There’s a measure of irony in the fact that on the same night that Scheid Vineyards held a meeting in Greenfield to seek community buy-in on plans to build a new neighborhood – complete with 500-plus houses, retail and industrial space – on the east side of Highway 101, builder Mike Avila went before the Greenfield City Council on Nov. 12. to beg for a building permit for a project the city approved almost a year ago.
I didn’t know much about Avila before a mutual friend told me his tale of woe – and it is, in fact, a tale of woe – so here are some basics: Avila has been in business with his brother, Steve, since 1998; Steve handles field operations and Mike runs project management. Of the thousands of projects they’ve done together, they’ve received copious amounts of positive press over their foray into farmworker housing development, both for Tanimura & Antle’s Spreckels Crossing project, which houses up to 800 agricultural workers, and for the Nunes-Hibino-Rodriguez project called Casa Boronda that houses 600 workers.
The owners of the Greenfield property approached Avila with the idea for the project, and after determining that the land was zoned appropriately for housing and commercial, Avila says he realized it fit perfectly with the kind of work he wants to do. He submitted plans to the Greenfield Planning Commission for 11 residential buildings, and received approval in August 2018. But a resident appealed to City Council, which scrapped the 11-building plan. Avila submitted new plans for a seven-building development. Those new plans, which included commercial space, were approved in January. It’s a good compromise, a mixed-use project near Greenfield’s new Starbucks shopping center.
Avila secured Duda Farm Fresh Foods as a client – Duda needs workers, and those workers need housing.
“Where my heart is comes from the fact that I’ve built projects for 30 years that are pretty neat. But when I built [Spreckels Crossing] and heard stories of people who moved in asking the foreman, ‘What’s the catch?’ and asking if they could take pictures to send home, I realized that it’s good for the worker and the community, and it could be good for my business as well,” Avila says. “I can work on anything I want and this is what I choose to work on. We need these types of developments sprinkled throughout the valley, where the work is.”
The first eight weeks after the plans were approved, things moved smoothly, although city planners remained strangely silent. And in week eight, planners said they would have comments later. Later turned out to be November. Avila had submitted the documents for building permit in June.
Conditions of approval covered issues such as a lighting and landscaping plans all of which Avila met. Then came more conditions, and another meeting, and more conditions.
It’s almost another six months and Avila is still waiting for those permits to come through. It’s almost as if Greenfield City Council doesn’t actually want the people who keep their agriculture businesses in business to have clean, safe and reliable housing.
Avila’s hired land use attorney Anthony Lombardo to help.
“I don’t want to damage the citizens of Greenfield in any way. I just want the project that was approved to be reviewed as approved,” Avila says.
At the City Council meeting Nov. 12, Avila wasn’t the only one who pleaded with the council. Abut a dozen or supporters came along, including a group of polite high school and college kids who spoke about the housing issues their own farmworker parents and relatives have faced. And Otto Kramm, a well known ag industry veteran and labor contractor, spoke of the importance for the industry to be able to house its workers.
“T&A and Boronda are model projects and give nice areas for our men to live, to cook their meals and to rest and recover so they can go back to work,” Kramm said. “I ask you to please put this on the front burner, look at it and see what the issues are.”
If Avila is allowed to start work, it will take his company about six months to build. Too late for this coming harvest season, but maybe just in time for the next.
MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan