Honorable Judge William L. Gordon
Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court
1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93121
Dear Judge Gordon,
As directed, I am responding to the 1995-96 Grand Jury's interim final report entitled Issues in Planning & Development.
Finding 1: The Board of Supervisors first directed the PDD to implement a streamlining program for permit processing and a one-stop permit counter in 1991. In their 1996 Strategic Plan, the Supervisors are still requesting improvement in the permit streamlining process.
Recommendation 1a: PDD should fully implement the directives for permit processing and the one stop counter from the Board of Supervisors.
P&D fully implemented all Board directives on permit processing within the suggested timelines and has implemented additional improvements each year. Numerous summaries of the progress on streamlining have been provided to the Jury. Permit processing is a "continuous improvement" proposition; it is to be expected that the Board of Supervisors, customers and staff are still seeking improvement.
In 1991, P&D, then RMD, recommended a one stop counter which was to include same site access for applicants to Building and Safety (then in the Public Works Department) and Zoning at all times with access to Fire and Environmental Health during certain times of the day. That goal was accomplished, as reported to the Board (and in the News-Press) in February 1992. After approximately one year, Fire and Environmental Health ceased to have set hours at the counter due to lack of business. For departments whose sign-off is not required on every permit, there is not enough permit volume to keep them busy at the counter. Permitting offices throughout the State have the same difficulty. We have visited several jurisdictions that have co-located departments and designed large public-friendly Counter spaces. Needed department representatives are available when customers are present, yet may do other work when there is no public demand since supervisors, files, computers etc., are on site. Physical constraints at Foster Road and the Engineering Building as well as budget constraints limit the County's ability to provide the state-of-the-art Counter operations.
Finding 3: Insufficient steps have been taken by PDD management to correct deficiencies in personnel matters such as:
(a) Qualifications for certain jobs are set too low;
(b) Work stations are empty as a result of a 9/80 work week, scheduling, or vacation absences;
(c) "Crossing over" occurs from one position to another for which the individual is not qualified.
Recommendation 3: PDD management should review employees practices to make appropriate adjustments to enforce established regulations.
Much of this section of the report appears to be directed at the Building & Safety Division. All P&D managers comply with all County employment regulations established by the County's adopted Civil Service Rules, Memoranda of Understanding with recognized employee representative unions and adopted County administrative policies. The Personnel Department sets job classification qualifications according to established professional guidelines. P&D does not ask the Personnel Department to update job descriptions unless the job has changed. Occasionally changes will be made if a recruitment is held. Half of the job classifications P&D uses have been updated in the last five years. State law (AB 717) now mandates training for Building Inspectors and Building Officials. P&D management will ensure compliance with this legislation.
The report states that employee titles often do not correspond with classifications listed on the P&D organizational chart. This is not correct: the organizational chart is part of the budget package and lists all authorized positions by their correct title. We believe the report refers to Building Inspectors doing minor plan check. These work assignments are within the job descriptions of the employees. It is common for Building and Safety operations to use journey level inspectors for the plan checking of smaller residential structures, and having a Plan Check Engineer field review a project is an excellent way to ensure implementation of details approved through plan check. Earthquake regulations make conventional wood frame inspections more complex and will lead to an increase of Plan Check Engineer field review.
The report also states that "building inspectors cross over from their licensed trade to inspect other trades in which they may not be qualified." It is an industry norm to have "combination" Building Inspectors trained to inspect electrical, plumbing, mechanical and structural for most projects. Since the 1960's Building and Safety operations have moved from using specialized inspectors toward using combination inspectors for most inspections. Specialized inspectors are used on large, complex projects or unusual equipment installations.
Finally the report refers to the department as having "many employees who work four day weeks" once every two weeks as a result of 9/80 schedules. It states that these employees "take Fridays off, leaving the department short-staffed." P&D has 15 permanent employees with 9/80 schedules who take one Friday per pay period off. Of those, 10 take the first Friday of every pay period off, and 5 take the second Friday off. Of those, only 4 are engaged in permit processing activities:
Building and Safety Division -- 0
Development Review Division -- 2
Zoning Administration Division -- 2 (neither works the counter)
Managers are responsible for ensuring that an adequate number of employees are available to provide services during vacations. Budget constraints do not allow for "floaters" to cover absences, though extra help and contractors on payroll are used to fill in for vacation and workload peaks in plan checking. Planners and building inspectors fill in to provide adequate coverage when counter-assigned employees are on vacation. This may result in slower case review or delays in inspections on occasion.
