December 6, 2018
To: E-mailed to all County Supervisors & Planning Commissioners
RE: Public Safety and Hazard Management General Plan, Local Coastal Program and County Code Amendments
The Coastal Property Owners Association of Santa Cruz County represents the interests of the 2,000 Santa Cruz County coastal properties that are subjected to the erosive forces of the ocean.
We respectfully request that the Planning Commission delay approval of these county code amendments until public workshops can be held seeking input from property owners and appropriate professionals.
Please note that the public meetings held by the Planning Commission on October 10, 2018, October 24, 2018, and the meetings recently held on November 27, 2018 and November 29, 2018 were primarily informational, with limited opportunity for input or comments from the public and property owners. We are not aware of any workshops held by the County to seek public and professionals input on these amendments.
We are additionally concerned as stated in both the Planning Commission meetings of October 10, 2018 and October 24, 2018 that very few property owners who will be impacted by the amendments were actually notified about these meetings or the process that resulted in the proposed amendments.
Some specific concerns with the amendments are as follows:
The required waivers of rights and indemnification to the County and California Coastal Commission (CCC) be recorded on the property deeds apparently as a condition of the county granting any permit is unreasonable and violates the constitutional rights of the coastal property owners. “Waiver of any claim of damage or liability against and indemnification of the County and the CCC for any damages or injury in connection with the permitted development” sets the property owner up for failure because it is the County and the CCC who are dictating the permitted development. Neither the County nor the CCC should be held harmless for any of their errors or omissions that result in property loss, safety hazard or liability.
New taxes in the form of sand mitigation fees to be imposed on coastal property owners create an affordability issue for many property owners who are not necessarily in a position to afford new taxes. The new sand mitigation fees (taxes) for coastal properties are excessive, punitive and have not been clearly defined or justified.
The assumption that “in the future when it is no longer feasible to protect blufftop properties” is not accurate. The Coastal Act states the CCC shall issue permits for shoreline protection. With timely approvals from the CCC and proper maintenance shoreline protection would not necessarily have a limited life span.
The component of the County’s proposed adaptation strategy that states “”¦owner expectations reflect a potentially shorter expected life of improvements” is not realistic when considering that property permitted, constructed, and maintained shoreline protection may not have a limited lifespan. Even roadways do not have a limited life span when properly maintained. Armoring is necessary along the coastline to continue to protect both public property, beaches, roadways and bridges, and private property.
The statement that “even the best shoreline armoring devices will eventually fail “is not accurate. Many shoreline protection devices have existed for hundreds of years throughout the world.
Structures that need replacement due to fire, earthquakes, or other natural disasters should be “grandfathered” permitting reconstruction. Homeowners who have suffered a catastrophic loss should not be further impacted by being subjected to removal or reconstruction of shoreline protection that is not related to the loss of the structure.
It is agreed that emergency permits that allow for placement of rip rap can best be avoided by early planning. Currently early planning is very difficult as the CCC will not allow shoreline protection until the structure is in imminent danger. Imminent danger is defined by the CCC as one or two storm cycles (one or two years) that would result in the “structure’s foundation being intersected or preferably undermined”. Since it takes about two years to be granted a shoreline protection permit from the CCC it is almost impossible to construct the protection device before an emergency permit is required. It would seem that the best way to meet the early planning objective when considering the impacts of sea level rise would be to mandate that shoreline protection permits be granted based a five or ten year projected need instead of two years.
Sand fees (taxes) need to be based on scientific evidence supporting that the sand is actually retained along the coast and is not just washed away into the Monterey Bay canyon. The loss of sand created by the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor jetty has increased erosion down coast which has required increased armoring to protect coastal improvements. For example sand levels along the bluffs on East Cliff between 17th Avenue and 30th Avenue can fluctuate as much as 10 vertical feet of sand displacement due to the normal current and wave actions created from the Harbor jetty. The sand levels retreat and return several times per year. If any sand fees are to be levied they should be focused on the source of the problem including but not limited to removing the jetty. The methodology used to calculate any sand fees should be clearly stated in the Amendment and subject to public review when changed.
