A huge crowd showed up to protest, but the Santa Maria Planning Commission ignored the public pleas this week by approving a permit to build a new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility inside city limits.
The commission voted 3-1 to move the project forward during a specially relocated meeting Wednesday night at the Santa Maria Fairpark, where about 1,200 people crowded inside and more than 1,300 others protested beyond the doors.
Commissioner Robert Dickerson cast the dissenting vote, and chairman Adrian Andrade chose to abstain.
At that meeting, the council voted 4-1 to approve the second reading of general-plan and zoning changes to allow the proposed development near the intersection of Depot Street and McCoy Lane that includes two single-story medical buildings and an ICE facility — to be relocated from its current site within the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary.
Councilwoman Terri Zuniga voted against changing the space use from light industrial to commercial professional office.
Eighty-six speakers signed up Wednesday to air concerns that the federal agency, which handles deportation cases, would sweep the town for those living illegally in the country.
With the vote, the developer will move forward obtaining proper building permits, according to Larry Appel, Santa Maria’s director of development.
Appel said the planning commission’s decision could be appealed to the City Council, which would then have final say regarding a permit.
If an appeal is filed by 5 p.m. Feb. 26, that council meeting would also likely be hosted at the fairpark instead of City Hall to accommodate the large crowd, Appel said.
ICE representatives have said the facility’s real purpose would be administrative, working with local prisons and jails to pick up undocumented inmates set for release and then determining their deportation status.
The facility would include a 12,700-square-foot, one-story ICE building at 740 W. Century St., and accompanying fencing, landscaping and a 50-stall parking lot. Two to three specially built rooms would hold a maximum of 12 to 15 people.