County trying to change zoning codes and dodge CEQA
The Santa Cruz County Planning Department has proposed a set of changes to the County Zoning Codes that will allow more buildings to be constructed on existing home sites with lower levels of public review. The proposal also relaxes the rules for second units which are fully independent living units associated with an existing home. The Sierra Club is not challenging the existing second unit rules. What we reject is expanding the meaning of "habitable" and "non-habitable" units so that they can become, in fact, additional housing units on a lot that already contains a main unit and a legal second unit.
We maintain that these proposed changes to the County Zoning Code require analysis of environmental impacts specified by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Over time many new occupied structures could be built on existing lots under these proposed rule changes. This would dramatically change the character of neighborhoods and place increased demand upon water supplies, waste water treatment capacity, and roads, and will further imperil wildlife. The County has so far refused to consider CEQA review, a position that we believe is illegal. The Santa Cruz Group of the Sierra Club has submitted extensive legal arguments explaining our position.
What could be built
• Under the proposed zoning code changes in rural areas, on any suitable lot larger than one acre, the owner could build both a second unit and two 640 sq. ft. "habitable accessory structures" with toilets and heating. The result could be a 4-unit rental complex on a 1.01 acre lot.
• Rural lots could have two 1500 sq. ft. insulated and sheet-rocked "non-habitable" house-size "accessory structures" 28 ft. tall or 2 stories. The proposed changes shift the assumed uses of "non-habitable accessory structures" from their original code-intended use as barns or garages into finished buildings suitable for offices or other habitable uses. Commercial offices are not even allowed in residential zones.
• In areas such as Live Oak, these rule changes would permit 640 sq. ft., 28 ft. high "non-habitable" insulated and sheet-rocked accessory structures, or 640 sq. ft. 17-28 ft. high "habitable structures" plus a full second-unit apartment.
• The rule changes would remove the current affordability requirements created to provide low-income housing.
The idea that the septic discharge from these new buildings in rural areas could be safely treated on one-acre lots is unfounded. Many rural home sites are near creeks where water pollution from septic systems is a particular hazard. Allowing toilets in accessory units will enable all kinds of plumbing fixtures and kitchen appliances which will in fact make the units housing.
Anyone who lives in unincorporated areas of the County has some idea of how many illegal second units now exist, even without new rules facilitating their construction. Many septic systems in use today are sub-standard and no regular inspection of these systems is taking place despite an inspection program on the books.
Everyone who drinks water from the City of Santa Cruz, the Soquel Creek Water District or other surface water systems should be concerned about the effect these zoning code changes would have upon water pollution and water availability.
The Planning Department suggests they will control the illegal conversion of "accessory structures" into full second units by regular inspections inside the building. They claim that the building permit would give consent to such inspections by the property owner. Current enforcement is weak and relies almost entirely on citizen complaint which places unreasonable pressure on neighbors in a rural setting. It is hard to imagine enforcement would be improved with additional responsibilities.
How to help
The Board of Supervisors will take up this issue on February 26th. Call your Supervisor to express your opinions on the proposed changes, 454-2200.
• Ask that the environmental impact of these changes be studied.
• To learn more contact Kevin Collins, 335-4196,
or Aldo Giacchino, 460-1538,
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