Santa Cruz County

Agenda Item

Public hearing to consider approval in concept of an ordinance adding Chapter 12.32 to the Santa Cruz County Code regarding regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings, adopt resolution accepting CEQA Notice of Exemption determination, schedule the ordinance for second reading and final adoption on May 11, 2021, and take related actions, as outlined in the memorandum of the Planning Director


Department:Planning: Sustainability and Special ProjectsSponsors:Planning Director Kathleen Molloy
Category:PLN SSP - Board LetterFunctions:Land Use & Community Services

Board Letter

Recommended Action(s):

1)              Conduct a public hearing to consider adding Chapter 12.32 to the Santa Cruz County Code regarding regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings, and close the public hearing;


2)              Adopt the attached resolution finding the proposed amendments are exempt from further environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, directing staff to file the CEQA Notice of Exemption, and making findings regarding changes and modifications to provisions of the State Housing Law based on local conditions;


3)              Approve, in concept, the ordinance adding County Code Chapter 12.32;


4)              Schedule the ordinance for second reading and final adoption on May 11, 2021; and


5)              Direct the Planning Director to submit a copy of the local amendments to the State Housing Law and a copy of the adopted resolution containing associated findings, to the California Building Standards Commission.



Executive Summary

The State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has adopted administrative regulations to implement State Housing Law regarding limited-density owner-built rural dwellings. These regulations were originally developed in the 1970s as Appendix K of the building code to accommodate homesteaders and the back to the land movement. The intent of the regulations, which are also referred to as the K-Code, is to provide minimum requirements for low-cost, owner-built structures in remote locations in mild climates, where access to conventional construction materials and contractors may be difficult, while ensuring that reasonable health and safety standards are met. Counties may adopt HCD regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings and may adopt changes and modifications to the requirements based on local conditions. Any changes or modifications must be equivalent or more restrictive than HCD regulations. The CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August 2020 resulted in the loss of many dwellings and outbuildings in the rural areas. The community of Last Chance, within the burn area, is presented as a location for a pilot program to implement the limited-density owner-built rural dwellings regulations in Santa Cruz County. The Last Chance community is very remote, lacks electric utility services, and sustained the total loss of many homes that provided affordable shelter to the residents of the community. The intent is to facilitate the legal replacement of limited-density owner-built rural dwellings, assist with fire recovery, and determine whether this is a feasible and useful approach to rebuilding in rural circumstances.



On November 17, 2020, the Board of Supervisors received a report that addressed programs and changes to assist with replacement of burned homes that were built without permits. The Board directed staff to implement three programs. The “Legacy Older Structures Program” confers legal nonconforming status on sites within the CZU Burn Area that were developed prior to 1986. Though the structures in the LOSP program are considered as legally established, basic requirements for road access, potable water, septic or approved alternate sewage disposal, and other buildability requirements must be met. The Board also directed the Office of Response, Recovery and Resiliency to research ways to facilitate rebuilding in areas with community-wide obstacles to rebuilding, such as sub-standard road access that affect several or many properties. A “Fire Area Improvement Reconstruction:” program would take a collective approach to solving problems involving road infrastructure, bridge improvements, or water storage. Finally, the Board approved the development of the “Limited Density Owner-Built Rural Dwellings” ordinance as a pilot project in the Last Chance area. These programs each address different aspects of rebuilding in rural areas that lack infrastructure and have issues that cannot be addressed easily on a parcel-by-parcel basis.


The proposed LDOBRD ordinance was drafted after researching programs in other jurisdictions, discussions with Building Officials who implement similar programs, and input from the public and members of the Last Chance community including a remote, neighborhood public meeting held on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.



The County is required to enforce the California Building Standards Code, also known as Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations. Title 24 is updated on a three-year cycle and the County has adopted the most recent 2019 version with local amendments. Some of the codes that are included in the California Building Standards Code are the California Building Code, the Residential Code, Electrical, Plumbing, and Mechanical Codes, the Energy Code, and the Green Building Code. The Fire Code is included in the California Building Standards Code, but it is adopted separately by each local fire agency and enforced by the fire agencies. The County is not required to adopt regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings in Title 25 of the California Code of Regulations, otherwise known as the State Housing Law. Adopting these limited density owner-built regulations locally is considered a way to facilitate lower cost, rural housing, allow housing that uses alternate materials, and help fire victims rebuild. The regulations are limited to alternative building construction requirements under the purview of the Building Official. They do not authorize alternatives to the Fire Code or sewage disposal or water supply requirements. In the Last Chance area, meeting fire access standards and septic and water standards may be constraints to rebuilding on some properties, however, those issues are not addressed by the construction code. Further, all provisions of the County Code, including Chapter 13.20 Coastal Zone regulations, will continue to apply.


