July 6, 1999
Honorable Judge Frank J. Ochoa
Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court
1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93121
Subject: Response to 1998-99 Grand Jury Report on the Planning and Development Department
Dear Judge Ochoa:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the 1998-99 Grand Juryís Report entitled Planning and Development Department. Attached is the Planning and Development Departmentís response to that report.
xc: Gary Monson, Foreman, 1998-99 Grand Jury
Board of Supervisors
Planning and Development Department
RESPONSE TO 1998/99 GRAND JURY REPORT
PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT
Finding #1: Application approvals or denials are delayed or inconsistent because of a breakdown of the application review and permit process. This is the result of dysfunctionality in the P&D Department. Management allows too much distributed decision making with little or no accountability which leads to a lack of interdivisional cooperation.
Response to Finding #1:
Partially disagree. There are internal problems in Planning and Development (P&D), and they are discussed candidly below. Delays are documented by our own recurring performance measures. The inconsistencies alleged by the Grand Jury are unspecified.
While there have been delays, the department has processed an increasing number of applications since the end of the recession. For example, in fiscal year 1998/99, the department issued building permits having over $200 million in valuation, twice the annual amount five years earlier. Most of that valuation was preceded by review and approval of discretionary applications. P&D, even after the position increases approved by the Board in June, is the same size it was in 1990, while the population of the unincorporated area it serves has increased 7%.
Land use is the lifeblood of county politics. Citizen participation is high, many projects are controversial, and the review process will never run like a watch. P&D has struggled to keep up with a rising tide of applications in the face of increasing citizen concerns over the quality of development, traffic, and the other effects of growth. Criticism of the permitting system could just as legitimately be directed at its failures to protect the interests of the community as at the interests of applicants.
The department does not control all aspects of the permitting system. The department supports five hearing bodies that make decisions for the county. Several county departments and various independent special districts share responsibility for application review, conditioning, and implementation. Political changes in the Board of Supervisors result in changed priorities and expectations.
That said, the department is stepping up to the charge that there are internal problems that inhibit the kind of performance the public deserves.
Insufficient management oversight and interdivisional cooperation, and too much distributed decision making, contribute to but are not the primary cause of delays and inconsistencies in the application review process. For most discretionary and ministerial permits, P&D consistently applies policies and development standards, and either meets or comes close to complying with mandated timelines. However, for some projects, particularly the complex or controversial ones, the process is unpredictable and time consuming, and the final productówhat gets builtóis sometimes not consistent with community expectations. Major contributing factors include insufficient or inconsistent management oversight, lack of consistently maintained workload standards, inadequate responses to unresolved and emerging issues and insufficient planning for staffing and training. Although over the last year P&D has begun to make improvements in many of these areas, significant additional progress is required.
While the process functions satisfactorily for many projects, P&Dís management does not always provide clear, consistent and timely guidance to staff, moves slowly to resolve conflicts and sometimes fails to ensure adequate follow up. Some of these problems stem from communication lapses among managers, heavy workload pressure and a lack of clear consensus on how to resolve tensions within P&Dís overall mission as it relates to pending development. One source of tension, common to all planning departments, is the challenge to bridge the gap from general plan policies to their implementation in regulations such as zoning ordinances. Translation of policies to rules at times causes disagreements that appear as conflicts to outside viewers of the process, but is inherent in the job. To help address these issues, P&D management has undertaken leadership training facilitated by the countyís Director of Organizational Effectiveness. The management team has identified methods to improve communication, revise procedures for management oversight and operation, and improve both internal division management and inter-divisional interface. Management has also recently clarified divisional responsibilities for case processing, increased the authority of the New Case Review Committee to provide consistent policy application and established explicit procedures for resolving inter-divisional conflict. Additional improvements are warranted, particularly in inter-departmental coordination on policy development and permit processing.
Interdivisional cooperation can suffer as each divisionís separate responsibilities tend to focus staff inward rather than department-wide, hindering furtherance of the overall department mission. Better understanding of each others' roles and responsibilities and clearer management guidance will alleviate many of these problems, which exist at interdepartmental levels as well.
Inter-divisional meetings have been underway for six months to improve staffsí understanding of other divisionsí missions, workload and role in meeting P&Dís overall mission. Further meetings are planned, and additional internal procedures and policies are required to improve this situation. P&D also needs assistance from the County Administrator in clarifying the roles of the several departments involved in approving development proposals and continuing compliance with conditions. This need for role clarification also applies to actions necessary to implement approved community plans. There are unresolved tensions between P&Dís role in community development and the interests of other county departments who have differing priorities.
P&D disagrees with the reportís conclusion that the department allows too much distributed decision making with little or no accountability, and that this leads to a lack of interdivisional cooperation. The department believes that decision making should occur closest to the work whenever possible. However, P&D management has not ensured that this goal is always implemented correctly and efficiently. Good training, clear policies and increased oversight by management in resolving conflicts and ensuring accountability and adequate follow up is required.
P&D strongly disagrees with the reportís conclusion that planners purposely delay projects to manage their workload by needlessly subjecting projects to additional completeness review cycles. Such actions would be contrary to department policy and state law. Planners are precluded from asking for new information in second incompleteness letters that was not requested in the initial incomplete determination, unless the project has changed substantially. Disagreements between applicants and staff are primarily over responses to issues raised in initial incompleteness letters. Subsequent determinations of application incompleteness are appropriate and necessary if information requested in the first notification of incompleteness is not provided. Having complete and sufficiently defined projects is the linchpin to successful project management. Pursuant to State law, subsequent determinations of incompleteness are subject to appeal to the Planning Commission. To date, the department has dealt internally with challenges to incompleteness determinations through negotiation, and no formal appeals have been filed.
However, project timelines do suffer from insufficient staffing, inadequate workload management and incompletely defined workload standards. In response, 6.5 new permit processing positions have been included in the 1999/2000 fiscal year budget, and the department has clarified division roles in case processing. The department is developing workload standards for inclusion in the project management system to ensure that planners and inspectors can meet timeline goals without sacrificing quality of results.
Further improvements to management oversight, project management, case distribution, training and interdivisional coordination remain necessary to achieve the goals implied in the departmentís performance measures.
Unresolved and Emerging Issues
The lack of an integrated up-to-date general plan contributes to delays and inconsistencies that some projects experience. Some elements of the Comprehensive Plan were last adopted or updated in the late 1970ís. However, the county has updated community plans for the majority of the countyís unincorporated population. Recently adopted community plans (Orcutt, Los Alamos, Goleta, Montecito and Summerland) contain detailed policy guidance and have improved the certainty and timeliness of the permit process. Outdated plans are considered for funding by the Board during each budget cycle, with the Board providing direction on priorities consistent with current issues and available funding. While very helpful, new community or other plans alone do not remove the controversy and delays from the permit process. Long standing disagreements remain between different segments of the community over neighborhood character, resource protection, affordable housing, traffic congestion and a host of other issues. The department has participated in the Economic Community Project on the South Coast in the hope and expectation that some of these disagreements can be put aside in favor of a new approach to regional development and preservation. P&D needs to prepare a long-term plan for regular updating of all policy documents. This issue is discussed further in response to Recommendations 2 and 3.
