On Monday, August 11th, members of the Santa Cruz County Business Council sat down with the San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce to discuss the County’s draft Economic Vitality Strategy (EVS). Additionally, representatives from the County Planning Department and Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s office were in attendance.
The discussion was both helpful and constructive in understanding the broad and unique interests of the San Lorenzo Valley. Keeping in mind the countywide scope of the draft EVS, the group spent significant time conversing about each of the seven (7) goal areas. The group discovered that most felt these seven (7) key areas do a good job addressing support for key local industries, creation and retention of local jobs, and taking into account our collective infrastructure needs. More specifically, the group applauded the County’s recent efforts to update outdated codes (agriculture, recreation, cottage industries, technology and small business to name a few specific industries), and expressed encouragement by the future plans laid out in the draft EVS to review other codes and streamline processes within the Planning Department.
While most of the hour (plus) session was spent talking about the positive aspects of specific EVS goals, and the cohesiveness it will take between the County and external partners to accomplish them, there was discussion about how little is mentioned regarding public safety, health and human services, support for at-risk and homeless populations, and law enforcement resources for transient offenders. Like other areas of the County, issues related to those listed in the previous sentence have had a negative impact on economic vitality in SLV. Specifically, those in attendance expressed concern that residents and visitors alike, at times, do not feel safe. Furthermore, and again in keeping with other areas of the County, it was commented that many transient individuals disproportionately contribute to local public nuisance crimes, such as public intoxication and property damage in the area. The consensus around the table was that the final EVS must weigh the impact social issues have on our local economy. Ignoring this would leave a void in a final plan should it be adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
In terms of tourism and general promotion, participants expressed a desire for consistent, unifying messaging in the promotion of the County as a whole. The San Lorenzo Valley has a number of world class campsites, wineries, festivals and art shows that represent a unique offering to tourists and should be promoted to a greater extent than they are currently. The County should work closely with all local promotional groups, including the Santa Cruz County CVC, from around the County to ensure that all of our unique aspects are packaged under one, unifying “umbrella.”
Out of the seven (7) core goals outlined in the EVS, goal six (6), which focuses on revitalizing town centers in the unincorporated area, was of particular importance to the conversation due to 4 smaller towns of Felton, Brookdale, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek residing in SLV. While those in attendance were quick to acknowledge the work of Supervisor Bruce McPherson in facilitating likeminded discussions aimed at improving these central spaces, they also noted that the current limitations related to septic treatment prevented further development and limited expansion. For instance, in some instance, current septic limitations constrain the number of onsite bathrooms a facility may have. Additionally, in terms of meeting the goals of the EVS, and the County’s affordable housing program, these infrastructure constraints pose a challenge for new housing and remodels. However, amendments in how the County defines Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) would be a positive step toward alleviating the housing shortfall.
In terms of general feedback, participants acknowledged positive steps taken by the County at all levels, but cautioned that the EVS, while beneficial in much that it outlines to accomplish. must be focused and results-driven. Additionally, those in the room commented on benefit of different business groups sitting down together to explore one another’s priorities, interests and concerns.