The proposed ordinance sets up a three-year pilot program that would apply to legal parcels in the Last Chance area within zones that allow for single family residential use and which are not served by public or private utilities. An eligible parcel must have contained a structure that served as a primary residence and which was destroyed in the fire. Three years was selected as a time period that would allow a large enough sample of homes to be permitted and constructed under the program to allow evaluation of the program and whether the goals of simpler, less expensive reconstruction were met.


The proposed replacement structures must be built by the owner of the property or by a general contractor contracting directly with the owner of the property. State law requires the property owner occupy the structure as a principal residence and prohibits the sale, lease, renting, or employee occupancy for one year. County staff is recommending a local amendment to increase this to three years to establish a firmer commitment to the owner-built concept and to coincide with the three-year pilot program. (In our sample of six other counties’ ordinances the required time ranges from one to three years). Exceptions to the three-year time period are included for hardship and for re-occupancy of a unit that was previously rented by the same tenants who occupied the unit prior to the fire.


State law provides that the County may require a deed recordation including information regarding the materials, methods of construction, alternative facilities, or other factors that may be of value in the full disclosure of the nature of the dwelling and appurtenant structures. County staff has therefore included a provision in the ordinance for a Notice of Limited Density Owner Built Dwelling  to provide full disclosure that the structures and facilities on a particular parcel have been constructed under an alternative code and may not conform entirely to all requirements in the California Building Code and has received fewer building inspections than would normally be required. The recorded document would also include a liability waiver and indemnification. A template of the Notice is attached.


State law contains a list of basic information needed for an application for a permit under the regulations and a description of the type of plans that are required. County staff envisions simplifying our standard List of Required Information (LORI) for applications under the proposed regulations. For structures of complex design or unusual conditions the Building Official could require additional information from a professional engineer or architect where necessary to support the design and how it would meet the basic intent of Chapter 12 of the Santa Cruz County Code.


State law provides for inspections or waiver of inspections for certain types of structures. For dwellings, County staff would suggest a minimum of four inspections to verify the major components of the structure, including the foundation, the underfloor, the frame and any electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems, and a final inspection. For comparison, normally a dwelling would require 7-8 inspections.


In general, the intent of the regulations is to provide for ingenuity and preferences of the builder, and alternatives to the specifications prescribed by the SCCC 12.10 Building Regulations, to the extent that a reasonable degree of health and safety and sound structural condition is provided by those alternatives.


Strategic Plan Element(s)

The proposed ordinance would support the goal of Attainable Housing.

Meeting History

Apr 27, 2021 9:00 AM Video Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting

1) Public hearing held; closed the public hearing;

2) ADOPTED Resolution No. 100-2021 finding the proposed amendments are exempt from further environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, directing staff to file the CEQA Notice of Exemption, and making findings regarding changes and modifications to provisions of the State Housing Law based on local conditions;

3) APPROVED in concept ordinance adding Chapter 12.32 to the Santa Cruz County Code;

4) SCHEDULED the ordinance for second reading and final adoption on May 11, 2021; and

5) DIRECTED the Planning Department to submit a copy of the local amendments to the State Housing Law and a copy of the adopted resolution containing associated findings, to the California Building Standards Commission

MOVER:Ryan Coonerty, Third District Supervisor
SECONDER:Manu Koenig, Vice Chair, First District Supervisor
AYES:Manu Koenig, Zach Friend, Ryan Coonerty, Greg Caput, Bruce McPherson