P&D disagrees that Comprehensive Planning should not provide focused input into the permit process. This involvement becomes necessary when new issues emerge as specific development proposals are reviewed (e.g., loss of affordable units and new oversized residences within planned unit communities). The important point is that this involvement be early in the review process and lead to timely resolution of issues. Comprehensive Planningís primary role is to ensure that county plans are updated and maintained to reflect changing economic, environmental and social trends. In addition, the division assists in implementing the Comprehensive Plans, especially for new Community Plans, to ensure that policies are applied as envisioned by the Board of Supervisors. The division receives valuable feedback on policy effectiveness through participation in the development review process. Management recently clarified the Divisionís role for focused involvement in the process to ensure efficient use of staff resources and to avoid "late hits." Additional refinement of each Divisionís role in the permit process is warranted.
Staffing & Training
P&D disagrees that most new planning hires lack sufficient technical, interpersonal, writing and problem-solving skills. The department works with the Personnel Department to hire qualified planners through testing procedures and a rigorous interview process that measure technical, interpersonal and writing skills. Seventy-five percent of new hires successfully complete their probationary period. However, the volume of new hires necessitated due to turnover and department expansion has strained the departmentís training program and management and supervision capabilities.
P&D does lack a comprehensive department-wide training program for new staff on county regulations, technical analysis, workload management, project management and public service. More training would reduce inconsistent decisions, excessive reliance on supervising planners, and delays in the application review process; currently, planners are trained mostly "on the job." These issues are partially addressed through divisional training and use of the New Case Review Committee to ensure consistent application of policy. However, additional measures are required to improve training and supervision for new and existing P&D staff.
The report points out that the department lacks staff who are trained in efficient and economical agricultural land use and grading practices even though the county has a large rural area and agricultural economic base. The department recognizes the need for such a planner, and continues to actively recruit for such a person.
Recommendation #1: The director, in concert with the County Administrator, should identify those elements of the operation that are contributing to the degradation of the process and formulate an integrated plan for improved performance, even if it means reassignment or dismissal of personnel.
Response to Recommendation #1:
The recommendation has been partially implemented and will be more fully implemented in the future. P&D will improve management oversight and inter-divisional cooperation to increase efficiency of the permit process, expedite high priority and non-complex projects, ensure the consistent application of policy and increase management follow-up to resolve conflicts expeditiously. The departmentís goal is to provide high quality service to all customers, encourage well-designed development and protect the communityís health, safety and welfare by ensuring that new development is balanced with provision of adequate services and protection of the communityís character and resources. To achieve this, P&D management will:
This plan is described in more detail in the following pages. Many actions are underway and all will commence or be completed within the next 6 months. Taken together, these actions will allow management to provide clear guidance to staff on the departmentís mission, each divisionís place in supporting this mission and staffís role in providing an efficient and high- quality permit process. This should result in increased certainty in the permit process and in higher quality development.
The problem statements and action plans which follow are the work of the management team. The director and the deputy directors will be responsible for carrying them out. The director will evaluate the results with the County Administrator. If the results suggest the need for organizational changes or personnel actions at the management level, they will be discussed with the County Administrator and carried out.
The department will continue to undertake personnel actions as necessary to conduct the public's business, including reassignment and dismissal of personnel where warranted and consistent with the county's personnel rules.
A. Management Oversight
Management oversight of the full array and effect of departmental operations is inadequate in the following sense: it does not always provide sufficient guidance to staff to resolve permitting dilemmas, is sometimes slow to respond to conflicts and emerging issues, and sometimes fails to follow up on ensuring that policy direction is being followed. The departmentís divisions often operate as separate entities rather than as integral parts of the department, which can lead to inefficient, ineffective, and inconsistent decision-making. Tension exists between some divisions, due in part to the inherent differences in their missions. Division staff, especially new hires, do not have a sufficient grasp of each otherís missions or appreciate their mutual workloads.
1. The Management Team will Provide Clear Direction on Department Mission and Vision.
2. The Management Team will monitor Case Processing, Implementation of the General Plans, and Enforcement.
3. Improve Interdivisional Coordination.
A department which operates in a cohesive, efficient manner consistent with its mission and vision. Improved consistency of policy application and rapid resolution of conflicts. Reduced tension between the divisions.
B. Workload Management
Existing workload management problems include an inadequate case-sorting and assignment system, an insufficient project-management system and no clear, adopted workload standards. The existing case-sorting system does not direct staff resources to process county priority projects and straight-forward projects in a timely and orderly fashion. Staff resources are often consumed by highly complex projects which have no clear policy priority, to the detriment of the majority of non-complex projects and county priority projects. Some of these projects are clearly inconsistent with county policies and should be considered for summary denial by decision-makers in the early stages of case processing rather than consume scarce staff resources in the case-processing system. In addition, the existing project management system does not allow efficient oversight of projects in the permit pipeline, by management or staff. The lack of well-documented, objective workload standards sometimes adversely affects project timelines by allowing uneven distribution of work, and slow reaction to increases in workload, causing imbalances in staffing. There are occasional lapses in coordination with other county departments. Applicants report difficulties in clearing conditions of discretionary approvals through other departments and special districts. Project schedules are unclear or not established. Project managers are not fully empowered to obtain timely and complete participation by other team members in Planning and Development or other county departments.
1. Develop and Use Case-Sorting System.
The department will propose the following system to a committee of customers, and then seek Board of Supervisors endorsement. The revised case-sorting system would focus staff resources on county priority and non-complex projects, allowing more rapid processing for these types of projects. Projects with major policy inconsistencies or environmental issues would receive a lower priority. An interdivisional team from Development Review, Zoning Administration, and Comprehensive Planning Divisions would sort applications and identify important issues upon submittal. Following the sorting, high priority and complex cases would be assigned to planning teams to ensure continuity of staffing for both priority and complex projects. Non complex projects would go to individual planners with direction for simplified review.
The system would provide clear and timely direction for applicants, the public, and P&D staff on expected processing times and major project issues. The department would direct projects into one of the following three categories:
In order for projects to qualify for the first category, they would be required to participate in pre-application reviews. (This is the same criterion applied to Business Assistance Team projects.) Revisions to the pre-application review process are described in response to Recommendation 4 below.
Projects in the second category would be analyzed and presented to decision-makers in briefer staff reports with the expectation of brief hearings.
Projects in the third category that are clearly inconsistent with county policy would be forwarded to decision-makers for consideration of summary denial. The balance would receive thorough analysis and briefing to decision-makers with the expectation of longer and more detailed hearings.
2. Develop and Use Objective Workload Standards.
These new standards would equalize workloads, assist planners and inspectors in meeting timelines and improve planning for P&D staffing needs.
3. Integrate Planning and Development Project Management with County Project Tracking System.
The new system would establish clear lines of authority, standardize reporting procedures and significantly improve management and staff project tracking and reporting capabilities.
The new case-sorting system will improve timelines for priority and non-complex projects, and improve early issue identification for all projects. Planner teams will reduce the impact of staff turn over on orderly processing and improve interdivisional cooperation and cross training. The priority system will encourage developers to submit complete applications and projects with improved policy consistency. Workload standards will improve budget and staffing decisions, increase accountability and communicate managementís commitment to keep work within reasonable bounds, reduce stress and improve morale. Project management will improve allocation of staff resources, increase accountability, improve both internal P&D and interdepartmental coordination and provide uniform quality permit-tracking data.