Requiring “property owners to undertake adaptation responses as warranted by future conditions and/or LCP and CDP requirements” is contrary to the private property rights as defined in the California State Constitution.
Stating that “future conditions”¦will mean development along the shoreline will need to be removed, and ensure that private property owners internalize the risk and ultimately bear the cost of adaptation and removal” is inconstant with the many public improvements which will also need protection from sea level rise. This would include the majority of downtown Santa Cruz, Capitola and Soquel. This assumes that sea levels will rise as high as predicted, and that armoring (revetments, retaining walls, jetties, and other protective devices) will not be able to protect both public and private property from erosion and loss of land.
Agreeing to “a required Removal and Restoration Plan” as part of an “Agreement to Monitoring , Maintenance and Repair Program” in unreasonable and contrary to the Coastal Act. The Coastal Act allows for armoring to protect coastal improvements.
Requiring that shoreline armoring “ensure that all impacts are mitigated’ is not reasonable and may not even be possible.
Deed restrictions that require issued permits to expire in the year 2040 are inconsistent with the private property rights that the State of California Constitution protects.
Properties that are within 25 feet of the bluff setback should not be excluded from the “Takings Analysis”. There are a significate number of permitted homes along the coast that are within 25 feet of the bluff edge. These structures do not have seawalls primarily because the CCC has determined that they are not in imminent danger. This is basically a “catch 22″ and is counter to the Coastal Act which mandates protection for coastal structures.
Increasing the threshold from a 75% major structural loss to 50% (for reconstruction, redevelopment, replacement or in kind replacement from involuntary damage) that would now require meeting all applicable LCP policies and regulations would create a significant burden to the homeowner. The current 75% is somewhat reasonable and there appears to be no justification for increasing the threshold. Considering the increase in uncontrollable fires that rage in California this change will only increase the number of households impacted and suffering hardships from their unfortunate loss. Also with the CCC policy of restricting coastline protection to only homes subjected to damage from a one to two year storm cycle, the probability of damage from coastal hazards is substantial.
Re-assessment of the need for existing armoring and the condition of the existing principal structure should not mandate the removal of shoreline protection for development activities. Changing the rules or invalidating permits for existing improvements is contrary to the County’s commitment associated with their permitting process.
Requiring an engineer or engineering geologist to file a report to the County every five years relating to new shoreline protection is costly and unnecessary. Like many other items in the proposed amendment, public workshops that include professionals should weigh in on appropriate reporting.
Triggering a technical report for properties that are within 10 feet of the mean high tide line or blufftop edge is inconsistent with the CCC policy that denies protection for structures that are not in imminent danger. These reports should only be required for those unusual situations that the County deems potentially unsafe.
Repetitive loss of property within a ten year period is inconsistent with CCC policy that will only allow shoreline protection for structures that are in imminent (2 years) danger. Under this rule it is conceivable that the property owner would again be in a “catch 22″ position where the CCC prevents the owner from armoring sufficiently to avoid a repetitive loss.
Structural shoreline protection measures that are not permitted due to “adversely affect(ing) shoreline processes and sand supply” basically eliminates any shoreline protection which is contrary to the Coastal Act which specifically states that the CCC shall permit protection for coastal properties.
In reviewing these proposed amendments it appears that the County should fully consider the benefits derived from the armoring of private coastal property. This armoring is in fact the first line of defense in protecting public coastal access and public infrastructure such as utilities and roadways. The long term benefit to the County from private armoring should be considered as part of these Amendments.
We hope that the proposed amendments can be delayed until all coastal property owners are notified and are invited to participate in public workshops with appropriate professionals. This would yield forward thinking and a comprehensive solution that would be beneficial for both the County and private property owners.
Coastal Property Owners Association of Santa Cruz County