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Ben Lomond Wallflower
Ben Lomond Wallflower

Mount Hermon June Beetle
Mount Hermon June Beetle

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Silverleaf Manzanita

Band-winged Grasshopper
Band-winged Grasshopper

Ben Lomond Spineflower
Ben Lomond Spineflower

Ben Lomond buckwheat
Ben Lomond buckwheat
Zayante Sandhills Conservation Bank

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July 30, 2011

County's Sandhills plan could make additions easier for thousands

By Jason Hoppin

Nearly a decade in the making, a new deal that would make it easier for homeowners living near the environmentally sensitive Zayante Sandhills to add decks and room additions is likely to be voted on Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The deal allows the county to issue permits on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees several rare and endangered species in the Sandhills running between Scotts Valley and Ben Lomond, including kangaroo rats, Mount Hermon June beetles, Zayante band-winged grasshoppers, Ben Lomond wallflowers and others.

"This was something that, when I first came into office 7 1/2 years ago, was imminent," Supervisor Mark Stone said. "It's a major step that we have these agreements with Fish and Wildlife."

If approved, the plan eliminates at least one of the hoops the 3,600 homeowners living in the area must jump through to make improvements.

Though they still must buy conservations credits with the Zayante Sandhills Conservation Bank -- credits which can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the project -- homeowners would no longer have to file Endangered Species Act habitat-conservation plans with the federal government, no matter how small their proposal.

"What we're trying to do is put together a countywide conservation plan in order to make it easier for folks," Stone said. "They would only then have to go to the county instead of going to the federal government."

Instead, the county would take over enforcement of environmental regulations, ensuring that plans meet federal requirements and are followed. The county would have to submit annual reports to the federal government.

The impacted homes are all within one of 10 regions, ranging in size from 3 acres to 373 acres. Together, they include the neighborhoods of Rollingwoods, Whispering Pines, east and west Scotts Valley, Green Valley, Mount Hermon, Zayante Road and Ben Lomond.

Eligible projects must be fewer than 15,000 square feet, and located on parcels no bigger than 1.5 acres.

And while the plan should save homeowners time and money, the plan does not come without a cost. The county estimates Sandhills permits would cost $321 per application.

The 2008 establishment of the conservation bank cleared one hurdle for local homeowners, allowing them to mitigate any impacts to endangered species' habitat by essentially buying open space elsewhere.

Tuesday's board vote could help clear an even bigger problem -- getting the feds to act quickly on plans, even when homeowners meet all the requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

The Sandhills represent a unique habitat, and are considered one of the rarest biological areas in the continental U.S. But the area has been encroached on over the years by mining operations and development, with homes located on a significant portion of the area.

Conservation biologist Jodi McGraw, one of two Sandhills experts recognized by the Fish and Wildlife Service, praised the development. "I think it's a very good plan," McGraw said.

Most of the Sandhills are located in the unincorporated area of the county, though parts are within Scotts Valley city limits. The city is expected to consider a similar ordinance.

Site Assessment Qualified Biologists:

Entomological Consulting Services, Ltd.
104 Mountain View Court
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-2188
Richard A. Arnold, Ph.D.
Phone: 925-825-3784

Jodi M. McGraw, Ph.D.
Population and Community Ecologist
PO Box 883
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Phone: (831) 338-1990

More Information:

  • How To Permit Projects in the Sandhills

  • Do you Live in the Sandhills? (Service Area)

  • Submit your property information

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