County of Santa Cruz Fire Recovery Permit Center

Firefighters make a stand in the backyard of a home in front of the advancing CZU August Lightning Complex Fire Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Boulder Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The CZU Lightning Complex fires erupted on August 16, 2020, the result of a thunderstorm that produced close to 11,000 bolts of lightning and started hundreds of fires throughout California. These lightning strikes initially started fires separately known as the Warnella Fire near Davenport, the Waddell Fire near Waddell Creek, as well as three fires which would merge with them to become conflagration now known as the CZU Complex Fire destroying approximately 1,490 buildings. In response to the CZU Complex Fires the County of Santa Cruz implemented a Recovery Permit Center (RCP), a resource dedicated to rebuilding after the fire. In order to accelerate its efforts, the County Planning Department outsourced the fire-recovery permitting efforts to the Pleasanton-based consulting company 4Leaf, Inc. This article outlines the goals and objectives of the Recovery Permit Center (RCP) and it’s procedures, particularly as they continue to evolve.

Site information including fire access, septic system, geologic setting, and the legal status of the home proposed to be replaced will all be considerations evaluated by Recovery Permit Center (RCP) for rebuilding.

In general, the sequence for rebuilding is outlined by RCP are as follows:
• File a claim with your insurance company. In addition, apply for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
• If you are considering temporary housing in an RV or other temporary accommodation file an application form for a temporary housing permit.
• File a Calamity Application with the Assessor’s Office.
• Obtain Building Permit records, including archived project plans, by emailing the Records Room staff at: recordsroominquiries@santacruzcounty.us. These records are required for staff to determine next steps in the permitting process.
• Arrange for debris removal from the site. Visit Environmental Health for information: https://www.santacruzcounty.us/FireRecovery/DebrisRemoval.aspx
• Schedule and attend pre-application meeting(s) on an as-needed basis.
• Connect with the Recovery Permit Center for rebuilding permit related information.
• Attend to re-submittal screening and pre-permit screening processing to obtain three clearances: Fire Safety, Environmental Health (septic system, sanitation, water), and Geologic Hazards.
• Obtain Pre-screening clearance, prepare documentation, and attend to building permit application submittal, review, and issuance.

In practice, once the Owner has completed debris removal and abatement, the necessary practical steps attending the pre-screening process as of this writing based on our experience are as follows:
1. prepare conceptual site plan describing pre-fire as well as proposed conditions.
2. schedule an appointment with the Recovery Permit Center.
3. conduct virtual Pre-Application Meeting / Screening meeting with a County Planner.
4. discuss the proposed application with a County Planner. Discussion topics might include interpretation of setback requirements pertaining to the project, discussion of how much build-out (i.e. if the replacement home may be larger than the former residence) will be allowed under the expedited fire permit processing rules, as well as a ballpark reading as to any supplemental reports as may be prescribed. The County Planner’s focus during the interview will predominantly focus on prospective review requirements which may be imposed by the outside regulatory agencies of County Fire, County Environmental Health, Geologic Hazards division of County Environmental Planning.
5. revise the conceptual site planin response to feedback obtained from the County Planner.
6. submit revised conceptual site plan to Pre-Screening processing.
7. obtain Pre-Screening written review/checklist.
8. prepare construction contract documents accordingly.
9. submit to expedited building permit processing.

Our firm has over 23 years of experience in obtaining permits with Santa Cruz County Planning Department as well as direct experience in working with the County’s emergency Fire Recovery Permit Center. If a professional consultation would be helpful to you please do not hesitate to contact us today.

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