As we head toward spring, I’m excited about a new affordable and environmentally friendly housing initiative that could address development challenges in the Fifth District, especially for CZU Fire survivors in search of alternatives to costly or complicated rebuilds.
The County’s Planning Commission recently indicated support for a draft ordinance that would permit tiny homes, a program that has been in development since last year when District 1 Supervisor Manu Koenig and I brought a request to the Board of Supervisors to explore a new set of regulations.
Homes as small as 150 square feet are already permitted under the County’s Accessory Dwelling Unit rules. But we believe it is important to distinguish tiny homes as separate affordable housing products, including those on wheels. There is a lot to be explored before approval, including questions about utilities, parking and mobility. We also are seeking to expedite the permitting process for fire survivors who are seeking a temporary living arrangement on their land or a more permanent, yet smaller, footprint for the future.
On the topic of rebuilding, the County’s Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience (OR3) has premiered a new dashboard that tracks CZU rebuilding progress. The site shows how many permits are in process, how many pre-clearances have been approved, and the locations of permit activity by supervisorial district.
The board has removed geological hazards review as a barrier, as well as reduced or eliminated many permitting fees. And we will continue to offer expedited service through our dedicated fire Recovery Permit Center and Long-Term Recovery Group. All of these resources, plus the dashboard, can be accessed at santacruzcounty.us/firerecovery.
It’s my hope that two other recovery barriers are removed soon. First, we are still waiting for the California Office of Emergency Services to resolve the roughly $8 million in damage to County-maintained and private roads caused by a state contractor during post-fire debris removal operations. Second, while PG&E works to remove tree debris from properties where owners have requested clean-up of the utility’s post-fire operations, the County is still awaiting enforcement by state agencies regarding notices of violation issued to PG&E for breaking environmental regulations and forestry practice rules.
You also may have heard about PG&E’s plans to underground more of its infrastructure to reduce wildfire risk. We look forward to any undergrounding done in our County, but a more realistic and less expensive system-hardening endeavor would be to coat bare wires and replace other aging equipment.
I’ll conclude with a few notes about the upcoming June 7 ballot, starting with our rail line. The Board of Supervisors will receive a report from County departments in early March regarding the potential impacts of the Greenway initiative, which has received more than 13,000 qualified signatures on a petition to establish a multiuse trail on the corridor.
Under election law, the board is obligated to put the matter before voters, though I personally have not taken a position on the initiative. However, I did receive a unanimous vote of the board on Feb. 1 to pause for 30 days and get more information so that voters have a more informed view of the initiative.
Meanwhile, Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Guy Preston has pledged to reopen talks with Roaring Camp in Felton to discuss impacts of potential future actions related to freight service on the Santa Cruz Branch and Felton lines—all while maintaining Roaring Camp’s popular Beach Train. Also expected to get underway soon is the Highway 17 undercrossing, a project critical for wildlife safety and one my office worked hard to have included in the Measure D plan passed by County voters in 2016.
Two County revenue measures will also be on the ballot—an increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax paid by overnight guests of local hotels or vacation rentals, as well as a dedicated County share of a new single-use disposable cup fee. Together, these measures are expected to bring in $3 million annually to fund a host of vital public services.
Bruce McPherson is the Fifth District Supervisor for the County of Santa Cruz, including the San Lorenzo Valley and parts of the cities of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Press Banner. He can be reached at [email protected] or 831-454-2200.