Santa Cruz County’s draft Housing Element would allow for 158 homes for “low-income” households on the site of the Santa Cruz Flea Market at 2260 Soquel Drive in Live Oak. Income limits are set by the state. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> Responding to state and regional mandates, Santa Cruz County leaders have submitted draft plans to the state to allow for more than 6,000 new homes over the next eight years in unincorporated areas of the county. Most of the potential home sites are in Aptos, Live Oak and Soquel, according to the draft plan. 

  • State authorities require Santa Cruz County staff to permit 4,634 new homes in unincorporated areas of the county from June 30, 2023 to Dec. 15, 2031. That’s more than three times the county’s previous, unmet goal.
  • In a draft Housing Element of the county’s General Plan, county leaders mapped areas for potential new homes. The maps include areas where zoning could change, vacant land, county-owned land and “underutilized” sites, according to the draft plan. 
  • Santa Cruz County supervisors are expected to adopt a final plan Nov. 14 after public meetings Sept. 27, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.

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Housing requirements

California authorities require cities and counties to update a part of their General Plan called the Housing Element every eight years with a plan to meet state housing development goals. When areas do not make enough progress on those goals, state law allows streamlined approval of some housing projects. City and county leaders then have limited power to change or veto projects.

The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, or AMBAG, sets goals for jurisdictions within Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. In October, AMBAG adopted the region’s sixth Regional Housing Needs Allocation Plan.

  • The Regional Housing Needs Allocation calls for 4,634 new homes to be permitted in unincorporated Santa Cruz County from 2023 to 2032. The cities of Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Capitola each have their own assigned housing targets that are not included in the county’s plan. 
  • Santa Cruz County’s draft Housing Element includes plans to allow 6,410 new homes. 
  • For 5,556 of those 6,410 homes, the plan identifies possible locations, including vacant properties, properties that could have denser housing under current zoning and properties that could be rezoned to allow denser housing. Projections for future accessory dwelling units, farmworker housing and rural single family homes did not include possible locations.

All of the properties that would be rezoned and most of the sites for possible new homes are in Santa Cruz County Supervisor Districts 1, 2 and 4, said Santa Cruz County Principal Planner Suzanne Ise, during a Sept. 12 county supervisors meeting. 

That’s because those districts have unincorporated land that is within the urban services line, a boundary in the General Plan around areas intended for urban development. 

“Most housing is best accommodated near transportation corridors and other urban services in existing neighborhoods and business districts, in areas without environmental constraints,” Ise said during the Sept. 12 meeting.

Planned housing locations are included in areas of Aptos, Live Oak, Soquel, Freedom and outside Watsonville.

The Santa Cruz County Draft Housing Element shows areas for potential new homes in Pleasure Point and Live Oak. See more maps. (County of Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz County Draft Housing Element shows areas for potential new homes in Aptos and Soquel. The City of Capitola has a separate draft Housing Element. (County of Santa Cruz)

About half of the new homes are planned on properties that are vacant or have less dense development than allowed under existing zoning. The other half of new homes are planned in areas where zoning would change to allow denser development. There are 76 properties where zoning could change – potentially allowing 2,274 new homes.

Fourteen sites are on publicly-owned land. The county’s Sustainability Update, approved by the county supervisors in 2023, included new rules to allow employee housing and other affordable housing on public property. The update is awaiting approval from the California Coastal Commission.

Potential rezone of former Aptos golf course 

The planned rezonings may reignite a years-old struggle over the fate of a former golf course in Aptos.

The county’s draft Housing Element would allow 430 new homes at 2600 Mar Vista Drive. The nearly 14-acre site is the former location of a par 3 golf course that closed in 1999. The site was a native plant nursery until 2018. The land is zoned for parks, recreation and open space.

Santa Cruz County’s draft Housing Element would allow 430 new homes at a former golf course at 2600 Mar Vista Drive in Aptos. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend advocated for senior housing and a park on the site. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

Members of The Aptos Council, an advocacy group, oppose the site’s rezoning. An attorney for the group wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to the county supervisors that developing the site would require its own environmental review process.

The group previously clashed with the county over similar objections to the county’s prior Housing Element in 2015. The state appellate court ruled in 2017 that the county had followed state environmental review laws. 

The land is in County Supervisor District 2 represented by Zach Friend. Friend said that building housing on the entire site would take away needed recreation space.

“I’m in favor of the entire Housing Element except for this proposal,” Friend said of the golf course plan, during the Sept. 12 meeting. Friend proposed to reserve one of the two parcels, or a percentage of the entire site, for a public park or open space.

He proposed that the county prioritize senior housing on the part of the land to be developed.

Stephanie Hansen, assistant director of policy and housing, said the site is one of few potential locations for larger developments and is needed to meet the county’s housing goals.

“Thirteen acres is a huge opportunity for us to provide some housing, especially affordable housing,” Hansen said during the Sept. 12 meeting. “We just don’t have that many opportunities.” If the site were not included in the housing plan, “we probably would have to find other locations to rezone,” she said.

The county supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the County Planning Commission to “consider options to include specifications for the Mar Vista site as senior housing and include publicly accessible open space.”

County staff plan to continue to adjust the Housing Element until county leaders submit a final version to the state Nov. 15. County staff plan to complete approved rezones from 2024 to 2026. 

How to get involved

The following public meetings will take place in the county supervisors chamber on the fifth floor of 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz.

  • 9:30 a.m. Sept. 27: Santa Cruz County Planning Commission study session.
  • 9:30 a.m. Oct. 25: Santa Cruz County Planning Commission public hearing.
  • 6:30 p.m. Nov. 1: Santa Cruz County Housing Advisory Commission public hearing.
  • 9 a.m. Nov. 14: Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors hearing and likely plan adoption.

Read more

Corrections: A photo caption misstated an address of a potential housing site. It is 2260 Soquel Drive, Live Oak. Also, AMBAG sets housing goals for Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. A previous version of this story stated that it set goals for an additional county.

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Reporter / California Local News Fellow | + posts

Jesse Kathan is a staff reporter for Santa Cruz Local through the California Local News Fellowship. Kathan holds a master's degree in science communications from UC Santa Cruz.