C. Outdated Planning Documents
Elements of the Comprehensive Plan, the zoning ordinance and various P&D manuals are outdated. Although the Board considers funding of Comprehensive Plan updates as part of each budget, the department does not have an overall plan showing the status of all of these documents and an overall approach to needed updates.
1. Form P&D project team to review the status and adequacy of all existing Comprehensive Plan Elements, the zoning ordinance and departmental guidelines and procedures (e.g., thresholds manual). Identify date last reviewed or adopted and issues in need of update, including a list of priorities for management review and consideration for recommendation for funding during annual budget cycles.
2. If the Board of Supervisors elects, in response to finding #2, to initiate a structural revision of the general plan, develop a work plan and budget for a multi-year comprehensive re-write in lieu of serial revisions of the existing elements and community plans.
3. The management team will direct the creation or revision of documents which serve to interpret and apply Board-adopted policy, including CEQA thresholds and guidelines, indices of County Counsel opinions and determinations by the Planning Commission, and policy compendium.
4. The Permit Processing Analyst will coordinate updating administrative documents which support case processing where needed, including:
A clearly defined long-term plan for maintenance and update of the primary documents central to an efficient permit process and protection of community values.
D. Emerging Issues
The department reacts slowly to emerging issues. As a result, project permit timelines are delayed, uncertainty in the permit processed is increased and the process may not result in high quality development.
1. As part of the annual County Environmental Scan process, identify emerging policy, planning and environmental issues for inclusion in P&Dís portion of the Scan to allow for consideration by management and potential funding in the following fiscal years budget.
2. P&D supervisors, the New Case Review Committee, and the Subdivision and Development Review Committee will be tasked with quickly identifying newly emerging policy, planning and environmental issues and forwarding such information to management for timely response to these issues.
3. Issues which cannot be satisfactorily addressed and resolved under existing adopted policy and budget will be reported to the County Administrator with options and a recommendation for resolution by the Board of Supervisors.
These actions will permit P&D to address in a timely manner important emerging issues that impact the public health, safety and welfare. These actions will also promote an active and consistent response to such issues for projects in the permit-review process and avoid protracted tensions that cause disruptions within the department, with applicants or the public, or with other county departments.
E. Interdepartmental Coordination
The county has lacked clear lines of authority or a true "project management" structure to manage interdepartmental coordination in the permit application and community plan implementation processes. This has led to delays, confusion and sometimes conflicting direction for private development and community plan implementation projects. While the County Administrator has created a county-wide project management structure, P&D and other departments need to work together to use it for identifying and solving interdepartmental issues which complicate permit processing, carrying out conditions of approval, and building the infrastructure necessary to implement adopted plans.
1. P&D should work with Public Works, Fire, Environmental Health, and other departments as needed, to use the Project Reporting System as a vehicle for overseeing and improving interdepartmental coordination of permit review, conditioning, construction, and field compliance. Periodic project review meetings with the County Administrator will be used to discuss emerging issues and resolve conflicts over substance or priorities.
2. P&D and the County Administrator will convene, within 60 days, a meeting with affected departments to establish how interdepartmental project management will work for permit processing, and the expectations project managers may place on other members of a project team.
3. The County Administrator, in coordination with P&D, Public Works, other line departments and the Capital Improvement Committee, should review and identify major outstanding community plan implementation projects and appoint project teams as required to provide for timely and orderly implementation.
A more predictable, consistent and efficient process for the processing of permit applications and the implementation of community plans.
F. Staff Training
P&D lacks a comprehensive, department-wide program to provide new staff with training in technical analysis, workload and project management, and public service. Most training occurs within each division as "on the job." The training programís inadequacy, compounded by high turnover, increases inter-divisional coordination problems and contributes to workload stress and morale problems.
1. The Department has Secured $150,000 for a One-Year Comprehensive Training Program for Newly Hired Staff to Improve:
Staff will be surveyed in one year to evaluate results.
2. The Department will Formalize and Expand our Existing Training Program.
Training and retention of high-quality staff to increase permit-process efficiency, reduce errors and policy misinterpretations, increase coordination and cooperation between divisions and produce high-quality development projects. Success will be measured by the retention of experienced highly qualified staff, meeting recurring performance measures and meeting timeline and cost goals.
G. Staff Morale
Staff morale in the department has been suffering due to a number of factors: workload, lower salaries than in neighboring jurisdictions, working conditions, and management consistency. Poor staff morale has resulted in high turnover that has contributed to prolonged permit processing timelines and quality of the result of the permit process.
Attraction and retention of high quality staff.
Finding #2: Departmental policies, particularly in the area of land use, and procedures are outdated and ambiguous. They do not serve as adequate references for departmental operations and are applied inconsistently with little predictability across the department. By broadly interpreting existing policies, planners create de facto policies.
Response to Finding #2:
Partially disagree. If by "departmental policies, particularly in the area of land use," the Grand Jury means the General Plan and zoning ordinances, the department agrees that some are outdated and ambiguous, but believes others are reasonably current and clear. The county has dealt with the diversity of the communities and rural areas and with restricted local discretionary revenues available for planning by updating its General Plan one community at a time. These community plans deal with land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and other "functional" elements of the general plan within each of those communities. While tune-ups are needed, the Goleta, Orcutt, Montecito, Summerland and Los Alamos Community plans are reasonably current and clear expressions of development policy adopted over the last decade. Approximately 60% of the population of the unincorporated area lives within these areas. Updates are needed in the Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Carpinteria valleys, as well as the rural areas. Updates are also needed for the functional elements outside the community plan areasóparticularly for Open Space, Conservation and Seismic Safety and Safety Elements, along with areas of the Local Coastal Plan (i.e., Gaviota).
It is fair to say that the community-by-community approach has obscured broader policy questions of regional growth and conservation and resulted in a lot of complexity and detail in the plan documents. There is an alternative: returning the land-use element to a broad statement of policy accompanied by a countywide map showing intended ultimate uses, enriching the zoning ordinances with development and protection standards applicable to various categories of land uses, and adopting additional regulations to govern standard conditions and how decisions will be made on conditionally permitted uses, development on substandard-sized lots, and other matters falling outside the pattern of ordinary development of urban areas and conservation of agricultural and open space areas. The objective of such a structural revision of the regulatory machinery would be to make it easier to understand, easier to revise, and clearer to administer through permit processing; it would not be to change the substance of its vision for growth and development or standards of community protection.
To accomplish this transition would require a major effort by both the staff and decision makers over a period of years, but has the potential to result in documents which are easier to understand, enabling property owners, citizens and the staff to better predict the outcome of applications for entitlements, and the costs of complying with conditions and exactions. A decision to undertake a structural revision would lie with the Board of Supervisors. If the decision were to initiate such a change, the department would develop a proposal for how to carry it out (see response 1.C.2 above).
