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Most apartment complexes are, by inclination and design, susceptible to a variety of noises.

If the units are built for families, there likely will be children playing in the common areas, and some typical family noises on and after dinner time.

Then there is the early-evening cacophony of folks getting out of their cars after work, hitting the auto-lock mechanism, setting off a loud beep or two.

All sorts of noises and sounds, which to many people are proof of life. And they like that, because it’s somehow reassuring.

Airplanes flying low overhead and trains rumbling by at all hours are another matter — but when someone buys a house or rents an apartment in a flight path or next to railroad tracks, noise is part of the deal.

That’s probably what three members of the Santa Maria City Council were thinking when they approved plans for a 30-unit apartment complex, the Oakley Court Apartments, on South Oakley Court.

The complex plans include 30 apartments in a mixture of one-story and two-story buildings, in a total of eight structures on the 2.1-acre plot.

Council members Mike Cordero, Gloria Soto and Michael Moats voted for the required land-use and zoning changes. The “no” votes came from Mayor Alice Patino and council member Etta Waterfield.

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The discussion leading up to the vote was spirited, and important to the future of such housing development in the city. The focus was on the potential noise issues for apartment residents, but the over-riding concern is increasing the availability of affordable housing — or any new housing at all — in Santa Maria.

This entire region is, and has for years been suffering from a lack of housing. 

Council member Moats made a good point about the potential conflict between apartment dwellers and railroad noises, that whether renters could stand the noises would be up to the renters. Because the tracks abut the complex property, it would be difficult to overlook the noise element. Thus, the risk to the apartment complex would be determined by the operator’s ability to actually rent the units.

In explaining her vote against, Mayor Patino said, “I think it’s important when we do housing, we do it right …”

We agree, in principle. But we have to circle back around to the fact that housing availability is among the reasons some business owners are reluctant to relocate to Santa Maria. There are other factors, but when workers look at a job offer, most of them also do some research on housing availability. This city gets an A-plus is many categories, but when it comes to affordable housing, the report card tells a different story.

The proposal approved by the council majority included some safeguards. The application was amended to put up a 12-foot noise-reducing fence, instead of the original 8-foot fence. Two earlier attempts to put apartment units on the property didn’t make it through the city’s approval process.

Trains aren’t exactly speeding through the area anyway, and often are slowed by folks crossing the tracks to get where they’re going. All of which perhaps dictates that the noise level from the tracks will be reduced.

We understand that the chosen site may not be ideal for housing, but there are potential problems in almost any housing development. However, the need for such housing is real, long-standing and at some point needs to be addressed.

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