County supervisors appoint Schiffrin to temporary planning commission post, pass child transport ordinance

Santa Cruz County Supervisors Justin Cummings (left) and Manu Koenig.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County supervisors voted to appoint Andy Schiffrin temporarily to the county planning commission after previously blocking Justin Cummings’ planning commission nominee. Supervisors also unanimously approved an ordinance to prohibit the use of force in the transport of children. The ordinance comes in the wake of public outcry against the violent removal of two Santa Cruz children from their family home for court-ordered reunification with their mother.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

After the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors blocked District 3 Supervisor Justin Cummings’ appointment of Andy Schiffrin to the county planning commission, the board on Tuesday approved a temporary appointment for Schiffrin.

The five supervisors unanimously voted to appoint Schiffrin for six months, after which supervisor analyst Trina Barton will take over the position.

District 1 Supervisor Manu Koenig told the meeting that he still has concerns about Schiffrin’s appointment, but under the new conditions and given the need to fill the position, he voted to approve.

Koenig and two other supervisors, District 2’s Zach Friend and District 5’s Bruce McPherson, initially blocked Schiffrin’s appointment at a Feb. 28 meeting, with Koenig arguing that the county needed to add new perspectives to the planning commission to deal with the region’s escalating housing crisis.

“[It] demonstrates a willingness to transition the appointment and bring some new thinking to the position,” Koenig told Tuesday’s meeting.

In a separate vote, supervisors unanimously approved a new county ordinance to prohibit the use of force in the transport of children.

The ordinance comes in the wake of public outcry against the violent removal of Maya and Sebastian Laing from their family home for court-ordered reunification with their mother.

This ordinance creates an opportunity for members of the public to file a civil claim and seek damages of up to $10,000 against transport companies that use unreasonable physical force against minors in unincorporated Santa Cruz County.

In parent reunification proceedings, family courts have the authority to order private transport companies to remove and transport children from their homes to other locations, like a private reunification camp, to meet with their parent. These transport companies can also be employed by parents to take a child to substance abuse treatment or other similar facilities.

Randy Morris, director of the county’s Human Services Department, along with Jason Heath, the county counsel, drafted the ordinance after supervisors urged them to come up with concrete methods of addressing this issue, first brought forth at a Nov. 15 board meeting and updated Jan. 31.

Board Chair Friend told the meeting Tuesday that the board had received many letters from the community in support of this ordinance.

Cummings said that “while it’s not perfect, it’s a good step forward to address these concerns.”

One community member told the meeting that the ordinance does not include “survivor-led participation” even though “many survivors of domestic violence contacted the board.”

She said the ordinance ignored the role of the Santa Cruz County Police Department, ignored emails from parents, and used language that is too vague.

Community member Maggie Steinbrenner told supervisors that this ordinance does not allow or direct county law enforcement to intervene in these situations of forced removal of children.

“Being able to take this [issue] to court and recover costs is one thing, but this does not help the children recover from being forcibly taken from their family,” she said.

Friend said addressing this issue has been “very challenging” due to the difficulty in determining where county authority lies on issues dealt with in the family courts.

Morris said he and Heath struggled to write this ordinance without needing to hire new staff to administer, regulate and enforce it. Ultimately, their solution requires no new hires.

Morris and Heath also brought the issue to the California Legislature, at the supervisors’ direction. Two of the county’s state representatives, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin and state Sen. John Laird, have expressed interest in creating statewide laws prohibiting the use of force in the transport of children.

Latest Stories


Be the first to know all the big, breaking news in Santa Cruz. Sign up to get Lookout alerts sent straight to your phone here or below.