There are areas of existing policy which are unclear. The grading ordinance is unclear as to what resources must be protected as agriculture expands and intensifies. The zoning ordinance implies to some that all rural parcels may be subdivided to the minimum parcel size (typically 100 acres), even though to do so would frequently result in parcels which were no longer of sufficient size to support long-term production agriculture, which is the goal of the agricultural element of the general plan. These are instances of ambiguous policy (although not atypical among California counties).
Recommendation #2a: The Board of Supervisors should review and formally adopt an updated version of the Environmental Thresholds and Guidelines Manual to provide clear, predictable guidelines to the public.
Response to Recommendation #2a:
The recommendation has been implemented. The Board of Supervisors reviewed and adopted the referenced document in 1994. While some features could be improved and updated, the manual is actually more specific than the guidance documents typically used by California local governments in administering the California Environmental Quality Act. The recommendation is unlikely to achieve the outcome the Grand Jury seeks in addressing Finding #2. CEQA is an informational tool. Previous Grand Jury reviews have been critical of dependence on the environmental review process as a source of policy direction. Policies to guide land use decision making should come from the general plan through the zoning ordinance to more specific development standards and procedures for addressing the recurring issues of density, traffic, habitat protection, etc. which are the grist of land use planning. Using a CEQA document to supply guidance will not resolve the problems the Grand Jury finds. We believe Recommendation #2b is more to the point.
Recommendation #2b: The Board of Supervisors, together with the department, should update all land use policies and ordinances, include EIRs with community plans and implement a regular schedule for review and revision.
Response to Recommendation #2b:
The recommendation has been implemented in part. It will continue to be implemented in the future through a cycle of reviews and revisions. Some of those revisions will begin in FY 199-2000.
The catalogue of "all land use policies and ordinances" is long. We have noted the status of the community plans in response to Finding #2. The budget approved by the Board provides additional funds for initiating the Santa Ynez Community Plan. In addition, the budget provides for tuning up the Goleta Community Plan by rezoning some industrial properties for affordable housing and for a variety of other policy and ordinance updates catalogued in the budget memo attached as Appendix A.
With respect to the recommendation to include EIRs with community plans, this has been the countyís practice for all the community plan updates. Coupled with changes to CEQA made by the legislature in 1993, these EIRs streamline permitting by allowing project review to be "tiered" on the foundation of analysis of regional issues in the plan EIRs.
A regular schedule for community plan revisions has been elusive. On the one hand, the legislature mandates that the General Plan should be periodically reviewed and revised (GC 65103); on the other, the legislature has taken away 60 million dollars of property tax revenues to the county since 1992. Property taxes are among the few truly discretionary revenues available for programs like comprehensive planning. The Board is providing $1.4 million in general fund support for comprehensive planning in FY 1999-2000. Together with grant revenues, this allows for regular progress in updating and revising policies, but does not allow for meeting the standard suggested by the Grand Jury in Recommendation #3a that all policies and the community plans should be continuously updated. Aside from the budgetary and technical requirements, citizens expect to participate in all these reviews and revisions, which means they take some time to accomplish. We believe the county's program of serial reviews strikes a reasonable balance between the need to update policies and the countyís fiscal constraints.
Planning and Development will undertake a comprehensive review of the General Plan and recommend priorities for future updates, as outlined in response to Recommendation #1 on page 10 above.
Finding #3: Appeals by the public result from the lack of clearly articulated policies regarding land use and environmental thresholds. Outdated community plans offer planners excessive latitude in issuing findings on projects and attaching mitigating conditions to those projects. This leads to inconsistent treatment of projects by planning staff and creates multiple appeals. The Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission spend excessive time hearing appeals that could be resolved through alternative processes.
Response to Finding #3:
Partially disagree. Planning and Development disagrees with the first three sentences, but agrees that the time spent in appeal hearings is sometimes long, and that some of those appeals could be resolved through alternative processes.
In fact, there are relatively few appeals, and they are mostly by parties who don't like the decision being appealed, not because of unclear policies or staff latitude.
There were thirteen decisions of the Planning Commission appealed to the Board of Supervisors in calendar year 1998. During this year the Commission made one hundred discretionary, appealable decisions. There were six appeals to the Commission from decisions made by the department during a one-year period from May 1998 to May 1999. The department issued over 1,600 ministerial, appealable permits during this period. Appeals of the Commissionís decisions are addressed in part A below and the appeals to the Commission are discussed in Part B.
A. Appeals to the Board of Supervisors
Reasons for appeals:
The Board of Supervisorsí actions on the appeals:
Of the thirteen appeals, the majority were based on neighborhood compatibility issues. However, four were directly or indirectly related to ordinances and/or policies. These four are summarized here to test the contention by the Jury that they "illustrate the lack of clearly articulated policies or environmental thresholds."
B. Appeals to the Planning Commission
Appeals heard by the Commission are on P&Dís decisions on ministerial permits. Out of over 1,600 ministerial permits issued by P&D, there were six appeals of this kind heard by the Commission from May 1998 to May 1999, which are summarized as follows:
A synopsis of the individual appeals summarized above is attached as Appendix A\B.
A comment should be made concerning the Environmental Thresholds. The Grand Jury states that some of the appeals heard by the Planning Commission are based on lack of clearly articulated environmental thresholds. P&D disagrees with this finding. The county has been commended on the production and use of the Thresholds document by the American Planning Association (Award of Merit), and the California Resources Agency. The latter has requested that the Thresholds document be placed on its web page as an example to state agencies, counties and cities who do not have such a document. The California Resources Agency, the APA and others have commended the county for producing and using the Thresholds because they give more guidance than the statute and state guidelines alone, thereby reducing uncertainty.
P&D agrees that the thresholds should be updated from time to time. A decision by the Board of Supervisors in 1993 that the Board itself should adopt thresholds was, in P&D's view, a mistake. The Board should not be placed in the role of passing on the technical questions which arise in administering CEQA, which is intended by the statute to be an informational process. The Grand Jury assumes that CEQA thresholds are policy statements. Where the county has elected to use CEQA thresholds as criteria for consistency with the General Plan, they have been, and should continue to be, adopted by the Board. In P&D's view, revisions to the thresholds themselves and their documentation should not require Board action, but should be restored as part of the Development Review Divisions' work program for regular updates necessitated by changing information about the environment, in response to case law, and for improved clarity.
Recommendation #3a: The director together with the Planning Commission should ensure that all policies and procedures reflect current application of land use policies and the comprehensive and community plans are continuously updated to provide a tight framework for each community.
Response to Recommendation #3a:
The recommendation will not be implemented as stated because it is unreasonable. The recommendation has been implemented, and will continue to be implemented, but at a lower standard than "continuously updated."
The Board has already directed that the grading ordinance be replaced by new zoning ordinance standards for purposes of regulating agricultural expansion and intensification in limited instances where substantial resources would be affected. The budget adopted by the Board for P&D in 1999-2000 includes work on policy amendments and development standards to clarify policy for subdivisions and lot line adjustments on agricultural land. While creating the potential to resolve permit process conflicts, these programs will also surface major comment and conflicts over such unresolved issues.
While some of the countyís land use policies are unclear, the decision process includes checks and balances to ensure that interpretation remains in the hands of politically accountable bodiesóthe Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Policies are the basis for staff recommendations on discretionary cases, but decisions are made by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors directly or upon appeal. Staff decisions on ministerial cases are also subject to appeal, offering both applicants and appellants the opportunity to remedy instances in which they believe the department has misapplied policies.
