Supervisor John Leopold

John_LeopoldSThe county began budget hearings. What are the plans for arriving at a balanced budget?
The annual budget process for the County of Santa Cruz began on June 14 and the proposed budget cuts are grim. We are expecting $17 million in cuts and possible layoffs of more than 60 people. Some of these jobs and services may be saved by furloughs of county staff and the cancellation of a 2.5 percent COLA.

I will be working with my colleagues to use the budget principles that were adopted last February as the prism for identifying our priorities. Key principles include prioritizing direct services to the public; preserving our safety net of services for the least fortunate in our community; recognizing savings across departments rather than simply within departments; and leveraging our county dollars to acquire funding from state and federal sources. Progress has already been made to save money by conducting work with existing county staff rather than hiring outside consultants.

While we will finalize the county budget by the end of the month, we can expect to make further adjustments to the county’s budget after Sacramento finishes theirs. The governor’s May Revise included an additional $11 million in cuts to the county. We are working with our state legislators to help them understand the impacts their decisions will have on our local community.

With local residents still feeling the pain of this “Great Recession,” what is the county doing to encourage new economic development?

When I took office as County Supervisor, I was surprised that there is not one person on county staff whose job it is to think and plan for future economic development in the unincorporated areas. Fifty-five percent of the population lives in the unincorporated portion of our county, but a vision of what type of development we want was not being articulated or enacted.

Over the last year I led an effort to hold community workshops in Live Oak and Soquel where hundreds of community residents prioritized economic development as part of the Redevelopment Agency’s (RDA) Five-Year Plan. I have worked with my colleagues and we are finally moving forward with hiring an Economic Development Manager for the RDA Project Area who will work with the community to develop a successful plan. Our board has also given direction to the Planning Department to develop a series of reforms that streamline the permitting process. I have been surprised just how difficult it can be for a business to move into an existing building in a commercially zoned area. If we want to foster good economic development we need a planning process that promotes the county as a place where you can do business.

There have been issues with vacation rentals in some neighborhoods in Live Oak. What is the County doing to address poorly managed vacation rentals?

Home to some of the most beautiful coastline in our county, the coastal neighborhoods in Live Oak are treasured by local residents and tourists alike. These neighborhoods have become increasingly popular for the purchase of vacation homes. As these vacation homes have proliferated, the summer rentals of the past have evolved into a year-round business.

With advances in technology, vacation homes can now be marketed to larger audiences for varying periods of time. This evolution has caused multiple problems for residential neighborhoods in coastal communities. Increased numbers of vacation rentals have stirred discussion about the preservation of neighborhood integrity, decreases in rental housing for local residents, public safety, and increased rents.  The more universal complaints about vacation rentals include loud, late-night parties, traffic, parking, and garbage. A comment heard in coastal communities is that a vacation rental is, in essence, a commercial business in a residential neighborhood. Between 12th and 16th avenues there are approximately 29 vacation rentals.

I am proposing a set of regulations for vacation rentals at the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 22 to preserve the integrity of neighborhoods. Using the example of the two nearby cities and seven counties that have regulations on vacation rentals, I am suggesting that vacation rentals be required to obtain an annual permit, post a phone number for neighbors to call if there are problems and limit the number of guests. There will be several opportunities for public input as the matter is reviewed by the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Commission. It is my hope that the issue will come back to the board for consideration in November.

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