First threats, then fire burns migrant housing in Nipomo

April 7, 2016

Nipomo Fire

Following several reported threats, an arsonist likely set a fire Wednesday night that burned a home under construction in Nipomo. The home was one of seven houses being built to shelter 112 or more foreign nationals who would come from Latin America to work on a local strawberry farm.

Around 11:25 p.m., Cal Fire received a report of a fire on Mad Place in Nipomo. Firefighters responded and extinguished the fire by about 11:45 p.m.

The fire destroyed the home’s frames, which builders had recently laid. It also damaged a second home under construction. The homes are located in a residential neighborhood off Tefft Avenue near Highway 101 and the Dana Adobe.

Greg France’s plan to house a minimum of 112 migrant workers in seven homes located in a residential neighborhood has resulted in misinformation, anger, threats and intimidation. The workers provided through the federal H-2A program will be primarily men from Mexico and Central America who will live 16 to a home for approximately nine months out of the year.

Mad farms 2

Three of the finished homes on Mad Place.

On March 28, the South County Advisory Council sent out an email announcing a discussion on the matter, which they failed to place on the agenda. At the meeting, a  group of about 40 Nipomo residents raised concerns about crime, noise levels and the effect the migrant housing would have on their property values.

On March 29, South County Advisory Council Chairman Art Herbon sent an email to council members and the media claiming that the project was permitted because of a loophole and that the county had sanctioned the project.

However, the county has no jurisdiction over the number of people permitted to live in a home and France is not required to bring his plan in front of the county.

While the California Building Code requires that no more than 16 persons live in a single-family residence, local ordinances restricting the number of unrelated people living in a home have been deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

Supervisor Lynn Compton has been working with planning and county counsel staff to determine if they can prevent this type of use in the future through an ordinance restricting business uses in residential neighborhoods. At the April 4 San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Compton asked staff to place a discussion about commercial uses in residential neighborhoods on a future agenda.

Nevertheless, Herbon had already sent another email, as chairman of the council, claiming that the bulk of cities and counties in California have ordinances limiting occupancy. He requested that his email be forwarded to hundreds of HOA members in Nipomo without consulting with county officials or staff, Compton said.

“Unincorporated San Luis Obispo County has no laws in place that prevent 16 people from living in single family residences,” Herbon wrote. “I believe that most cities and counties in California have laws that prevent this excessive overcrowding. We are the exception, and companies are taking advantage of it.”

However, in San Luis Obispo County, the city of San Luis Obispo is the only community with an occupancy ordinance restricting the number of persons in a home, which several local attorneys including county counsel said is unlikely to survive a legal challenge.

Following Herbon’s emails, online arguments over property rights versus allegations of racism became heated with some discussing burning down the homes and another placing France’s home address online.

Cal Fire officials said they could not come up with any scenario other than arson being the cause of the fire. An investigation into the blaze is ongoing.

The federal H-2A program allows employers to file petitions for foreign nationals to temporarily enter the United States to perform work that citizens will not do. Foreign applicants are screened and those with criminal records are not permitted in the program.

The employer must then provide housing and transportation for the workers. France is currently housing his migrant workers at hotels in Ventura and busing them to and from the work sites.

Construction on some of the homes is already complete, and the farm workers are scheduled to move in to three of the homes on May 1.

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When making your arguments against this, you should consider that this is not new. This is actually an improvement on something that’s been happening for a long time.

First off, setting fire to something you disagree with is not diplomatic.

Second, for those against the questioning of this: scream racism, or whatever else you want. This is about housing an extraordinary number of people in an area never meant for it. Have you considered even infrastructure?

And lastly, somehow it is ‘unconstitutional’ to prevent a maximum number of people living in a house. Yet, government says things like: you can’t park you boat or rv in your yard. Or, we must spray that citrus tree in your yard. Or, any number of other regulations pertaining to what you can or cannot do within your own home.

I think this project would be received completely differently if it were stated that a reasonable number of people would be occupying these homes. Say, two per bedroom.

So what happens when infrastructure cannot keep up with the demand? The sewer backs up, for instance? The neighbors must pay to fix? Because I don’t see the farm owner or the workers paying.

This project was either not thought out or intentionally deceptive from the get-go.

So, can we all discuss our viewpoints without characterizing one or another as racist, ungodly, xenophobic, or some other label?

And like I said, arson is not discussion and I absolutely believe whomever did this will be prosecuted.

No, you are full of it and here is why. This has been going on for a long time. This is not a new phenomena. What is different here is that this farmer bought NEW houses that are much nicer than the crap people are generally shoved into. So, as far as infrastructure, crowding, or any other subject you’ve brought up, this is an IMPROVEMENT.

If this was an Asian family of a couple of generations living together would it be illegal?

Americans don’t want to pay very much for their fruits and veggies, and the people who harvest them can’t afford housing, so what is one to do?

As much as we would like to say they are taking jobs away from us, they are not. We are lazy people who will not do the back breaking work that field work is. My husband worked the fields once when very hard up for cash, and he could not keep up or make any money at it, so I know what it takes.

If everyone just grew their own food, then we would not need to find housing for these people. And they are people who are just trying to make it in this world like you and me. Folks would bitch if they had to pay $3 for a head of lettuce and they bitch because others are willing to come harvest the food for us.

Go live in another country and see what food cost, or the quality of the food. We throw so much food away it is sickens me, yet we still have those going hungry in this country.

You just can’t please some people no matter what

How sad that it has come to this. What can we expect next, lynchings, church burnings, bombings, and murders? God help us.

I get the neighbors concerns, these are not animals, they are people that will be free to move about, make friends and have their friends visit. Their friends may have a car and they all can have different friends therefore different cars, yes this could expand into more than a work / sleep arrangement. That said, there is no excuse for barn burning.

It’s kind of funny to me that the Nipomo residents are all concerned about crime – then before the homes are even occupied someone burns one down. Seems like the residents are looking in a mirror down there.

I do not have an opinion as far as this being a good or bad idea but I do question 16 people living in one house. I believe most neightborhood residents, no matter what area, would be opposed to that many people living in one house as the likelihood of a negative impact on the neighborhood is far reaching.

That is the way they feel so……you do it in your town.

When we hate those who are poor and do back breaking work to put food on our tables, we have sold our souls. The reason we were put here on this earth is to love and care for one another. Nipomo residents seem to feel they are too good to have neighbors who are “different”. You have all dismally failed in what is the most important task given to you: to treat others as you yourself wish to be treated.

Indigo, that’s SOME Nipomo residents!

BTW, those are clearly some of the nicest home in that neighborhood.


No one said anything about hating the foreign workers. Most would feel the same way if we allowed 16 Cal Poly male students in the house next door.

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