In addition to policies in the general plan and zoning ordinances, there is a need for interpretive guidance documents. The department maintains an indexed catalogue of staff reports as examples of how issues are dealt with, on a recent basis. P&D also keeps a log of County Counsel communications to provide a historical background for a myriad of topics in zoning, subdivision, comprehensive planning and environmental regulations. In addition the department is producing a permit procedures and processing manual. The latter will act as a training and case processing tool. Further detail is provided in response to Recommendation #1.
That said, it is fair to say that consistent application of policies throughout our caseload remains a challenge. The diversity of the community is one factor. What is viewed as important in Montecito is not viewed the same way in Orcutt. Tension arises among policies: e.g., "provide affordable housing" in the Housing Element of the General Plan, and "ensure that projects are compatible with the surrounding area and the neighborhood"--a finding required for approval in the zoning ordinances. The conflict causes tension over density and requires detailed site-specific evaluations. The goal of removing all ambiguity from land use policy is not a reasonable expectation. Our goal should be to resolve the commonly encountered policy questions: e.g., impact fee relief for affordable housing, allowable protective structures for managing coastal bluff erosion, and buffers for new agricultural development adjacent to wetlands. Some policy tensions are inherent in land-use planning and permitting, and are subject to politically-accountable decision making. If the legislature had intended land-use policies to be perfectly clear, it would have provided for a ministerial rather than a discretionary process, as in the case of air pollution control and hazardous materials regulation. Land-use planning, for good and ill, remains an art to be carried out under broad policies, through a public process which will always be partly unpredictable. P&D's job is to fairly apply those policies that are clear, help decision-makers to reduce the areas of uncertainty, and assist decision makers in resolving the remaining questions efficiently on a case-by-case basis.
Recommendation #3b: The director should exercise more leadership of the deputy directors to ensure that departmental policies are being implemented as intended.
Response to Recommendation #3b:
The recommendation has been implemented and will continue to be implemented.
The director has and will continue to communicate to the deputy directors his direction on how the department should function to carry out the policies of the Board of Supervisors, and how the effect of the department's work should play out in the field.
The management team, consisting of director and six deputies, manage the personnel, budget, policy and administrative affairs of the department, as well as participate directly with decision makers, applicants, and the public, and perform the functions described in Response 1.
The director's challenge is to attend to the functions that are uniquely his without becoming embroiled in all the interesting and important issues that regularly arise in profusion. The director cannot respond personally to all requests for his personal intervention, but must respond to situations which affect or determine the department's overall direction, and ensure that each part of the organization is performing its proper role. The deputies play the key role in directing the day-to-day affairs of their divisions. The director should be able to rely on the deputies to do this without his extensive "hands on" participation in project management.
This recommendation is made in the context of dealing with alleged problems which result in appeals by the public. The department's position is that since few appeals are made and even fewer granted, and that most of those which are granted are based on changes in the project, the appellate record doesn't suggest a need for additional executive direction. There are other issues calling for more leadership, and they are discussed in response to Recommendation 1.
Recommendation #3c: Deputy directors should clearly define division processes to ensure that consistent findings and mitigations are presented that actually reflect the policies of the department.
Response to Recommendation #3c:
The recommendation has been implemented and will continue to be implemented.
A clear set of procedures is being developed to ensure consistent application of policies, mitigation measures and conditions both within divisions and between divisions. While P&D maintains a standard conditions and mitigation manual, and provides for review of such measures by the New Case Review Committee, such measures are insufficient.
To improve the consistency of the application of mitigation measures and policies, P&D will:
These actions will improve the consistency of application of both mitigation measures and conditions of approval and provide for more direct involvement of both supervisors and management in the application and monitoring of such measures for major issues.
Recommendation #3d: The Planning Commission should adopt a mediation or mandatory arbitration requirement as part of the application appeals process.
Response to Recommendation #3d:
The recommendation will be implemented only if the Planning Commission elects to do so.
P&D raised with the Planning Commission the concept of a voluntary facilitation process for third-party appeals of departmental permit decisions which go to the Commission for decision (and may then be appealed further to the Board of Supervisors ).
This facilitation process would have been similar to the existing process for appeals from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors and intended to offer an informal method of resolving conflicts or narrowing issues for hearing. The Commission felt that such a process would not be helpful. The Commission has responded to this recommendation directly as an affected agency.
The department does not, in any case, support the alternative recommendation for mandatory arbitration because it is unreasonable. If informal and voluntary facilitation is unsuccessful in satisfying an appellant and applicant, that appellant should have access to a politically-accountable hearing body to review staff decisions. The Planning Commission is accustomed to making determinations on neighborhood compatibility as well as ordinance interpretation. Delegating this responsibility to some other body would introduce a new potential source of inconsistency in decision-making.
Finding #4: The current pre-application process does not add value to the application review process. It is perceived to cause unnecessary delay and increased cost for the applicant and increased work for the department without generating adequate revenue.
Response to Finding #4:
Partially disagree. The pre-application process adds value to the application review process as follows:
Approximately one hundred eighty pre-application reviews have been conducted from the beginning of the process in 1992. The majority of the applicants who have participated in the reviews have stated that the meetings have been beneficial. However, issues critical to the process are periodically raised that need attention. These include the level of experience of the planners involved in the pre-apps, the amount of research done by staff prior to the meetings, and the quality of the applicant submittals. Pre-application information presented by prospective applicants ranges from outstandingly complete to skimpy, vague and ambiguous. Pre-application reviews are rewarding commensurate to the time and effort invested by the participants.
The process does take time. Staff is directed to schedule a meeting within two to three weeks of the request for a pre-application review. During times of heavy caseload this guideline is not met. This should be improved.
"Increased costs for the applicant" is not defined in the Juryís report. It could be based on the fact that staff sometimes advises that certain reports, such as traffic, archaeological, or biological evaluations, should accompany the formal application, in order to reduce future processing time and cost if the county were required to prepare the reports at applicant expense after the application is filed. Reports of this kind are sometimes expensive. The benefit to applicants is that they may deal with issues at their own pace and select their contractors from a county-approved list under their own terms, as long as the methodologies used meet adopted county standards. It also reduces processing time subsequent to the formal application.
The observation that pre-application conference revenues are insufficient to cover costs is correct. Pre-application reviews should generate adequate revenues.
Recommendation #4: The director should develop a pre-application process that is beneficial to the applicant and reduces departmental processing time in the long term at a cost that is equitable for both the department and the applicant.
Response to Recommendation #4:
The recommendation has been implemented and will continue to be improved. The departmentís position is that the pre-application process helps achieve the desired effects most of the time. Some changes need to be made to the present process. Several of these have been pointed out by the Grand Jury. The proposed changes include the following:
In connection with the three-part case assignment strategy outlined in response to recommendation #1, the department will restructure how it applies pre-application fees in response to this recommendation. Cases of the first type will be assessed a fixed fee of either $965 or $1560, depending on project size and complexity. Pre-application conferences will be mandatory. Cases of the second type will not require pre-application conferences. Where the applicant elects to have a pre-application conference, the lower fixed fee of $965 will be charged.
