SANTA CRUZ – Changes to a new Santa Cruz County septic system ordinance have received the go-ahead from the Board of Supervisors, establishing a series of requirements that seek to bring the county into compliance with state and local regulations.
The amendments, approved unanimously from the consent agenda last week, state that sellers of homes with septic systems must have those systems professionally pumped and inspected prior to the sale. Additionally, the seller must provide the buyer a standard disclosure form detailing septic information, along with any active annual service agreement documents, according to a release from county staff.
The seller holds responsibility for any needed repairs, unless the buyer and seller agree to transfer those responsibilities to the buyer during the sales process. The new requirements will go into effect July 1 of next year.
“The changes approved Tuesday (Oct. 25) are intended to protect homebuyers and the environment by assuring septic systems are in good working order prior to any change in ownership or are sufficient to meet the needs of any home expansion remodels,” wrote county staff in the prepared statement.
In a presentation to the board earlier this month, staff from the county’s Environmental Health Department said there is a high number of aging onsite septic systems in the county, particularly in the San Lorenzo Valley. If these systems degrade or fail, they can contaminate local water sources.
Dozens of residents attending in person and remotely voiced concerns that the new point-of-sale requirements in the ordinance could slow down the sales process and increase costs for an already exceptionally expensive housing environment.
Environmental health staff said it was “too early” to make specific adjustments to the amendments, adding that a technical advisory committee would have the next seven months to fully consider community feedback and recommend adjustments before July 1.
Despite the discouragement, the board moved ahead with adding a direction to make a one-page standard septic pumping report the required point-of-sale document and converted a seven-page septic report into a disclosure form, in an effort to increase ease and efficiency.
According to the release, not all septic systems are subject to new onsite wastewater treatment system rules. The rules are triggered only in specific situations including the sale of a home, a system replacement or a major remodel or bedroom addition.
Most septic permits in the county are issued through local channels, thanks to a Local Area Management Plan that was approved by a regional authority in 2021. The plan ensures that onsite septic systems are in compliance with state law without navigating a state-level application process, which county officials say “reduces the layers of bureaucracy” for county homeowners.