Santa Cruz County continues work on vacation rental rules

By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz >> Santa Cruz County’s vacation rental rules might get tweaked again.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to move forward with proposed amendments to the ordinance. For final approval, the changes still need to return to the Planning Commission, back to the board, and to the Coastal Commission.

On the table are rules that would limit permits in the Live Oak, Seacliff and Aptos areas to five years with the presumption of renewal unless the holder has a history of violations. If homeowners do a significant remodel, they would have to apply for a new permit. And the rules would require signage displaying local contact information and expand what qualifies as a violation of the ordinance.

The board also voted to cap the number of vacation rentals to 20 percent on any block and 15 percent in the overall area in Seacliff and Aptos, which has owners there aghast. However, certain blocks exceeding the cap areas will not have a limit.

These limits already exist in the Live Oak area, where they have calmed the rowdiness brought by out-of-towners. Supervisor Zach Friend says the changes would help prevent the trash, noise and parking issues Live Oak had before they turn into big problems. He says the limits still allow for responsible growth of vacation rentals.

“If we want to legislate by crisis, that is all right. I just don’t think that’s good public policy,” Supervisor Zach Friend said. “I think it’s a reasonable and proactive solution.”

The vacation rental owners say there’s no problem to fix in Seacliff and Aptos, which don’t share the issues Live Oak had and that the current regulations are working. They also worry the new regulations are being pushed through quickly without adequate public input.

With the board’s vote, the changes “pick up momentum,” said Paul Bailey of Bailey Properties. “I wish there was more thorough communication.”

At a hearing last month, the Planning Commission recommended to the board that staff conduct further study and public outreach. However, the proposed rules for Seacliff and Aptos were on the board’s meeting agenda as staff prepared a revised set of rules. They reflect the Planning Commission’s feelings that some streets should be excluded from the new regulations entirely.

In other news, the board also approved the first of a three-step plan that addresses the drug and alcohol abuse that costs the county an estimated $207 million each year.

To reduce those costs, county health officials want to coordinate better between mental health, criminal justice and child welfare services. The plan aims to improve rehab programs and make them more available while reducing emergency room visits and jail stays and other costly services.

Many county residents who have drug and alcohol problems have sought services but were turned away due to their costs or the programs are full, and more than half of those coming to the jail have substance abuse issues, according to the county.

“This is so important to our community,” said Giang Nguyen, director of the county Health Services Agency. “It’s taken 18 months because we wanted to hear from the public.”

Her office will return to the board in February with an evaluation of current programs and prevalence of substance use disorders as well as updates from federal and state agencies regarding the Drug Medi-Cal program. In the spring, Health Services will present on the plan’s funding needs.