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County Supervisors Approve Streamlined Rebuilding for Fire Victims

Displaced residents can set up at least one temporary structure while rebuilding

What was once an upright piano is now a bed of ash, a metal bridge and a tangle of strings at a home that burned to the ground off Jamison Creek Road. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a set of detailed rules that outline how residents who lost their homes in the CZU Lightning Complex fire can rebuild.

Under the new rules, the county will add consultants and staff to process building and other related permits. In addition, demolition permits will not be required to begin rebuilding, and displaced residents can now set up at least one temporary structure such as RVs and ADUs on properties throughout the county.

The supervisors also agreed to reduce planning fees by about $6,000 and to allow previously unpermitted structures built before 1986 to be “grandfathered in” for approval during the rebuilding process. 

The board also approved a plan to allow Felton Quarry to receive and process concrete, asphalt and other “hardscape” materials from sites affected by the fire.

The supervisors will discuss on Oct. 6 the possibility of amending county code to support “streamlined recovery and rebuilding.”

“They want to get their lives back of course, and to do that they need a clear path that is predictable, affordable and feasible,” Supervisor Bruce McPherson said. 

The CZU Lightning Complex fire destroyed 911 homes, three multi-family residences, 148 commercial or mixed-use buildings and 391 minor structures, according to county spokesman Jason Hoppin.

Preliminary estimates place the total damage valuation at $340 million, which includes extensive damage to public infrastructures such as roads and water systems, Hoppin said.

In other action, the board approved a new urgency ordinance prohibiting price-gouging in goods, services or housing. 

Existing law limits certain price increases in these areas to no more than 10% in the 30 days after a disaster declaration. The new ordinance authorizes the Board or the Director of Emergency Services to extend those restrictions at 30-day intervals as needed. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by fines of $1,000 or up to one year in jail. Violators are also subject to civil penalties up to $10,000. 

McPherson compared price-gouging during a disaster to looting.

“We really need to protect under these circumstances from those who would profit so to speak from misfortune,” he said. “This is probably the lowest you can go.”

The Board also authorized hotel stays in excess of 30 days for fire evacuees. 

As residents who lost their homes to the fire begin to assess their properties, county officials announced Tuesday they cannot yet dig, sift or evaluate the debris left behind until approved by environmental health authorities. 

Fire sites are often toxic and include hazardous substances such as lead-acid and household batteries, compressed gas cylinders, bulk pesticides, fertilizers and pool chemicals; paints, thinners and aerosol cans, asbestos and more. 

Fire-damaged debris will not be accepted at any county waste facility, and placement in residential or commercial trash collection bins will result in bins not being accepted by GreenWaste, Hoppin said.

Removal of hazardous waste must be completed by federal, state and local jurisdictions working under safe handling guidelines. 

“Fire debris can be toxic and needs special handling and disposal procedures,” said Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Director Marilyn Underwood. “It is critical that the public refrain from removing any fire-damaged debris from their property.” 

For more information, visit santacruzcounty.us/firerecovery.aspx.

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