Santa Cruz County supes approve vacation rental, medical pot rules

SANTA CRUZ – The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday finally put to rest dueling debates that have consumed its attention for nearly a year.

First, it passed a set of laws that regulates but does not cap the number of medical marijuana outlets in unincorporated county areas. It followed that up with another county first – a clamp-down on vacation rentals that some neighbors, particularly those in Live Oak, have long sought.

“To me, democracy works when people get involved,” Supervisor John Leopold said, speaking about the many public hearings on the vacation rental law, though his comments were apt for both issues. “We’ve had very spirited debate at many community meetings about this, and democracy isn’t always neat. … What we have here is an ordinance that I think works well.”

The new medical marijuana rules were welcomed by providers, who see them both as a way to weed out bad seeds and a sign of greater acceptance of their operations. They come 15 years after Proposition 215, though many providers still face uncertainties on issues such as how marijuana should be procured.

Local governments traditionally avoided regulating medical pot, partly out of unclear guidelines from the state and partly out of a fear that any action would seem like approval or put them at odds with federal law.

But that has started to change. And it is a change Valerie Corral of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the county’s oldest collective, welcomes.

“Often regulation is a reactive kind of thing. It’s what happens if something goes wrong, not how to create good thought, good action, right action,” Corral said. “It’s a path toward avoiding punishment. But really, regulation should be creating right action – opportunities to create goodness in your community.”

The rules require dispensaries and collectives to operate as not-for-profits, regulating advertising, labeling, record-keeping and employee conduct. They do not require testing marijuana.

Approved 5-0, they also require an 800-foot buffer between two dispensaries, and a 600-foot buffer between dispensaries and schools. A moratorium on new clubs within the county’s coastal zone remains in place until the Coastal Commission reviews the regulations, which could take several months.

The city of Santa Cruz limits the number of pot clubs to two. Last week, the San Jose City Council voted to limit that city’s number to 10.


The vacation rental ordinance joins Santa Cruz County with other communities that have sought to limit temporary rentals, including Capitola, Monterey and Carmel. It passed 4-1, with Supervisor Greg Caput dissenting.

Leopold said the limits were years in the making, coming after efforts to get the industry to police itself. Many neighbors say the Internet has aided in a growth in Live Oak vacation rentals, though the area has always been a vacation destination.

“We didn’t get the provisions we asked for, but it gives us something we can work with when vacation rentals disrupt our lives,” Leopold said.

The law sets up a licensing system for vacation rentals, though all rentals outside the Live Oak area get that license in perpetuity.

Inside Live Oak, vacation rentals are limited to 15 percent for the area and 20 percent for any one block. Licenses would have to be renewed every five years, giving neighbors a chance to object – a provision that drew sharp objections from rental owners.

Caput said neighborhood complaints that led to Tuesday’s limits – excessive noise, litter and public intoxication among the most frequent – all can be handled under existing laws, and did not want to add new layers of rules for homeowners.

“You see it all the time. We pass laws on basically everything,” Caput said. “If we can’t catch the one’s that are abusing something, we’re going to round up everybody.”

But Supervisor Ellen Pirie, whose district includes Aptos and La Selva Beach, said she didn’t think the regulations were burdensome.

“I don’t think this is excessive regulation.” Pirie said. “I think this is very reasonable and will not be very burdensome. … It will give neighbors a handle so that they can address the problems that are in the neighborhood.”

In other business, the county continued its efforts to secure millions in redevelopment funds for projects around the county, including a new Live Oak youth center and new headquarters for the sheriff’s office.

Redevelopment agencies are expected to be casualties of the state budget, and local governments across California have moved to secure those funds before the state claims them.

Local officials believe funds under contract are more likely to survive the state budget process, and the county took steps Tuesday to shelter more of that money, possibly through the creation of a new non-profit that would act as a subsidiary of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.