Finding 4: There is no single manager in PDD who is totally responsible for all permit functions.
Recommendation 4: The PDD Director should establish one central authority for the permitting process to assure clear lines of authority and decision making. This action should apply not only to performance within the department, but also to other departments which interface with PDD as part of the permit application process.
The finding is correct. P&D redesigned its discretionary permit process between 1991 and 1993. Projects requiring CEQA review are processed under a single manager (except for other department review) where before there were three. Discretionary projects which are exempt from CEQA are "fast -tracked" under another manager. While a single manager for all permit processing would clarify responsibility, it would come at some cost. There are good reasons for separate management of the permit process related to zoning and discretionary decision making and as related to building code conformity, including expertise and span-of-control. P&D has a "flat" organization without even an assistant director. Various tools have been employed to make the management of permit processing more cohesive, and they have achieved some success. More integration is possible and will be achieved.
Over-the-counter permit operations will be integrated into a single permit process for both zoning and building. The process we hope to have fully implemented by 1998 requires ordinance revisions, facility redesign, personnel actions and training. One of the difficult decisions we face is how much cross-training to provide counter permit personnel. The State and local regulations with which both building and zoning personnel must be familiar are voluminous and complex. No jurisdiction we have contacted has fully cross-trained personnel. While a single manager might be able to oversee P&D's ministerial permit functions, supervisors and line staff must remain specialists in order to ensure quality service. To enhance coordination between departments having regulatory responsibility, options other than reorganization, such as electronic application submittal and signoff, will be explored.
The Director of P&D does not have the authority to establish a central authority over other departments which have regulatory responsibilities in the permit process. Such an action would require a reorganization much like what the City of San Diego is undertaking. They have embarked on a 10 year, $13.2 million plan to carefully rethink and implement a new permit process which includes a new department to oversee the permit process and all other department personnel involved in permitting
We will report more fully on "best practices" in other jurisdictions during FY 1996-97, based on Board direction in Strategic Plan Goal IV, Action Item 1.
Finding 5: The implementation of the new computerized tracking system is expected to bring significant improvements to the permitting process.
Recommendation 5: PDD should prepare thorough and adequate training programs for all PDD staff who will be involved in the operation of the new computer system.
I agree with the finding.
The vendor from whom the County has purchased the Permit Tracking System is responsible for training 50 users on the system to P&D's satisfaction. The training will be completed before the employees use the new system. In addition, several P&D managers and employees who will be directly involved in installing the system will be responsible for ensuring that training and proper use continue.
Finding 6: Lack of adequate signage and integrated presentation of printed material impede communication with the public. By using a system for written communication, PDD would be able to serve customers better.
Recommendation 6: PDD management should design a communication system for the department including up-to-date signage, brochures, information documents, applications and other documents for the public.
I agree with the Grand Jury's finding and recommendation. The department will continue to prepare and update information and make it available to the public as budget and staffing allow. P&D's limited staff resources in this area have been concentrated on discretionary permit processing information. Our efforts will expand to improve existing and provide additional information to the public regarding the ministerial and over-the-counter permit processes and common regulations. One of the casualties of the recent budget-cutting has been keeping the Permit Process Analyst position filled. This position was created to provide just the sort of material recommended. It is a "Net County Cost" position which has been required to be kept vacant to meet budget goals for the last year. I will seek restoration of funding for this position in the 1996-97 budget.
P&D has considered signage a serious detriment to our ability to serve the public quickly and without frustration. We will ask the General Services Department to work with us and to address the sign issue in a comprehensive and professional manner.
Finding 7: Standard mitigation conditions of approval and mitigation conditions confuse the issues in proper planning, especially when environmental issues are involved. Each planner is able to elaborate or write his/her own measures, which may not meet the needs of the applicant.