Hi my name is Claudine Desiree, 21-year resident of SC and professional cob builder since 2004. Cob has quickly become the focus of fire-prone and fire-damaged areas in Europe, the western US, Australia and Chile. It is a traditional non-flammable earthen building material and technique that now has an approved IRC code that will be published in September 2021. It is also called “monolithic adobe” and consists of a layered vertical construction that leaves a seamless continuous wall resistant to earthquakes as well as mold-, mildew-, rot-, rodent-, termite-, sound-,, wind-, and EMF- proof. While it has not yet been submitted to official UI fire testing, there have been many unofficial tests as well as experiential results of cob houses that have survived fires in this area and severe earthquakes in New Zealand. I built a cob cottage in downtown SC in 2004 which became permitted in 2014. It may be available for live viewing by the new owner, who lost his house in the CZU fire: CruzinCobGlobal provides professionally-trained Cob Builders as well as trainings each year in the US, Europe and other countries. Our trainings are becoming more and more requested as people everywhere realize all of the benefits of building with Cob (clay soil, sand and fiber). Cob is now more well-known than ever in the modern world and with the recently unanimously approved Cob Code by the IBC in August of 2020, it is now ready for adoption by County and City Building Departments as well as architects and engineers hired to design cob buildings in the US and abroad. It is scheduled for publication into the IRC in September. I am available to answer questions and will be watching the meeting tomorrow. Claudine Desiree (831) 212-7225
Posted by Claudine Desiree on 5/10/2021 at 11:33 PM
Dear board of Supervisors, As a lifelong resident of Last Chance I am thankful that you are taking up this resolution, and hope that you support it. I implore to to expend the pilot period. A 3 year window to for the pilot is woefully insufficient. It has taken nearly half a year to clean up the debris, and it isn't done yet. The permitting process in Santa Cruz is very slow, even with the expedited structure now in place. For many of us we have to address literally every requirement, (Fire access, water production, sanitation, & geology). Franky many folks are under the dept of their burned homes and may not be financially able to start building in that extremely limited time frame. Please extend the pilot period to 7 years.
Posted by Forest Martinez-Mckinney on 4/27/2021 at 11:59 AM
Dear Members of the Board, thank you for advancing the concept of LDOBRD to allow generations of rural families who experienced total losses by the CZU Lightening Complex fires to reconstruct dwellings on our off-grid land. I am supportive of the ordinance and would request the Board consider the following modifications: 1. That other fire-impacted communities also be included that are similarly rural, off-gid, and low-density; 2. That the fees be held at or below $5,000 in total including environmental health, fire, and geologic clearances; 3. That the ordinance allows for use of a back-up generator as redundant, permanent source of power for the home; 4. That an option to extend the ordinance be included that extends the pilot by an additional 3 years. This ordinance and anything you can do is critical to retain your community members and to retain our health, well-being, and safety. With an unprecedented and competitive housing market and the astronomical increase in raw material prices, and other costs related to rebuilding (permits, surveys, arch and engineering, fire access and surface improvements etc.), even with this ordinance it is hard to imagine how we can return to our land, which in its current state is worth nothing. Many of us have found ourselves deep in debt. This is one piece of the puzzle and we hope to work with you on fire access and water requirements next.
Posted by Jessica Martinez-McKinney on 4/27/2021 at 11:40 AM
Many families in the Last Chance community are older, retired and in a fixed income. This ordinance would certainly help many rebuild. It would be nice if there could be an effort to coordinate referrals to funding sources for people who may not be able to afford the estimated $30,000 in permit fees. Thank you to the Board of Supervisors for showing clear and evident enthusiasm to help residents get back into their homes.
Posted by Susie Devergranne on 4/26/2021 at 9:45 PM
April 26, 2021 Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors 701 Ocean St # 500A Santa Cruz, CA 95060 RE: ORDINANCE ADDING CHAPTER 12.32 TO THE SANTA CRUZ COUNTY CODE REGARDING REGULATIONS FOR LIMITED-DENSITY OWNER-BUILT RURAL DWELLINGS Dear Chairman McPherson and Members of the Board, The Board of Directors of the Davenport-North Coast Association would like to respectfully submit our public comments for the public hearing for Agenda Item 8 of the April 27, 2021 County of Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting. This agenda item concerns the ordinance adding Chapter 12.32 to the Santa Crus County Code regarding regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings. First and foremost, we would like to commend the Board of Supervisors and County staff for working diligently and collaboratively to develop ordinances that would allow rural families affected by the CZU Lightening Complex fires to reconstruct dwellings on their land, especially those families that live off-the-grid and, in some cases, have been doing so for multiple generations. As you know, the constituency of the Davenport-North Coast Association is comprised of many such families living in the most rural areas of our county, including Whitehouse Canyon, Swanton, and Last Chance. The following bullet points are the Davenport-North Coast Association’s comments on the above-mentioned ordinance: • Ordinance Section 12.32.040, Part C states “’Rural’ means, for the purposes of this chapter…..parcels that meet each of the following criteria…” one of which is the property must be “located within Last Chance”. This excludes any other areas of the County that are not located within Last Chance. Our board feels that this requirement is an unfair exclusion of other fire-impacted communities such as very rural areas of Swanton, Whitehouse Canyon, Bonny Doon, and the San Lorenzo Valley that are similarly off-the-grid like Last Chance. We strongly recommend that this criterion be removed from the ordinance language in order to include these other off-the-grid communities. This would retain the intent that the structures be within the CZU Lightening Fire burn area and not served by public or private utilities, while allowing an even playing field for all off-the-grid families to rebuild their homes after these devastating wildfires. • Ordinance Section 12.32.210, Part C states “Generators may only be used during construction and shall not be the permanent source of power to the structure.” Because these properties are off-the-grid, it is important to take into consideration that a generator is a necessary component of a solar-powered system and under such circumstances should be allowed to supplement solar power on a permanent basis. • The ordinance does not make a specific allowance for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s). The ordinance lists several types of appurtenant structures, but does not specifically list ADU’s. Your Board and Planning Department have recently been very supportive of ADU’s as a means of curbing the housing shortage our county faces, and we would like to see ADU’s specifically listed in the ordinance language as a type of appurtenant structure. Thank you for considering our comments and entering them into the public record. Sincerely, The Board of Directors of the Davenport-North Coast Association
Posted by Katie Webb on 4/26/2021 at 7:14 PM