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Goleta, Fairview Gardens and Neighbors Discuss Fate of Farm

Site visit to urban organic farm picks up discussion of farmworker housing and poultry operations.

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Despite a staff oversight, which resulted in the actual public hearing getting pushed out to June, the Goleta City Council made good use of its Tuesday evening Fairview Gardens site visit and public meeting to discuss the errant farm’s progress toward compliance with city code.

“We want to have a unity plan,” said Steve Chase, the city’s planning and environmental services director.

The evening’s discussions were aimed mostly at the issues of the farm labor camp and poultry operations, both of which are not yet permitted.

Fairview Gardens is a 12.5-acre agricultural operation located in a suburban Goleta neighborhood on a site traditionally used for agriculture for more than a century. While visitors have praised the farm’s efforts to create an organic and sustainable agricultural operation, neighbors have had to live with noise and seemingly unsanitary conditions for years.

These old resentments heated up again in late 2007 when the farm, in an effort to get permits for several existing structures, became the target of numerous complaints from neighboring residents about its poultry operations and laborers’ living conditions.

Health inspections ensued, which the farm passed. But it became clear that the living conditions for the farm’s workers were inadequate, and the noise from the roosters on site were a nuisance. The farm’s administration, reputed to have been unresponsive and even unfriendly, turned over a new leaf and has been working with the neighbors and city ever since.

The goals set by the city for the first six months of the project would be to move the laborers’ yurts and trailers away from the neighbors, and closer to the main farm house. They would also have to annex and hook up to local sanitation facilities. In five years the goal is to have the workers in more permanent housing.

As for the poultry operation, the farm is expected to manage noise and animal waste from the chickens. The roosters have been removed.

The cash-strapped farm, however, requested an extra three months to complete the first phase of its housing development.

“When I crunch the numbers and the dates for this project I find it unrealistic to implement this first phase within the first six months,” said Steve Welton, representing Fairview Gardens.

The funds that would have to be raised in the first phase are in the neighborhood of $300,000-$400,000. The entire project would cost $1.25 million over five years.

Additionally, the farm requested the option of removing the workers at nine months to allow the operation to complete construction of green, permanent housing with proper kitchen and restroom facilities. This option would likely be more of a toll on the workers, who pay a small amount to live in their yurts, compared to the thousands of dollars in rent they would have to pay if they lived in rental housing.

Several in the audience were supportive of the extra three months, pointing out the challenges of a new administration and raising funds, and the need for a sustainable means of food production in the near future.

“Nobody even gets their kitchen remodeled in six months,” one commenter said.

Not all neighbors were convinced.

“This has continued for far too long,” said Larry Cobb, a resident of the nearby Via Fiori neighborhood who has dealt with the farm’s practices for decades.

The council will take up this matter again, as well as other issues pertaining to Fairview Gardens’ projects, at a June 3 public hearing.

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