For cases of the third type, the "planner consultation" fee will be used. This fee is not fixed, but is based on the approved hourly rate for hours spent. The fee approach will be implemented concurrent with the case sorting system; the other improvements will be implemented within six months.
Finding #5: Inadequate and poorly trained staff and employee turnover, particularly in the Development Review Division, has created a large backlog of unprocessed project applications.
Response to Finding #5:
Partially disagree. P&D acknowledges that employee turnover has impacted the level of training that new staff has received. Additionally, the departmentís training program is informal and largely dependent on the division where the employee works. The report correctly states that the supervisors responsible for training in the Development Review division have all been appointed within the last year. The turnover of staff and supervisors has reduced the departmentís ability to adequately train new staff. These factors have contributed to backlog of applications; however, the high number of new applications and prior approvals requesting land use clearance also contribute to backlog. Recurring performance measures indicate that discretionary permit applications are up 50% this year over projections.
Training is a high priority in the department, as demonstrated by our request and the Board of Supervisors approval of $120,000 for the 1999-2000 fiscal year budget to offset revenue while staff is engaged in training and not processing applications and $30,000 for training costs. The department is also actively pursuing recruitment and compensation changes to stem the high turnover the department has experienced. Several actions have already been taken to address the departmentís turnover issues. The Personnel Department has increased recruitment frequency for planning positions in the department. Recruiting on a regular basis will allow vacancies to be filled more quickly. Employees have indicated salary as their reason for leaving the department more than any other over the last three years. Since January of this year five employees have left the department for more money, of which three went to neighboring jurisdictions. County wages for planning and building positions are well below neighboring jurisdictionsí salaries. Low salaries paid by the county reduces the number of qualified applicants that apply for positions, especially at senior levels. The County Administrator has supported a P&D proposal for Personnel to conduct a salary study for planning and building inspection classes. This study will commence in July.
Recommendation #5: The director should develop a comprehensive three-part training program that targets skill sets for appropriate tasks. It should include, but not be limited to:
Response to Recommendation #5:
The recommendation will be implemented. The department recognizes the need to expand and formalize our training program. To accomplish this, the department will expand existing training topics for all staff, update prototype documents and reference materials, and conduct comprehensive training for recently hired staff. Training for newly hired staff will be structured to develop a broad knowledge of the planning and permit process. The training program will be managed through the Administration Division with all other P&D divisions providing input and experienced staff to lead technical sessions. Training through the Employee University and outside sources will be part of the program.
To apply training resources effectively the department will review training needs throughout the department. The department will establish a baseline of job knowledge through a survey of staff, managers, decision-makers, applicants and the public. Knowledge will be evaluated in several areas:
The survey will be tailored to job type (e.g., counter technicians, permit processing planners, long-range planners, and inspectors) and focus on skills needed for that job type. Priority will be given to areas where lack of training has been identified as degrading project results, increasing processing time or costs.
Based on the results of the survey, training goals will be established for each job type. Alternative years, the management team will review the status of the training program quality, including measures of the effectiveness of the program in improving departmental performance.
The following is a tentative schedule for the training program:
Attached as Appendix C is an outline of the training program and a sample survey form.
Finding #6: An adversarial climate exists between the development and agricultural communities and the planning department.
Response to Finding #6:
Partially disagree. Planning and Development believes that the adversarial climate that existed in the past with the development community is now confined to a very small number of developers. Planning and Development agrees that, at the current time, an adversarial climate exists with a large part of the agricultural community.
Substantial progress was made in the mid-nineties when a number of permit processes were re-engineered in collaboration with the development community. These efforts have been recognized by business and construction groups. The department works effectively with applicants who have chosen to propose projects which fully comply with the county's general plan, zoning ordinances and other regulations. Planner consultations and more formal pre-application conferences are available for assisting applicants to achieve these results. Some owners and agents elect to submit applications which don't fully follow this advice, or on properties which have serious constraints for development. They may perceive the review process as adversarial. The department has also been charged with the opposite claim by neighborhood groups: that it works too closely with developers. The department strives for a professional relationship with developers which will produce the best project for each site. By and large, we believe this has been achieved.
Relations between the department and the agricultural community have been strained, most recently and severely by the grading ordinance enforcement issue. We note that the Grand Jury makes no recommendation on how to resolve this adversarial climate. The department is eager to cooperate on alternative ways of dealing with conflicts between the prerogatives of agriculture and the expectations of the broader community for how the uses of agricultural land should be regulated. For a time, it appeared the oaks collaborative process could have been a model, but in the end no agreement was reached on how oak tree removals should be treated.
P&D created an agricultural project response team which includes an experienced grading inspector and planner. The purpose of the team is to give advice to agriculturists about expansions of their operations, creations of new vineyards, etc. We have had several consultations resulting in permit exemptions for expansions and new vineyards, as well as advising on the proper permits to install agricultural reservoirs and vineyards.
The department has offered to consult with all agriculturalists contemplating expansion of vineyards, crops, orchards, etc., into areas that have not been cultivated, or have been left fallow for an extended period of time. These consultations are for the purpose of identifying any resources which might fall under the "significant impact" exception in the grading ordinance.
P&D has recently met with other agencies including the Agricultural Commissioner, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Cachuma Resource Conservation District, the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, and vineyard owners, to clarify County permit requirements and their relationship to the requirements of the California Fish and Game Department and the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Most recently, this consultation has resulted in coordinated agreements to issue permits for two major vineyard projects totaling over one thousand acres in the Los Alamos Valley.
It would be helpful if a new convenor of some process to reduce conflicts between agriculturalists and urbanites would step forward, possibly from outside the community. In the meantime, P&D will follow the policy direction it has received from the Board in reviewing agricultural grading on a case-by-case basis while developing new proposals to limit and clarify regulations and continuing to support voluntary and incentive programs to protect oaks and other resources. Recent programs to assist agriculture include the Residential Agricultural Unit ordinance and Farmland Security Zones.
Recommendation #6a: The director should eliminate the confusion in the application and review processes and streamline both processes for efficiency. The application/approval process should be fully explained at the initial contact with an applicant. Informational materials (especially on the web site) should be more detailed and an outside agent should undertake a re-engineering of the application/approval cycle.
Response to Recommendation #6a:
The recommendation will be implemented.
The recommendations in the first two sentences have been implemented, but additional improvements can be made. The proposals in repsonse to Recommendation #1 for sorting cases, better pre-application conferences, providing detailed time schedules and cost estimates for discretionary case processing and more training will all contribute to reducing confusion and promoting efficiency.
The recommendation to provide more detailed informational materials, especially on the web site, will be implemented over the next year.
The recommendation to have an outside agent undertake a re-engineering of the application/ approval cycle will be implemented in one of two ways depending on Board of Supervisors direction in response to Finding 2. If the Board elects to initiate a structural revision of the regulatory documents, re-engineering of permit processing will only be timely when the revision has been accomplished. If the Board elects not to initiate a structural revision at this time, the department will continue to seek out opportunities for incremental changes which improve efficiency and clarity without sacrificing quality.
