Published in the July 6 – 19, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Trina Hineser

Trina Hineser

Trina Hineser

As a resident and homeowner in San Martin, it has been disheartening to observe how our rural landscape has changed so drastically. In a neighborhood that once was lined with single-family dwellings, farmland, and orchards, now is found scattered with “investment properties” that are rented out with occupancy levels anywhere from 10 to 15 individuals, in some cases more.

Santa Clara County’s Department of Planning and Development is suppose to protect natural resources, ensure quality and sustainable community development and to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its constituents. This is supposed to happen through application and enforcement of the County Ordinance Code and Land Use Policies which are in place to protect our community.

How is it that we live in the largest county in the Bay Area, which encompasses 1,312 square miles, and there are only 2 ½ code enforcement officers responsible for enforcing compliance within the unincorporated area of Santa Clara County?

Recently, the Santa Clara County Planning Department updated and revised its regulations governing secondary dwellings.

For those zoning districts that allow residential uses, there are provisions specific to the rural and urban unincorporated areas and they vary based on lot size. The provisions are intended to allow for a specific, low-impact, form of housing within existing residential neighborhoods, consistent with state law and the directive of California Government Code Section 6852.2.

The Board of Supervisors adopted and approved the zoning ordinance revisions for Ordinance No. NS-1200.356 at its May 10 meeting. The new regulations are meant to streamline and facilitate the development of secondary dwellings, in partial fulfillment of the state-mandated housing element requirements.

The revisions are said to not substantially change the existing regulations, but instead facilitate development of new secondary dwellings.
A few of the changes include allowing detached secondary dwellings in rural zones on lots 1 to 2.5 acres, where currently only attached secondary dwellings were allowed, increasing the maximum allowable floor area of dwellings in rural zones from 640 square feet, to 800 square feet for lots 1 to 2.5 acres and other minor changes involving access requirements, proximity to primary dwelling standards, and parking-related provisions.

The county’s code enforcement officers are understaffed and unable to enforce the current large number of “illegal” secondary dwellings within our community. What is the county doing to address the plethora of violations? As we know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so if your neighborhood is plagued with violations, don’t wait for someone else to report it.

Contact the planning office at (408) 299-5770 for concerns regarding businesses, trailers, junkyards, secondary dwellings, signs, parking on lawns and vehicles on private property. Or contact the building inspection office at (408) 299-5700 for concerns regarding adding on, construction, building, converting, mobile homes, and people living in a garage or shed. You can also go online at to report neighborhood violations 24 hours a day.

A public presentation on the Code Enforcement Program is being held by Santa Clara County Code Enforcement at the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee (SMPAC) meeting at 7 p.m. June 22 at the South County Office Building, 80 W. Highland Ave., San Martin.

The San Martin Neighborhood Alliance’s mission is to protect San Martin’s rural atmosphere and support positive controlled growth, promote neighborhood identity and vitality and ensure an influential voice in the local governing body.

SMNA provides members with information so they can take an active, informed role in finding viable solutions to our neighborhood concerns. You can find out more about SMNA at or friend us on Facebook.

Stay informed by attending SMNA’s yearly general elections meeting. Look for our July meeting notice where you’ll get to hear staff members from the Santa Clara County Planning Department provide an overview of our county’s planning process.

Trina Hineser is the president of the San Martin Neighborhood Alliance. She wrote this column for Gilroy Life.