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May 19, 2022

Supervisors tackle tobacco, pretrial services issues

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—In a busy but brisk Tuesday morning session, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved several items which could change the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax and the rules regarding the sale of flavored tobacco.

The board also heard the first reading of a new ordinance that governs how the County Sheriff’s Office procures and uses military equipment, as well as a first reading of a plan to reshape the county’s pretrial services department.

Transient Occupancy Tax

Collected from hotels and vacation rentals, this tax is a significant source of revenue for the county that among other things funds wildfire prevention and response, street repair and public health services.

The new changes, which the supervisors will consider for approval on April 12, would allow the county to place a lien on properties whose owners have not remitted tax payments within three years of an audit, and to collect attorneys fees associated with the actions.

Retail tobacco

The county in 2019 aligned with state law that bans the sale of flavored tobacco products, as a way to counter companies’ efforts to market their products to young people.

But the state continues to see increased use of tobacco products, particularly e-cigarettes, by young people who manage to circumnavigate the laws.

The draft ordinance would prohibit the spouse, domestic partner or business partner of a violator whose license to sell tobacco has been suspended from applying for a new one. It also specifies the causes for license suspensions and revocations and removes the deadline for hearings to be scheduled.

The rules would also increase the penalties for violations from a one-day suspension and $1,000 fine to a five-day suspension and a $5,000 fine for a first offense. 

Second violations would increase from $5,000 to $10,000 along with a 10-day suspension. 

The ordinance will return on April 12 for a second reading and approval.

Use of military equipment

Under Assembly Bill 481, which became law on Jan. 1, law enforcement agencies must get approval from their governing bodies before acquiring military equipment. 

Police departments must also create military equipment use policies to be approved by local leaders and posted on their website. To see the policy, click here and scroll to page 512.

The supervisors on Tuesday heard the first reading of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s policy, which outlines the military equipment the department has, and when deputies are authorized to use it. For a full report, visit bit.ly/3iu3uJQ.

The policy will return to the board for a second reading and approval on April 12.

New Pretrial Services department

The supervisors approved a plan to form a new Pretrial Services Division within the Probation Department—which will work hand-in-hand with Santa Cruz County Superior Court—and to fund two full-time Deputy Probation Officers and one full-time Division Director.

The change will include expanded hours and days.

Probation Chief Fernando Geraldo says the move will streamline pretrial services and help keep nonviolent offenders out of jail as they await trial. That’s important as lawmakers increasingly favor policies that lower jail populations.

Those efforts by the county have been successful, Gerardo says, reducing the number of people held in jail from 10,000 in 2016 to 7,200 last year.

But that, along with increased numbers of people kept out of custody thanks to the Covid-19 crisis, have led to a drastic increase of people that fall under the supervision of Pretrial Services.

According to Gerardo, cases went from 37 in 2013 to 193 in 2021.

“They have a big responsibility and do a lot of work keeping our community safe,” he said of his staff.

The expansion is made possible by a $494,797 infusion from Senate Bill 129, also known as the Budget Act of 2021, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July 2021. Among other things, that law provides funding for expanded pretrial services in all 58 counties.

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