In either case, assistance by persons outside the department with expertise in process analysis and design would be beneficial. There are opportunities for process re-engineering in P&D, but they have to be made in the full knowledge of state law, which prescribes much of it, and local ordinances, which can be changed, but which include policy considerations. Barring a comprehensive overhaul, the most productive approach is to focus on features of the application, review, approval, revision, condition compliance, plan check, construction and inspection cycle which generate confusion, variable outcomes, and re-work. The people best able to spot the problems are the customers and the staff. Process control expertise from other county departments or consultants could be useful in designing solutions.
The director will discuss some of these opportunities with the committee of customers which will be convened in the next 60 days to review the case sorting proposal, and solicit assistance of the County Administrator in gaining process control expertise.
Recommendation #6b: The director should initiate a dialogue with the development community that results in practical actions and a more collaborative process. This could include opportunities for the private sector to provide seminars for planners on issues that drive project designs.
Response to Recommendation #6b:
The recommendation is being implemented, and there will be additional actions over the next sixty days. The department's position is that a collaborative approach already exists with most of the development community. The department's policy is that permit processing should be efficient, courteous, and fair; but that it should result in sound decisions, whether for approval or denial, and that approvals should result in quality development.
In order to assist the department in carrying out its policy, the director will request that the group convened in partial response to Recommendation 1 suggest areas of training need and opportunity, including the suggestion that the development community participate in providing training on the feasibility and consequences of mitigation measures and design changes.
Among the topics in which training by members of the development community would be useful for the department are timelines and project financing, affordable housing lending standards, and landscape design. Training in agricultural issues would also be useful, including vineyard installation and greenhouse operations.
Finding #7: Fees are charged to applicants for project review and permitting with no ceiling for the amount to be charged, no requirement on the part of the P&D Department for timeliness and no detailed explanation of the charges.
Response to Finding #7:
Partially disagree. Of the existing 109 permit types administered by the Zoning Administration and Development Review Divisions, 62 (57 percent) are a fixed-fee application where the applicant pays one fee determined by the Board-adopted fee schedule. Sixty-seven percent of departmental revenue (excluding oil and gas) for the 98-99 fiscal year was from fixed fees.
For discretionary cases processed under reimbursement agreement and charged at the hourly rate (presently $83), the department has adopted several recurring performance measures:
Some project applications have unusual circumstances involving environmental resources and design characteristics relating policy, zoning, or subdivision codes, that cause them to require extended processing times for plan revisions and/or environmental impact reports. Some projects are just plain controversial, and draw so much public participation that timelines slip. The department provides applicants with estimates of the processing timelines for projects following the CEQA Initial Study. At this application processing juncture site-specific information relating to project constraints and CEQA impacts is determined. This is the stage at which the most secure processing estimates can be made for the steps leading up to decision-making hearings.
Recommendation #7a: The director should commit to timeliness guarantees for project review that at a minimum meet the CEQA requirements.
Response to Recommendation #7a:
This recommendation will not be implemented because it is not reasonable as a universal rule. This recommendation is directed at the one-third of total permit review activity that is subject to reimbursement at an hourly rate (currently $83). These are the most complex and least predictable cases, most of which are required to go to the Planning Commission for decision, and which are subject to appeal.
The department does commit to providing applicants with a time and cost estimate at the time the application is found complete, and to revise that estimate to reflect the results of the initial study, if necessary. Implementation of the project management system will provide better estimates for complex, major projects and better accountability. The department also commits to providing the applicant with an explanation for any variance that may arise during the project review due to circumstances such as technical issues that are revealed during field investigations, unforeseen controversy, or modifications to the project that are made by the applicant. However, the department has little control of the process, and thus the costs, once the project is in the hearing stage. The Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors or Coastal Commission may require additional hearings and analysis to satisfy their concerns prior to a final decision.
Recommendation #7b: The director and the deputy directors should commit at the outset of a project to a fee estimate that includes a "not-to-exceed" cap.
Response to Recommendation #7b:
The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not reasonable as a universal rule. This recommendation suffers from the same problems as #7a: the department does not conduct the entire process, and some cases cannot be delivered at a pre-determined cost because of project changes, unexpected controversy, or complicating facts discovered during review. Nevertheless, the department reiterates its commitments in response to Recommendation #7a to offer its best estimates early in the project's life, to explain any subsequent variances, and to keep track of costs through the Project Tracking System.
Recommendation #7c: The director should implement a detailed billing for P&D services, which offers a full explanation of services received for fees charged.
Response to Recommendation #7c:
The recommendation will be implemented. Activity and staff person will be listed and summarized on billing statements. An example of this documentation is attached as Appendix D. The recommendation will be implemented within 4 months.
Finding #8: Reported zoning violations are not dealt with in a timely manner. Fines and penalties, when levied, are either not collected or are waived.
Response to Finding #8:
Partially disagree. We agree that some zoning violations are not dealt with in a timely manner. We disagree that fines and penalties are not collected or waived.
The Board has for some time been concerned with timely and effective zoning enforcement response. Additional staffing has been approved, and the department has been given new enforcement powers through the administrative fines ordinance. Improvement is demonstrated by the achievement of the performance measure regarding completing 50 percent of initial investigations within 30 days of receipt of the complaint. During the 1998/1999 fiscal year, 136 of the 258 complaints received, or 53 percent, were investigated within the first 30 days. Nevertheless, we continue to receive complaints that some violations are not effectively resolved in a reasonable period of time. We have committed to providing the Board with quarterly reports regarding performance on the timeliness of response and the disposition of violations.
Zoning enforcement revenue is generated in three ways: first, by staff charges for time spent in resolving violations; second, for cases in which the violation is cured by obtaining an after-the-fact permit (rather than ceasing the illegal use or removing the unpermitted construction), by penalty fees equivalent to the fixed-fee permit costs up to a maximum of $2000; third, for cases in which violators do not elect to begin complying within 30 days of receiving a notice of violation, by levying administrative fines.
In the 1998/1999 fiscal year the department collected an estimated $44,000 in violation fees through staff hourly charges and permit penalties. This is only $6,000 less than was estimated in that fiscal yearís budget. While this is a shortfall, it does not support the conclusion that fees and penalties are regularly not collected or are waived. The only instances in which penalty fees are waived is when it can be clearly established that a property owner purchased that property without direct knowledge that a violation existed.
The Zoning Administration Division has not collected any fines to date under the administrative fine program. This has been the result of the owners either abating the violation or obtaining the necessary permits within the specified time limits. The Board adopted the administrative fine program primarily as a means to gain compliance by providing a financial disincentive to owners who would otherwise not cooperate in resolving the violation. This has proved to be a very effective tool. Administrative fines have been assessed through the Isla Vista code enforcement program operated by Building and Safety.
Recommendation #8a: The department should resolve zoning enforcement complaints within three months.
Response to Recommendation #8a:
The Recommendation will not be implemented as stated because it is not reasonable.