Recommendation 7a: For clarity and improved understanding, P&D should divide the Mitigation Manual into two separate sections: "Standard Conditions" and "Mitigation Measures."
I disagree with the finding. The Standard Mitigation Measures and Conditions of Approval manual is an in-house source book which came out of earlier reform demands to standardize language of conditions on discretionary permits. The management and supervision of discretionary processing is designed to ensure proper application of standard conditions to particular cases. Nevertheless, P&D is following the Grand Jury's suggestion and reorganizing the document. It is important to note that with few exceptions, standard conditions may be used as mitigation measures. Our instructions to staff will be more thorough to explain the use of both. See Attachment A for a draft of the revised instructions and table of contents.
Recommendation 7b: Planners should consult with, and obtain approval from management before creating their own mitigation measures.
Mitigation measures are only applied to discretionary projects. It has always been P&D's practice to have all mitigation measures in CEQA documents and all recommended conditions of approval reviewed by a supervisor. This includes both the use of standard language measures and conditions to ensure nexus and applicability and to "custom" measures or conditions written to apply to a particular project, where standard language does not exist or does not apply. Management encourages staff to write conditions and measures that are appropriate to the project they are reviewing rather than use a standard measure which is not reasonable or appropriate for a particular project impact. Conditions enforce State and local regulations, and mitigation measures reduce environmental impacts, their purpose is not to meet the "needs of the applicant," though they must be practical. The document was always intended to provide language for common or already encountered situations, but never claimed to be a exclusive list of every conceivable measure or condition.
Recommendation 7c: PDD should consider the November 1995 recommendations of the Building Official to modify the mitigation measures.
A team has been assigned to review the Building Official's comments. Many will be incorporated into the next printing. The comments fell into three categories:
1. Timing of implementation: The Building Official is preparing a list of inspection milestones from which the staff planners will identify the appropriate signoff time for the condition or measure. "Occupancy" will remain the default "final" opportunity for compliance.
2. Who will monitor: The Building Official was not satisfied with the designation of a "P&D" monitor; he asked that the document reflect whether building inspectors or planning staff are responsible for monitoring, which will be done.
3. Redundancies. While some of the Building Official's identified redundancies will be removed, others will be moved to either the mitigation measure or the other department regulation sections of the document where it will be noted that these may be used as mitigation under appropriate circumstances. When they are so used, the planner must have the correct language for the project's environmental document and will explain why the condition is necessary. Some discretionary projects can be built five years (longer with time extensions) after discretionary approval. Conditions that are no longer needed because State regulations now mandate what previously they did not, will still appear on plans. This may be annoying, but it is of no actual consequence. For example: mitigation measures requiring low flow toilets and shower heads are frequently found in older tracts, although the State now requires the same, so the mitigation measure is unnecessary but harmless.
Finding 8: Citizen's complaints which allege problems with employees and operating functions within the PDD deserve attention, and often can point the way to improved public perception of the department's overall performance.
Recommendation 8: PDD management consideration of complaints should be prompt, fair, and consistent in terms of judgments, decisions, and corrective action.
I agree with both the finding and the recommendation. Various formal and informal mechanisms are in place to obtain information about problems and take corrective action. Department management encourages customers to contact them regarding problems, operating functions, and successes as well.
The report makes two additional recommendations which are directed at the Board of Supervisors but to which P&D will offer brief responses as well.
Recommendation 1b: The Board of Supervisors should continue to request quarterly reports from PDD quarterly.
P&D has been to the Board 3 times since 1992 not including annual fee schedule and budget presentations which also offer information regarding our streamlining progress. We would be pleased to continue to report to the Board of Supervisors. We suggest that the Board request semi-annual reports for two years beginning 6 months after the Permit Tracking System is on-line. If the Board would like more frequent information, they can ask for it at that time.
Recommendation 2: The Board of Supervisors should direct that a performance audit be conducted for all PDD divisions involved in permit processing approximately six months after the permit tracking system is installed.
If the County develops a standardized approach to performance auditing as a service to management using qualified personnel with adequate resources, P&D looks forward to the assistance.
 Employees who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including managers, supervisors and Planner III's are not included in this data.