Santa Cruz County septic regulations LAMPLocal News Real Estate 

Supervisors Amend Septic Regulations

By M.C. Dwyer

Last month I discussed the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ (BOS) intent to pass potentially disastrous point-of-sale (POS) septic regulations as part of their answer to the state-mandated Local Area Management Plan (LAMP) for septic systems. The BOS’s plan as written was poised to add more pain and suffering to the CZU fire-damaged property owners who plan to sell or remodel their property, as well as anyone selling or remodeling a home using what the state calls an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS or septic system). After public outcry, the BOS pivoted and delayed their vote until Tuesday, October 18, with amendments to October 25.    

Just in time for Thanksgiving, everyone on a septic system can be grateful for the results of the October 25 meeting. About 15 members of the public implored the BOS to reconsider the draconian nature of their proposal. Held in person and recorded in video, you can watch the proceedings at http://santacruzcountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1938

It’s essential that our BOS always take enough time to carefully evaluate the implications of their proposed regulations from the point of view of all stakeholders well in advance of a vote. Part of the reason I wrote “Question Authority” last month included the fact that not only was there no mention of this matter of importance to constituents in Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s most recent 5th district e-newsletter, his staff never even responded to my inquiry.    

It’s simply not enough to take County staff’s advice when forming regulations. The proposed LAMP was eerily similar to the geo-hazard regulations supervisors were poised to pass last year, which, unknown to County staff, would have eliminated financing for any property with the proposed geo-hazard recorded. It would specifically have unfairly penalized property values of CZU survivors rebuilding in a geo-hazard area, compared to their neighbors in the same zone whose homes weren’t lost to fire. (See my November ’21 column.)   

View the County’s Local Agency Management Program here.

In this case, well-intentioned Department of Environmental Health (DEH) staff simply didn’t understand all perspectives and scope due to lack of consultation with experts and stakeholders. For example, staff incorrectly compared the learning curve for implementing the LAMP POS proposal to lead and asbestos testing during home sales when those laws were passed. However, neither of those tests are required at point of sale; they are optional. 

Interestingly, California’s LAMP does NOT require counties to regulate anything at point of sale! Still, BOS’s initial proposal required any seller of a property on septic to deliver a 7-page, property-specific report to a buyer. If a septic system were failing, it would have to be repaired prior to the sale, rather than be negotiated between buyer and seller. New enhanced septic treatment systems can cost up to $80,000 and take months (if not a year or more) to design, permit, and install. Many sellers do not have the capacity, money, or time for such a delay.    

Staff had only just given the 7-page prototype to their Technical Advisory Committee (realtors and septic professionals) 10 days earlier, at a meeting attended by only 25% of the committee. It’s likely the other 75% had no idea what was happening. At the BOS meeting, attendees informed the supervisors that most people had no idea these regulations were imminent and that they were extremely difficult to understand. (I agree – I spent hours reading the 80+ page document and still didn’t understand all of it.)   

It became clear to the supervisors that there are simply not enough septic professionals available to complete the proposed 7-page report on top of their regular workloads, that it could take months and $5-$7,000 to complete, and that it would delay or halt property sales because there was no workaround provided for septic in failure mode.

I’m grateful to the Board, and particularly to our 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson, for their flexibility and eventual responsiveness to the issues raised. I appreciate that the board listened and changed their approach to better suit the actual circumstances. I believe they dealt fairly with the competing goals of safe drinking water and property owners’ economic needs, rights, and limitations. And I hope the Board takes note for the future that complex new regulations require time to develop, require attention to costs, require availability of professionals to implement, require the input of specialists and the stakeholders involved, and require communication and transparency with the public.   

Starting in June 2023, there will be a one-page, POS septic inspection requirement that I think most REALTORS will agree is founded on sound disclosure principles. County staff and REALTORs will work together to change the rejected 7-page property-specific report to a generic disclosure advisory given to buyers. According to Greg Lukina, our realtor government affairs representative, there is now a workaround for failed septic systems discovered during a property sale. Now, responsibility for repairs can be passed from seller to buyer, who in turn will be better educated about the condition of their septic system. While there is a 90-day repair timeline, the County will not penalize property owners during the repair process.    

VIDEO of the Board of Supervisors’ LAMP discussion begins at 2 hours, 35 minutes and 42 seconds: http://santacruzcountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1937&Format=Agenda#

“M.C.” (MaryCatherine) Dwyer, MBA, REALTOR®
CA DRE License 01468388   EXP Realty of California, Inc.
Serving San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley since 2005                                                                                                

 (831) 419-9759    E-mail: mcd@mcdwyer.com   Website: https://mcdwyer.exprealty.com

*Sources: MLSListings.com, Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS®

The statements and opinions contained in this article are solely those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of eXp Realty, LLC, or its subsidiaries or affiliates (the “Company”). The Company does not assume any responsibility for, nor does it warrant the accuracy, completeness or quality of the information provided.

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