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After 8 Years, Second Unit Ordinance Case May Conclude

A case involving Santa Cruz County's second unit ordinance has been returned to the Sixth District Court of Appeal by the state Supreme Court because the county has amended the ordinance.

The county has asked the court to dismiss the case entirely because the county has eliminated the ordinance provisions in question, Deputy County Counsel Dwight Herr said. Those provisions dictate rent levels and who may occupy a second unit.

Three years ago, the state Supreme Court reinstated property owner Steven Travis's lawsuit challenging Santa Cruz County's second unit permit conditions, which restricted occupancy to low-income people, senior citizens or family members, and which imposed sliding-scale rent controls. Travis tried to challenge the ordinance on which the conditions were based, but courts ruled his lawsuit was filed too late. However, the state Supreme Court ruled in Travis v. County of Santa Cruz, 33 Cal.4th 757 (2004), that he could bring an "as applied" challenge to the restrictions (see CP&DR Legal Digest, September 2004).

The litigation returned to Santa Cruz County Superior Court, where Travis argued that the permit conditions violated state laws regarding fair housing and rent control. The Superior Court ruled against Travis, but the Sixth District ruled that the ordinance's preference for senior citizens was impermissible age discrimination. Once again, the state Supreme Court accepted the case for review.

In May, however, the county adopted measures streamlining numerous planning processes, including revisions to the second unit ordinance, according to Herr. Planners had determined that the original provisions of the ordinance regarding occupancy and income levels were too difficult to enforce, so the county removed those provisions, Herr said.

In July, the state Supreme Court returned the case to the appellate court in light of the revised ordinance. The case is Travis v. County of Santa Cruz, No. H029771.
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