By Bruce McPherson, Supervisor, Fifth District
As our community continues its recovery from last summer’s CZU Lightning Complex fire, a new concern has emerged. Proposed changes to fire safe regulations by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection could directly impact numerous properties throughout Santa Cruz County, not just in the burn zone.
On March 22, even after my office and other County Supervisors and residents from around California expressed our concerns to the Forestry Board, a majority of its members voted to publish the proposed rulemaking, which until then had been less formally under discussion for months. The vote officially began a 45-day window to receive public comment, which many who spoke to the Forestry Board that day had sought to delay in order to provide more time for shaping the regulations.
The changes, which include new road, access and turnaround restrictions, could make it much more difficult to build or rebuild in our rural and mountainous areas. We recognize that we have a critical need to improve safety and reduce risk for our residents and our first responders. However, we also need to support our community’s ability to rebuild and recover after the fire while maintaining some local control over how we address safety concerns through alternative means.
This is not a challenge that began overnight. Our mountainous areas began developing in the 1800s, and the road network that supports our rural neighborhoods is shaped by topography. Our ability to make wider roads or make new through-connections between dead-end roads is limited, and therefore a one-size-fits-all approach does not make any allowances for that.
Santa Cruz County supports the current process that allows local fire departments, together with local government, to identify alternative means and methods for meeting safety standards when site-specific conditions require it. Retaining our ability to do that is essential. And rebuilding after the fire will not be possible for many families unless disaster rebuilds are exempt from the minimum standards.
In our formal comments to the Forestry Board, we will stress the importance of applying the proposed exemption for primary residences and accessory dwelling units to all portions of the code, as well as the importance of maintaining our ability to address site-specific issues through local agencies.
I appreciate all of the constituents who have contacted my office about this issue, and we will continue to monitor it closely.
We are seeing a lot of progress in the initial stages of our rebuilding process with Four Leaf, the highly experienced firm hired by the County to operate its Rebuilding Permit Center. As more properties complete the debris removal processes, rebuilding permits are coming in. And along with Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, whose district was also impacted by the fire, my office received approval by the Board to request a temporary suspension of local rules to allow timber operations on the weekend in an effort to speed up the clearing of dead and damaged trees on timberland.
Meanwhile, the economy is opening up more as our COVID-19 indicators continue to improve, with our County expected to move into the Orange Tier (moderate spread) this week and then the Yellow Tier (minimal spread) several weeks later. As of March 29, more than 149,000 County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and of the more than 70,000 doses of vaccine received by the County, all but about 8 percent has been distributed with the rest allocated for future use.
All residents over the age of 50 will be eligible April 1 and then anyone over 16 will be eligible April 15. We know it has been difficult for many residents to schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider or other vaccine distributors, but we anticipate more vaccine will be available in coming weeks.
For more information on how to schedule an appointment, visit the County’s COVID-19 website at santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus and click on the Vaccine section.
Lastly, I’d like to close with some great news. We were fortunate in 2019 to reopen the California Redemption Value center at the Ben Lomond Transfer Station with a new partner, Grey Bears. The most recent participation numbers tell the story. For the 12-month period ending in February, the operation yielded more than $306,000 in redemption value paid to customers. More than 3,600 unduplicated customers were served across nearly 7,100 transactions, and the weight of redeemed materials exceeded 419,000 pounds.
Many thanks go to Grey Bears and the Department of Public Works for their collaboration on making this a successful venture.
As always, if District 5 residents have any comments or questions, please contact me at [email protected] or 831-454-2200.
Editor’s note: Public comments regarding Board of Forestry and Fire Protection matters or actions should be submitted to [email protected].