The Half Moon Bay City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny appeals attempting to block a 40-unit, downtown apartment complex for senior farmworkers, clearing the way for the project to continue.

The complex, which was approved by the city’s planning commission May 14, faced three appeals from local residents who worried about the size of the building and its effects on traffic and parking.

But the four city council members present voted unanimously to reject the appeals. Mayor Joaquin Jimenez recused himself from the vote due to his past involvement with Ayudando Latinos A Soñar (ALAS), a nonprofit group supporting Latinos in the Coastside area, a group helping lead the project.

“The farmworker community has lived in the shadows for so long,” said Lilli Rey, a member of board. “It’s time to step up for the community.”

Local officials vowed to improve farmworker housing after a mass shooting last year in Half Moon Bay killed seven employees at two farms and exposed the squalid living conditions faced by many California farmworkers.

The council’s decision comes after the city’s planning commission twice delayed their vote on the project, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to release a statement threatening potential legal action if the project didn’t move forward. If the city didn’t approve the complex by July 2 — the deadline to apply for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program — the project may have been delayed another year. Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing still must secure the rest of the funding needed to begin the project.

The complex is to be located at 555 Kelly Ave. in downtown Half Moon Bay, within a short walk to a community center, stores, medical clinics, churches and a farmer’s market. The 40 apartments would all be affordable and limited to very low-income and extremely low-income residents over 55 years old. On the first floor would be a farmworker resource center providing services from ALAS.

Half Moon Bay farmworker and ALAS community organizer Rocio Avila was one of several farmworkers to speak at the meeting. Until recently, Avila told this news organization in Spanish, she lived with her husband and three children in one small room.

Avila said many senior farmworkers struggle to find housing.

“There are people who have been working in the fields for more than 30, 40 years and they still need a space,” she said. “People rent with other people or sometimes have to rent rooms. They don’t have an adequate place to rest.”

To Avila, 555 Kelly is a step in the right direction.

“This close, central housing and the resources that it would offer would be something really important for all the farmworker community, especially the older people of integrity who have been very far from downtown and the resources that the county and the city have,” Avila said. Of particular importance, she said, is the proximity to clinics for a population that often struggles to access medical and dental care.

Plans for the complex began in 2022, when the city asked for proposals for affordable housing projects on city-owned land at 555 Kelly. The only proposal was given by the duo of ALAS and Mercy Housing.

Rey, the ALAS board member, said the organization has served upward of 700 farmworkers since 2020, “of which 20% are seniors” who might qualify for such housing.

The original plan was for a four-story building with the farmworker resource center on the first floor and apartments, most of which were slated to be studios, upstairs. The developers later reduced the number of studio apartments and added more one- and two-bedroom units, which they said better suited the needs of the community, raising the complex to five stories.

Project opponents have concerns about the change in design, especially the building’s height after the addition of a fifth floor and issues with parking and traffic. ALAS and Mercy said they have taken the concerns seriously, reducing the height of each floor to reduce the building’s height by five feet. ALAS also won’t hold events on the city’s farmer’s market days to alleviate parking concerns, Rey said.

The project faced three appeals by Mike Ferreira, a former Half Moon Bay mayor who served on the city’s planning commission in the 2000s, hair salon owner Jennifer Moore and former assistant city manager Paul Nagengast.

Moore, whose salon is located down the street from 555 Kelly, cited a wide range of concerns, including traffic.

Ferreira said he was particularly concerned with the changes made to the project since its proposal, including the increased building height and capacity. He said the planning committee approved the project “grudgingly.”

Nagengast focused on transportation concerns. He specifically said he was concerned about the “lack of a comprehensive parking plan” and safety for pedestrians and bikers.Rabbi Moshe Tom Heyn, one of several religious leaders to speak at the meeting, called on the community to support its most vulnerable.

“We should always lean on the side of compassion,” Heyn said. “Finding the perfect solution may well be impossible.”

Full article: The Mercury News