City of McFarland to hold GEO appeal hearing Thursday despite limitations during pandemic

April 22, 2020 /

The City of McFarland is holding an appeal public hearing next Thursday, April 23, at 6 p.m., according to a public notice posted to the city’s website.

The public notice for the appeal hearing comes less than a week after the city council appointed Eric Rodriguez, a former U.S. Marine and former GEO Group, Inc. employee, to fill a vacancy on the city council.

The vacancy came after former Mayor Manuel Cantu resigned in February in response to the Planning Commission’s vote to deny permit applications that would have allowed GEO Inc. to convert two state prisons in McFarland to immigration detention facilities.

“The last time there was a vote, over 300 people stood outside of City Hall in opposition of GEO and all of that of that comes down to a Zoom call,” said Alex Gonzalez, a community organizer with Faith in the Valley.

When the Planning Commission denied the permits, GEO requested there be a full city council board to vote in the appeal hearing. Now that the vacancy was filled last week, the council will vote in the appeal hearing to either allow or deny GEO Inc. the permits.

Residents can tune in to next week’s public hearing via Zoom or a teleconference line; however, some advocates say these two options still present some limitations for residents.

“The dial in instructions are given in English,” said Gonzalez. “It becomes very difficult to be involved in this setting because there are these barriers.”

Translation services will be provided at this meeting because GEO requested there be translation services, according to Claudia Ceja, the McFarland City Clerk. At the last city council meeting when the vacancy was filled, translation services were not provided after multiple residents and advocates pushed for them.

“Now folks know the nation is going to be watching,” said Gonzalez. “They want to do things as carefully as they can.”

About 84.7 percent of McFarland residents speak a language other than English in their homes, and nearly 45 percent of residents do not have access to an internet subscription, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a community organizer for Faith in the Valley, Gonzalez has been doing outreach work with the residents of McFarland. He has been phone banking, knocking on doors and doing outreach at a local congregation to inform the community about the latest in the GEO appeal process.

“People are saying it’s extremely unfair this happened now,” said Gonzalez. “We are going through a global pandemic, and the city council should be thinking about helping their residents.”

Gonzalez said many residents are out of work and are struggling to pay their bills.

“That should be the focus on the city council — not moving forward with these types of meetings just for the corporate interest,” he said.

People will be able to offer public comment during the meeting. They can also submit comments via email by emailing Ceja at or via mail by mailing the the comments to City Hall, Attn: Claudia Ceja, 401, West Kern Avenue, McFarland, CA 93250. Comments can also be dropped off at City Hall.

All written comments must be received by noon on Thursday, April 23.

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