Kevin’s Corner September 2023 - Volume 11, Issue 9
In this early Labor Day edition – be forewarned - you are going to detect some of my frustrations.
Helping isn’t Easy – In the rural but growing First District community of Mead Valley (which is basically located west of the 215, between Perris and Riverside cities), lending a hand to make some basic infrastructure improvements has proven to be very difficult – and that’s on a good day! Our push to have street lights installed along a few busy streets near schools has been delayed for nearly a year. Our efforts to provide public transit bus riders with relief from the summer heat and wet winters by providing covered bus stops has been met with significant resistance. Our desire to provide sidewalks around school sites and other busy locations has hit sticker shock. In each case, the reason for the hesitation or delays is different. Street lights = The Public Utility and County Transportation officials keep exchanging specs and approvals. Covered Bus Stops = The Transit Agency claims it doesn’t have the funds to maintain a large number of “covered” bus stops, even if the covered bus stand is provided to them for free. Sidewalks = the cost to install a concrete sidewalk has literally increased to the point that it’s the same cost as a new home (plus a year of planning and design)! I remember when it would cost nearly $2 million just to build a fire station. Now the price is somewhere north of $7 million to $9 million. When it comes to our government being able to utilize our hard earned tax dollars to carry out needed community improvements – either the outrageous costs and/or the endless bureaucracy of analysis-paralysis is making progress in our communities very difficult to achieve. Something has got to give!
The Left & Right Hand – Riverside County government has been directed by California State mandates to make sure that thousands of affordable homes (and granny-flat type units) can be built in our unincorporated (non-city) communities. Most of our unincorporated communities do not have city-style municipal sewer systems and rely instead on old-fashioned septic tank systems. The installation and utilization of septic tanks is now closely regulated by different State created organizations known as Regional Water Quality Control Boards. With recent regulations, typical septic tanks are extremely frowned upon, and the new home treatment systems can cost as much as a nice new car! Want to build a decent little affordable granny-flat in the back yard? Well, one State agency (Housing) is going to applaud you, while another state created agency (Water Quality) will likely have standards that will make it impossible for you to afford it or be successful. Again – something has got to give!
Some Good News! Riverside County has enjoyed a very long running contractual relationship with CAL FIRE (formally CDF) going back to the 1920’s. The Riverside County Fire Department and most of our local cities have been provided fire protection services under an agreement that puts the Cities, County, and State under one roof with a regional approach to our emergency services (everyone backing each other up). No community goes it alone. Unlike many other counties, when we have rapidly growing fires anywhere in our county, 20 to 40 fire engines can be quickly dispatched and on the road to help. (Note: Even local cities that are not contracting with CAL FIRE are all working with the county to make sure that the mutual aid system is doing its job to protect us all). The good news is that the County has just renewed the contract with CAL FIRE for another three years. This contract continues the use of State employees to staff County and Contract City fire stations (nearly 100 fire stations total). Unfortunately, the cost of the contract has increased by $68 million since FY 2020/21, and will continue to increase as CALFIRE changes the workweek for employees to a 66 hour workweek instead of the current 72 hour workweek. The County will be keeping an eye on the rising costs. Nothing is inexpensive anymore.
Neighbors Battle Over Peace and Quiet – The saga of Short Term Rentals (STRs) continues. Those who pay attention to our meetings will recall that we spent many hours receiving testimony and hearing complaints from STR neighbors and owners last year, as we tried to craft a county-wide (unincorporated areas only) ordinance to better regulate these businesses. The goal was to protect neighborhoods while still allowing these property owners to earn incomes by providing a very popular service for visitors to the area. We did eventually pass a new ordinance to better track, educate, and regulate STRs, but it was agreed that even stricter standards might be necessary in Wine Country and the Idyllwild/Pine Cove area, where STRs have been the most popular, leading to what some believe to be an over-concentration of these, leading to problems with parties and noise in previously quiet neighborhoods. We put a moratorium on new STR permits in these two areas and staff began working on “enhanced” standards for those communities. They have now completed their work, and the new rules include limits on numbers of STRs that can be owned by an individual or group, buffers between STRs, and a cap on total numbers in each of these zones. This ordinance passed the Planning Commission mid-August following hours of testimony and complaints, which means as soon as October the full Board of Supervisors will again be hearing---hours of testimony and complaints. Stand by!
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