By Bruce McPherson, Fifth District County Supervisor
I hope everyone in the Fifth District had a wonderful Fourth of July, and even though it is a busy time, I hope everyone is able to have some fun and relaxation this summer.
We have an important virtual community meeting coming up on Monday, July 12 to provide updates on our rebuilding and recovery process from the CZU Fire. I hope you will join me on Zoom from 7-9 p.m. at this link: https://zoom.us/j/97048773373 or call 1-669-900-9128 and use Meeting ID: 970-4877-3373.
Before the meeting, though, I think it’s important to share some details of what my office has been working on in the last couple of weeks and months on behalf of fire survivors. Namely, we have been working closely with neighbors in the Fallen Leaf area regarding concerns about one of the three clearances required by the Planning Department to issue rebuilding permits: Geology. This is an area of concern from other neighborhoods as well, but Fallen Leaf has been leading the way in working with my office to tackle the issue.
Understandably, folks are eager to rebuild and want to use their insurance proceeds and other financial means in the best way possible. Neighbors came to my office expressing that it was a hardship to be unable to rebuild right away due to a requirement to evaluate geologic hazards that may exist on their property. The Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience (OR3), which was established by the Board of Supervisors at the request of Supervisor Ryan Coonerty and my office, secured funding from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County to perform a flood study that is now underway and will hopefully provide more survivors with a clearer picture of their geologic hazards.
However, in the meantime, because some of our constituents preferred to seek an exception to geologic review, at my office’s urging the Planning Department brought an initial policy item to the Board of Supervisors on June 29 that allows survivors to defer a geologic review until after a building permit is issued, therefore taking advantage of the summer and fall construction season. That item passed unanimously, and will be followed by a larger discussion by the Board – we expect in August – that will determine how a further exception process could be structured.
While that is being worked on, I have also asked the Planning Department to immediately provide a path for constituents to be permitted to temporarily occupy their properties, even if the geologic risk has not yet been evaluated. Many of our survivors have been living in rental homes, staying with friends or family, or have had unstable living arrangements since the fire, and we know some folks have simply already gone back without permits. But folks are running out of money and time, and if property owners are willing to assume the potential risk, we need to let these survivors back on their land safely while supporting their longer-term rebuilding efforts in every way possible. It’s just the right thing to do, and I will have more information in coming days about how that will happen.
Also, for folks living in the Big Basin Water Company service area that was heavily impacted by the fire, my office has been working closely for months with owner Jim Moore and the State Water Resources Control Board on the agency’s compliance order for the water company. Even though the County has no jurisdiction, my office has led efforts to gain support from our state elected officials and community members to explore a potential annexation of the water company to San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which customers recently expressed support for in a community-created survey. It is still my hope that we can eventually move in that direction.
Meanwhile, my office and the OR3 continue to seek funding sources for a project to extend County Service Area 7, which is the Boulder Creek Wastewater system, down Highway 236 to tie in with fire survivors and the downtown area to avoid costly septic system upgrades. The project has the support of our state elected leaders and is on the radar of our wonderful Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
Additionally, we are supporting the Long-Term Recovery Group and Boulder Creek Recreation District in their collective efforts to support fire recovery, and my office will be meeting soon with the Community Driven Development Team working with survivors on additional approaches and strategies for rebuilding.
Lastly, many folks in the San Lorenzo Valley have raised concerns about Sutter Health’s decision to close the Scotts Valley urgent care clinic. I have joined our state and federal elected officials in writing a letter to Sutter asking them to reconsider, and I hope they will.
In closing, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the fire, August will be a difficult time for many families. While much has been achieved so far – with an extremely fast state-led debris removal process and an expedited County permitting center for residential rebuilds – there is much more to do. And we will do it together. I hope to see you July 12, and I thank the community for all it is doing to support fire families.
Bruce McPherson was reelected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in November 2020. He represents the Fifth District, which includes the San Lorenzo Valley, most of Scotts Valley, and a small part of Santa Cruz.