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January 21, 2021

Local emergency extended, Koenig sworn in to Board of Supervisors

SANTA CRUZ—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to extend the emergency declarations that came in the wake of the CZU August Lightning Complex fires.

The County first proclaimed a local emergency related to the fires on Aug. 19 of last year. The supervisors ratified the proclamation on Aug. 25, and have extended it several times. 

California law requires governing agencies to renew states of emergency every 30 days.

The CZU fires began Aug. 15 after several lightning strikes, destroying hundreds of homes and scorching more than 86,000 acres before being declared officially extinguished on Dec. 23.

The declaration will allow the County to receive state and federal assistance to help in the recovery.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has so far removed household hazardous waste and bulk asbestos from just over 99% of all properties with structures that burned in the fires.

So far, about 669 people have applied for a government assisted program run by the State Office of Emergency Services, while 177 are working with private contractors.

“We’re making good progress, there is still a long road ahead of us,” said Director of Public Works Matt Machado. 

In other action, the board appointed Supervisor Bruce McPherson as chair and Manu Koenig as vice-chair.

The meeting marked the first for Koenig, who was sworn in on Monday in a brief ceremony in a largely empty board chambers.

In a short speech, Koenig joked that it was his first time speaking in the boardroom for more than three minutes, referring to the time limit for public speakers during board meetings.

He then outlined what he hopes to accomplish while in office, touching on transportation, housing and economic recovery.

Koenig said he sees many for-sale signs and for-lease signs throughout the county, a troubling indicator that he says nevertheless has a silver lining.

“The opportunity is to take strip malls and vacant commercial centers and reimagine them as community centers, walkable communities and village centers with squares,” he said. 

He also said he wants to streamline the process for such projects as accessory dwelling units and tiny homes.

“All of us in this building should become friends and advocates to the people trying to rebuild from the fires, and also trying to build homes for the first time,” Koenig said.

During his campaign, Koenig said that homelessness was the top concern, and pointed out that dozens of homeless people were staying in San Lorenzo Park, just outside the building.

“The county must lead on this,” he said. “We must find new locations, build new housing, develop work programs to help people we currently see as part of the problem become part of the solution.”

Koenig also said he wants to support the law enforcement community with “new forms of emergency response,” including clinical and health services.

Touching on a topic that was one of his cornerstone policy pieces during his campaign, Koenig also called for a focus on protected lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. He has campaigned heavily against efforts to create a rail-trail system, and instead hopes to turn the 32-mile track system into a countywide bike path.

“The family vehicle of 2021 is not a minivan,” he said. “It’s an electric cargo bike, and it’s high time our infrastructure reflected as much.”

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