By Zach Friend, Second District Supervisor
As I begin each new year as your County Supervisor, I like to report back in this column on some of the things we’ve accomplished because of your partnership and communication of priorities.
Yes, 2020 was a remarkably challenging year. Many lost work, local businesses closed, parents, students and teachers tried to balance the challenges of distance learning, hospitals and health clinics faced overwhelming strains, nonprofit and faith partners have seen demand for safety net services increase and many in our community have been directly impacted, either their health or otherwise, by the pandemic.
While this past year was a year like no other, as a community we still accomplished a lot. Here is a very small overview of what was accomplished in our district in 2020 and can hopefully provide a sense of hope for what we can continue to do together.
Affordable Housing and Homelessness
A lot of focus this year continued on making the construction of affordable housing easier and addressing the unsheltered homeless issues in our community. These two issues go hand-in-hand as housing affordability has a strong correlation to the number of unsheltered homeless in a community.
The Board also addressed vacation rental units (which contribute to the affordability challenges) by freezing vacation rentals at current rates — so new permits wouldn’t be issued unless a permit became available through non-renewal, revocation, or transfer of ownership.
Additionally, the County continued to reduce the burdens for constructing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) including continuing a program I proposed that waives all County fees associated with small ADU construction and provided additional permit streamlining, partnering with Habitat for Humanity on new financing options for construction of ADUs.
For addressing homelessness, the Board continued to streamline access to housing and assistance for those who are homeless. Additionally, the County was fortunate to hire a new Director of Housing for Health, Robert Ratner, who is responsible for directing, planning, developing, implementing and overseeing a comprehensive homeless services system — one that focuses on rapid re-housing, provides flexible funding for who are experiencing homelessness to help them self-identify a housing solution, works to ensure those who are housing insecure don’t fall into homelessness in the first place and builds capacity at emergency shelters to provide more housing-focused services and supports to increase the rate at which people leave emergency shelters for housing.
Measure D work continued this year in Seacliff. Significant investments were also made in the South County with work in Corralitos on Pioneer/Varni and improvements on Hames.
Additionally, new pedestrian safety improvements near Pinto Lake Park and a number of beacon crosswalks were installed in Seacliff, Seascape, Buena Vista and on Trout Gulch. More are planned in 2021 with grant funding submitted for some in Rio Del Mar, Seacliff and on Soquel near Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center.
Storm damage repairs have continued, including completing the major project on upper Valencia. Work has continued also on Cox and other locations with storm damage. Our success in major state funding in late 2020 also sets the stage for significant improvements on Soquel (for bike and pedestrians), the new Mar Vista overcrossing and additional auxiliary lanes on Highway 1.
In 2020, significant progress was made toward two major flood control projects — the Pajaro River levee and the Rio Del Mar drainage project.
For the Pajaro, we hosted regular visits from senior members of the DC Army Corps Headquarters and regional office, and travelled to DC and Sacramento early in the year for discussions with Congressional, White House and State partners essential to the funding of the project. This year, $1.8 million in federal funds were allocated to work on the design phase with additional funding secured.
This summer, a design agreement was approved with Army Corps to begin the design of the first prioritized reach of the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management project.
Additionally, agreements have been authorized with the State for State funding for the program and the Army Corps is continuing to support requests for additional funding in their budget in this phase. This is without question the most progress toward levee construction than has been seen in nearly 60 years.
For Rio Del Mar, the County secured over $4 million in grant funding from FEMA, Cal OES and the California Department of Water Resources through the Integrated Regional Water Management program to install drainage improvements consisting of new and replacement underground storm drains, installation of a new pump station and relocating the stormwater outfall to a new location to alleviate flooding and also improve the quality of water runoff.
A local match is required to finalize this project, but this will alleviate the perennial flooding in the Rio Del Mar flats.
Even during the pandemic, significant investments in our parks continued. Without question, 2020 highlighted the need to ensure safe and accessible parks as an integral part of community mental and physical health.
As part of a private/public partnership, a new skate feature, restrooms and landscaping were completed at Seacliff Village Park. We are in the final stages of funding to update Hidden Beach Park with a new playground and accessible areas.
Major steps have been taken toward fulfilling the promises of Measure S.
The La Selva Branch Library remodel is nearing completion and the Aptos Branch (after multiple successful pre-pandemic in-person community meetings and virtual ones in the last few months) has a design-build team selected, budget finalized and proposed designs.
These upgrades will provide beautiful new libraries for our community.
Community Meetings and Outreach
In 2020, our traditional in-office open office hours were limited with the pandemic.
But we found ways to move into the virtual world (and as a result, actually saw increased participation via our tele-town halls). We held about two dozen open office hours in Aptos, Corralitos, La Selva Beach, Seascape and Watsonville and held or attended nearly 30 (mostly virtual) community and neighborhood meetings in Seacliff, La Selva, Rio Del Mar, Watsonville, Capitola and Corralitos.
Additionally, we hosted just under 30 tele-town halls that provided direct access to local, state and national health leaders, elected officials and researchers including national vaccine experts, state and national policymakers to discuss fire insurance and COVID funding and our local Health Officer among others.
In addition, I’ve written approximately 50 columns in local papers and neighborhood newsletters to communicate with our district about county happenings while maintaining social media presence to share information about our district.
The above is just a partial list of what has been accomplished this year and I know there is a lot more to do on all of these issues in 2021.
Our No. 1 focus will still be addressing the pandemic — ensuring the vaccine is distributed as quickly and safely as possible, that local health providers have the support they need and that we continue to advocate to ensure that local businesses and residents have the help they need from our state and federal partners.
Additionally, we know we have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure those displaced by the fires continue to have safe interim housing and the support they need to rebuild.
This past year we estimate that as an office we received over 20,000 emails and calls from constituents and the community-at-large many with requests for service to our office on COVID-related issues, road issues, neighborhood public safety concerns, storm damage, environmental issues, health and human services, technology services and more.
As always, I appreciate your feedback. I’m maintaining regular updates on social media at www.facebook.com/supervisorfriend and throughout 2020 I’ve been hosting tele-townhalls on most Tuesday nights from 6-7 p.m. The call-in information for the town halls is 454-2222 with the Meeting ID: 145384# – you are welcome to speak about any issue during the town halls or you can always call me at 454-2200.