The 70s , 80s and 90s in Santa Cruz County were a time of growing environmental awareness and action.
By the time Measure C was passed in 1990 (see Do Regulations Curtail Environmental Destruction?), the 1978 Growth Management Referendum (Measure J) had been on the books for 18 years. Now ensconced in County Code Title 17 – Community Development, “to provide for the enactment of a growth management system to regulate the character, location, amount, and timing of future development so as to achieve the stated policies.
- (A) Preserve Agricultural Lands. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County that prime agricultural lands and lands which are economically productive when used for agriculture shall be preserved for agricultural use.
- (B) Distinguish “Urban” and “Rural” Areas. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to preserve a distinction between areas in the County which are “urban,” and areas which are “rural.” Divisions of land in rural areas shall be discouraged, and new residential developments shall be encouraged to locate in urban areas.
- (C) Urban Area Protection. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to ensure that new development in the unincorporated “urban” areas does not proceed without the provision of adequate services which will enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of these urban areas; the County Capital Improvement Plan shall reflect this commitment.
- (D) Annual Population Growth Limit. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to set an annual population growth for this County which shall limit growth to that amount which represents Santa Cruz County’s fair share of each year’s Statewide population growth.
- (E) Housing for Persons with Average Incomes. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County that at least 15 percent of those housing units newly constructed for sale or rental each year shall be capable of purchase or rental by persons with average or below average incomes.
- (F) Resource Protection. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to prevent the division or other development of lands which contain timber resources, mineral resources, and wildlife habitat or other natural resources, except when any such development is conditioned so as to prevent the loss of or damage to such resources.
Without Measure J, Santa Cruz County would now be suffering from much greater population growth, loss of natural habitat, open space and agricultural lands, which would have resulted in even greater exploitation of natural resources and loss of natural habitat than we see today.
As one might expect, Measure J, Measure C and subsequent County Code and General Plan regulations and policies have not been appreciated by those to whom business, economic growth and development are of highest concern.
The County Planning Department is placed squarely in the middle of two competing ideologies: conservation of natural resources and environmental protection vs. economic development and funding for county social services.
In response to pressure from economic growth and development interests, Planning Department procedures and policies are now being “simplified” and “modernized,” that is, watered down and made less publicly visible, to accommodate a streamlined development application and review process. What once was a robust, locally managed and explicitly regulated environmental review process, has become an internal subjective review of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), subject, when necessary, to an EIR conducted by external contractors.
While Measure J has resulted in positive restraints on growth and development in the County, these constraints are rapidly eroding in the face of development pressures. With each new project that sticks its nose under the tent of the Planning Department review process, habitat and natural resources are lost, the natural world is diminished and non-human life is further brought under the dominion of the human world.