supply that it threatened the stability of the county's oldest and most prominent industry.

"We feel it's a very important issue locally for the viability of agriculture," said Rob Roy, president and general counsel for the Ventura County Agricultural Assn. "More importantly, it's the right thing to do for farm workers in our community."

At least three local committees are studying the issues, looking at everything from current housing conditions to potential land-use strategies for development. Those efforts are expected to provide the foundation for seeking the money and support needed to build the first significant block of farm-worker housing in the county in nearly a decade.

"This is one thing the community can do to really push those efforts forward and address a major need that will allow farm workers to have decent, safe and affordable housing," Hernandez said.

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