CZU fire damage.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A clause for concern: CZU victims express fear over verbiage included in proposed geological revision

The board of supervisors agreed to hear more information on the topic in two weeks and encouraged homeowners to flesh out their concerns further. “If you feel strongly that this is going to have an impact on the value of your homes, I would suggest coming back with some evidence from real estate professionals,” Manu Koenig said.

Tensions ran hot at Tuesday’s Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting, where CZU fire survivors expressed their desire to eliminate some language in the proposed amendments for geologic evaluations.

In order to get their new structures recorded with the county, homeowners would have to sign a covenant acknowledging that geologic hazards have not been investigated. That has stirred fears about potential property values.

But even after nearly 20 members of the public shared their concerns, the board unanimously passed the agenda item with the language included — promising to return to the resolution for reevaluation in two weeks, with additional information.

“It feels like fire victims are being penalized for our homes burning down,” said San Lorenzo Valley local Antonia Bradford.

The background

Supervisors Bruce McPherson and Ryan Coonerty led the agenda item on streamlining the rebuild process for fire survivors, who at the Aug. 10 meeting implored the board to consider eliminating the required geologic hazard evaluation. Fire survivors previously said that these evaluations have led to considerable wait times from the Santa Cruz County Planning Department and the Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience (OR3).

As Coonerty said at the meeting, “We have a huge number of families impacted by the fire, and our goal has always been to get them back home as soon as possible.”

Since the Aug. 10 meeting, the planning department and OR3 have worked to create new options for homeowners in the rebuilding process, known as the CZU Rebuild Directive. The directive would:

  1. Apply to the rebuilding of all legal and legally nonconforming primary and accessory dwellings on the affected properties;
  2. View permitted residences or residences that are treated as legally nonconforming based on demonstrated construction prior to 1986 as if they had county permits;
  3. Apply solely to replacement structures that are constructed “in kind,” meaning no more than 10% larger than the original structure and in substantially the same location as the original structure.

The clause of concern

The major concern that fire survivors addressed both prior to the meeting and during public comment was a specific requirement in the resolution. According to the resolution, the CZU Rebuild Directive will available only for property owners who record their property with the county recorder’s office, providing a signed covenant that acknowledges the geologic hazards on their property have not been investigated.

During the public comment section of the meeting, nearly 20 homeowners both in person and via Zoom shared their disappointment in this notion in particular, stating that it would both lower property values and make the homeowners feel unsupported.

Julie Lucia speaks at Tuesday's meeting.

“I applaud the board for asking the planning department for a resolution to get fire victims home, but the one put forth today needs to be reworked,” said San Lorenzo Valley local Julie Lucia. “Supervisors, I would hope you would want a system in place for when, not if, a fire happens in your district. It’s time you held the planning department accountable and force them to put forth recommendations that are actually in support of fire victims.”

Supervisors Zach Friend and Coonerty asked for the resolution to be reevaluated in two weeks with additional information from the OR3 staff and the Atkins report on debris flow.

“We need to direct staff to come back with modifications to the ordinance long term,” said Friend. “This allows for the expediting of the rebuilds now and a better look at resiliency on the ordinance moving forward.”

The board hears public comment Tuesday.

Confusion, anger at the end

After public comment and the slight changes to the resolution, the supervisors voted unanimously to enact the proposed resolution, leading to confusion and outright anger from fire survivors in attendance.

“So you left the covenant in? There’s no discussion about it moving forward? You have to figure out a way to let us build on our property!” yelled one attendee.

Supervisor Manu Koenig interjected, stating that the home value would be best determined by the markets, and that prospective buyers would look to weigh the risks.

“This is simply one notification of a potential risk,” he said. “If you feel strongly that this is going to have an impact on the value of your homes, I would suggest coming back with some evidence from real estate professionals — expert knowledge will help drive the discussion.”