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August 1-8, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Setting Sale

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again, right? Yet sometimes you've tried and tried again, and all that's left to do is sell everything you own and take a vacation. This seems to roughly sum up the philosophy of E3 Playhouse owner Wes Anthony, who is attempting to sell the building that housed his now-defunct nightclub as he prepares for a gig playing music on a cruiseliner soon embarking on a five-month journey from Alaska to the Caribbean.

No one can accuse Anthony of not remembering this golden rule of persistence in the fight to save his business. The trouble started back in February when police started getting calls from residents at the nearby 1010 Pacific St. apartment complex complaining of noise after midnight. This prompted a series of letters from the Police Department asking Anthony to abide by the terms of his permit and not play music or serve alcohol past the witching hour. Anthony never responded to the letters and continued serving hooch until 1am, claiming the club would go under if he had to shut off the tap early on the weekends.

With negotiations at a standstill, the planning commission called a public hearing on May 16 to determine whether to revoke E3's permit. After dozens of the club's supporters flooded the hearing, both sides decided it would be better if E3 applied for a permit modification to play music and serve alcohol past midnight. However, Anthony had to promise to obey the limits of his current permit in the meantime.

That didn't happen. The police were called once more to break up a fight during a concert taking place after music was supposed to be shut down, and on June 28 the Planning Commission voted to revoke E3's permit for good. Anthony appealed to the City Council, which voted 6-1 to confirm the revocation on July 24.

So now the long road from a dream for an all-age venue has led finally to the sea—or is that the "C"? On his way out, Anthony stopped by the website where everyone goes to dump their old furniture, bicycles and failed business ventures: craigslist.org.

The posting, short and sweet, asks for $199,000 for a "downtown venue in the heart of Santa Cruz" that's "ready to go."

As of late last week Anthony said he had received "a lot of calls" about the posting, but nothing that had come close to a deal. And time was running short for the embattled club owner.

"I'm trying to get this off my hands before I set sail on July 29," he said.

Anthony seemed to be coping relatively well with the string of defeats in his battle against what he sees as a "hypocritical" city Planning Commission. Late last week he was dismayed to think he might not be able to sell the club before leaving on the cruise but was happy to be taking a break from Santa Cruz, which has given him its share of headaches.

The fallout from the months-long battle with the city isn't over, though. Anthony plans to go through with a $500,000 lawsuit against the city for discriminatory enforcement of permit conditions. He says Rosie McCann's, Red, Clouds and Vida are all given more flexibility and allowed to serve alcohol until 1am, while officials continually harassed his establishment.

But perhaps the troubling memories of the last few months will melt away as Anthony hones his musical skills traveling down the coast in what he has dubbed the "Freedom Love Boat." Ah, freedom at last!

Catch 22

Several weeks ago ("Planning by Kafka," July 4) Nu_z promised to run over the changes to the county planning code that Santa Cruz County Planning Director Tom Burns and staff have brought to the Board of Supervisors. Regulations which, Burns noted in his approach to the supes, "made good sense at the time that they were developed but, with events that have occurred over the years, no longer do." Twenty-two sets of changes, overall, that potentially affect nearly every homeowner and tenant in the county who wishes to make a change to his or her living place, and which in turn keep housing—especially informal housing such as backyard units—from being repaired, rehabilitated or built at all.

The simplest group of changes, unlikely to cause much stir, are those that simply untie bureaucratic knots. One 1970s-era regulation treats any and human-made as a "structure," prohibits unpermitted "structures" more than 18 inches tall, and thus bans trellises, arbors and birdbaths. Another county regulation limits fences around swimming pools to a height of three feet while the building code demands four, and another one bans electrical connections to residential lots without homes, which prohibits owners directed to light crime-infested properties from doing so. Or at least it prohibits them from doing so—or any of the above—without a public hearing. Burns' sweeping solution: simplify the regs, dump the public hearings and handle it all over the Planning Department counter.

A second set of changes potentially simplifies rural residents' home lives, allowing coastal zone dwellers to perform grading, demolition, construction of small additions and addition of solar panels without extensive hearings.

The third set will doubtless thrill residents living in grand old beach houses, Deco-era homes or Victorians, who now find that their homes' very heights classify them (due to the county's view that squat, land-gobbling two-story buildings are somehow superior) as "significantly nonconforming." Interpretation: extensive and expensive public hearings for any change, including repairs—which, Burns notes, "may in fact be encouraging deterioration of structures." Get rid of the "significantly," says Burns, and let people maintain that stock of housing.

The fourth set of changes is bound to set off a few alarms because it challenges a particularly paranoid assumption written into county regulations; namely, that every unwatched homeowner is scheming to move poorer renters into the shed or garage.

So prominent is this assumption that it's mentioned 18 times in Burns' proposal. Homeowners may not have sinks, toilets, bathrooms or even water connections (except for hose bibs) for hand-washing in outbuildings such as garden sheds, guest houses, or greenhouses. Nor can they install sheetrock or insulation or heaters or coolers, or live off property if they do. Why? Because any of the above make such structures potentially "habitable," and once they are, homeowners will sneak in people to inhabit them.

This burdens every potential property owner in the unincorporated county and serves, Burns observes, to unfairly restrict those with no intention of breaking the rules. Answer? Loosen the regs.

Finally—and most predictably controversial—Tom Burns has suggested several big changes involving second units.

The largest change is getting rid of the county's "tenant review" policy, which demands that those who want to live in second units first allow the county to review their income documents to make sure they're sufficiently strapped for money to live there. It's been of questionable legality since a 2001 state appeals court decision which stated that localities' second unit policies "may not determine who may live in them." It was further weakened when local architect Steven Travis won a state Supreme Court case allowing challenges whenever the ordinance was enforced. Nevertheless, the income restrictions enjoy determined support from several sets of backers, including those who don't like backyard cottages and the traditional class mixture they bring in the first place. In short, expect fireworks.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will hear and vote on Tom Burns' recommendations on Aug. 14 at its daytime meeting.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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