Building made easier

County supervisors relax regulations for rural residents, get Prop. 64 update

Nancy Springer (right), county building division manager, talks with community members who support easing building requirements for rural homes.

Nancy Springer (right), county building division manager, talks with community members who support easing building requirements for rural homes.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

People who choose to live in the country, away from city life, often also choose nontraditional homes—maybe they want to build on their own, or to use materials that might not fit in a more urban setting. What’s more, code requirements for city dwellings may not necessarily be needed in rural areas, where houses are farther apart and don’t affect each other in the same ways.

That was part of the message conveyed by Nancy Springer, Butte County’s building division manager, who made a case for amending the regulations for limited-density owner-built rural dwellings at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday (June 12).

The discussion came up as a result of similar amendments made specifically in the Concow and Yankee Hill area following the Lightning Complex fires in 2008. They were meant to make it easier for people who lost their homes to the fire to rebuild—and they’ve been successful, Springer said. She and a group of Concow community members have been working over the past decade to fine-tune the building regulations, as amended, for their rural community. Now they want to make them permanent—as Title 25, aka the “owner builder code”—and expand them to apply to all of rural Butte County.

Basically, Title 25 eliminates certain building requirements that are seen as barriers for rural residents, Springer explained. For example, current regulations put a time limit of one year on building permits—Title 25 allows three years. It also allows for people to live in a finished portion of an unfinished dwelling. Those are both particularly helpful when residents choose to build their own homes, which is more common in rural areas, Springer said.

There are two main reasons to support Title 25, she told the board. “It facilitates construction of affordable, owner-built homes, which are essential to the continued health and welfare of the residents and these rural communities,” she said. Plus, it “supports both the county- and state-level goal of improving housing affordability and providing an option for more people who rebuild after disasters.”

The Board of Supervisors agreed that Title 25 made sense and approved it unanimously.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda was an informational presentation updating the board on Proposition 64, given by Casey Hatcher, the county’s manager of economic and community development. In it, she broke down key areas as they relate to commercial cannabis, from how many commercial cultivation licenses have been granted throughout the state to which counties north of Sacramento have decided to allow cannabis-related businesses.

Some key flaws Hatcher acknowledged in her data were due to inconsistent record-keeping among the agencies that oversee licensing and permits as well as laws that vary wildly from one city or county to the next.

“One of the great benefits of Proposition 64 is that jurisdictions can personalize it,” she said, referring to the ability to allow commercial cultivation but not retail sales, for example, or manufacturing and testing but not deliveries. “But what has resulted is regulations that are all over the map.” It’s difficult, therefore, to simply follow another community’s lead.

There were a few unexpected takeaways, Hatcher said, from her research. For one, she’d expected that more jurisdictions would allow medicinal businesses than recreational. That is not the case, she said. “What we’re seeing throughout the state, by and large, is that jurisdictions [that allow some form of business] are allowing it for both medical and adult use.”

Throughout the state, 144 cities allow commercial cannabis. That includes Shasta Lake, Redding and Willows. And it soon could include Oroville, Hatcher said. “On June 19, they’re going to consider putting a tax measure on the ballot,” she said, “and then subsequently they’ll be looking at regulating [commercial cannabis] within the city.”

Broken down by business type, Hatcher said, there have been 570 storefront retail licenses granted within the state, 18 of them in the 530 area code. Additionally, there are 160 retail licenses without a storefront (i.e., delivery services) in the state and just two in the 530. There are 12 distributors licensed in our area code, but no testing facilities.

Lessons that have been learned from other communities tended to lean toward stricter regulations rather than looser ones, Hatcher explained. That has a dual effect of limiting the number of applications that might be submitted while making it easier for staff to determine who qualifies. She pointed to Calaveras County as an example: Upon choosing to regulate cannabis businesses, it received 740 applications from interested parties. It was simply overwhelming, and that county since decided to ban commercial cannabis as a result.

“Local regulations need to be really, really clear in the way that they’re applied,” Hatcher said, “because the groundswell of interest is there.”

Supervisor Doug Teeter concurred. Having attended a summit last month on cannabis and opioid use hosted by the county’s Public Health and Behavioral Health departments, he said the message he came away with was to proceed with caution.

“The theme of the conference was, ‘Don’t be an early adopter,’” he said. “Oroville is seemingly going to be that trial run. … I’ve always supported personal grows, but let’s not do what Calaveras County did.”

In other news: The board unanimously voted to sign a letter of support for Haven of Hope on Wheels, a nonprofit based in Southside Oroville aimed at providing a mobile shower and laundry facility for homeless people in the county, as well as access to social services. (For more, see “Driving hope,” Newslines, May 24.)