If what is meant by "resolved" is that all violations either should be abated or permitted within three months, then this recommendation will not be implemented because it is not reasonable. The department can commit to responding to a complaint, identifying that a violation either does or does not exist, and informing the owner as to the necessary course of action to resolve the violation, within three months. However, complete resolution of the violation depends to some degree on cooperation by the owner. By law, the administrative fine approach requires 30 days after a violation has been confirmed and a notice sent to the violator to cure the problem, before the fine can be imposed. It may then be appealed. In severe cases when the department must refer the matter to the District Attorney, further time is required for resolution. Also, if resolving the complaint involves the approval of a discretionary permit application, then it may take substantially longer than three months to complete the review process.
Recommendation #8b: The director should enforce and collect zoning fines. Fines levied for zoning violations should not be routinely waived.
Response to Recommendation #8b:
The recommendation has been implemented. In the 1998-1999 fiscal year the department collected an estimated $44,000 in zoning violation fees and penalties. Fines levied for zoning violations are not routinely waived. The department appreciates the Grand Jury's encouragement in this area and predicts that a more active enforcement program will result in future complaints by violators, which future Grand Juries should bear in mind.
Recommendation #8c: The Board of Supervisors should permit zoning fines to remain in the department to be used to fund additional positions for zoning enforcement officers.
Response to Recommendation #8c:
The recommendation has been implemented. As the 1999-2000 fiscal year budget document shows, administrative fees and fines do remain with the department to help support zoning enforcement. The Board also provides $222,000 in general fund contributions for zoning enforcement. The 1999-2000 fiscal year budget includes one additional revenue offset position for this purpose.
Recommendation #8d: The director should consider contracting zoning enforcement activities out to the private sector.
Response to Recommendation #8d:
The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted. To be effective in resolving zoning violations, a person must be fully trained in the three county zoning ordinances as well as the county sign ordinance. When the violation may be resolved through obtaining the proper permits, typically the enforcement officers either handle the permitting themselves or act to guide the owner through the process in order to achieve a smooth outcome at minimal cost. The department knows of no available contractors in the private sector having this expertise.
The present enforcement response is primarily driven by complaints by the public. Contracting for enforcement might lead to a "bounty hunter" situation where the contractor actively seeks out potential violations. Judgments about how and when to take enforcement actions should be made by public officials. Contracting this responsibility out would be poor public policy.
If the Board of Supervisors were to decide that it wished to enforce the zoning ordinance on a non-complaint basis, including all structures in yard setbacks, garage conversions, unpermitted second-dwelling units, unpermitted agricultural accessory buildings, etc. whether or not any party was aggrieved, then this recommendation could be re-visited. However, the department knows of no jurisdiction that contracts for enforcement services. Additionally, the zoning enforcement effort is not revenue neutral; costs to implement the program exceed the revenue produced due to the number of complaints that are not related to actual violations.
Finding #9: Inefficient use of and insufficient workspace impede the departmentís ability to function effectively.
Response to Finding #9:
Recommendation #9: The Board of Supervisors and the director should diligently explore a space solution that reduces the fragmentation of the department and provides a physical environment that will support a seamless planning and permitting process.
Response to Recommendation #9:
The recommendation has not yet been implemented, but will be implemented in phases as space and funding can be secured.
The department, County Administrator, and General Services are working together to explore optimal, efficient office space for P&D. One option being reviewed involves adding 6400 square feet of office space and a 2000 square foot permit center by infilling the courtyards of the Engineering and Administration buildings. This $1.65 million project is included in the Board-approved 5-Year Capital Improvement Plan, but is currently unfunded. However, General Services recognizes that providing adequate space for P&D is a high priority and is performing a Space Master Plan for the downtown area, which will be completed in September, with a Board presentation in October. Other alternatives may be recommended at that time. In the meantime, some opportunity for increased and more efficiently used space will be created within the confines of the downtown buildings by reallocation and remodeling during the next six months.
In addition, our current plan calls for a 1000 square foot addition at Foster Road for additional office space, at a cost of $550,000. This project is also included in the Board-approved 5-Year Capital Improvement Plan, but is unfunded. General Services will begin reviewing requirements at this facility in 1999-00.
1999-2000 WORK PROGRAM
The proposed 1999-2000 budget for the Comprehensive Planning Division funds 19.4 positions with supporting consultants. Work effort is divided among five cost centers. Summarized below are the primary tasks to be completed based on the planned level of effort.
Community Plans:Prepare and adopt community plans; complete studies, coordinate public and private development and obtain funding to implement adopted community plans (7.6 FTE).
Orcutt:Resolve litigation; Complete Phase I Old Town Plan; Create Community Finance District; Address cumulative development issues and implement Community Plan
Goleta:Complete Fee Programs; Alternative Transportation Planning; Coordinate targeted housing rezones; Old Town Infrastructure Design
Toro Canyon Plan:Complete adoption process
Gaviota Coast Protection Planning
Lompoc Valley Planning:Cumulative development coordination/ infrastructure planning.
Santa Ynez Community Plan Work Program:
Summerland Community Plan:Continue key implementation work.
General Plan Elements:Update Comprehensive Plan to address emerging issues, changes in law or evolving policy direction from the Board (5.0 positions).
Housing Element:Refine Implementation Guidelines; Improve affordable homebuyer qualification process; Monitor existing affordable housing stock; Adopt focused Housing Element amendments.
Land Use Element:Adopt policy amendments to balance agricultural expansion with resource protection.
Agricultural/ Land Use Elements:Protect rural agricultural lands from non-agricultural development.
Regional Planning:Address emerging, interagency and regional issues (3.1 Positions).
Redevelopment:Revitalize Goleta Old Town and Isla Vista (2.3 Positions).
SYNOPSIS OF APPEALS
A. Appeals to the Board of Supervisors from Planning Commission decisions in 1998
1. Miller Commercial Horse Operation,(Conditional Use Permit [CUP]), Hope Ranch area: The neighbors appealed the Commissionís approval of a conditional use permit based on the contention that the Planning Commission omitted all issues of concern presented by the aggrieved neighbors, and deceptive information in the staff report as to the number of horses to be allowed. The Board of Supervisors upheld the Commissionís approval, denied the appeal, and revised the health department conditions.
2. Levinson (Lot Line Adjustment), Gaviota area: The Gaviota Coast Conservancy appealed the decision based on the contentions that the project was not exempt from CEQA, that there was no disclosure of future, potential commercial development, and the cumulative environmental impacts from lot line adjustments relative to coastal agricultural protection policies were not analyzed. The Board denied the appeal.
3. Windermere Peace Retreat (CUP), San Marcos Road: The Planning Commission denied the request for a conditional use permit based on inconsistencies with the comprehensive plan, that the project was not compatible with the site nor with the surrounding neighborhood. The appeal was withdrawn.
4. Sanford/Rancho Rinconada Winery (Development Plan). Santa Rita Road area between Lompoc and Buellton. The appeal was based on contentions that there was dirt stockpiling without a permit, an illegal permit relationship with the existing Sanford Winery, and alleged lack of setback of water treatment facilities from riparian habitats and the Santa Ynez River. The Board of Supervisors denied the appeal and affirmed the Planning Commission action with minor project condition revisions.
5. Marvilla Senior Community Development Plan and Conditional Use Permit, Goleta, Patterson Ave. Area: Neighbors appealed the Planning Commissionsí approval based on the contentions that CEQA and administrative ordinance findings were made without necessary evidence and that certain conditions should be strengthened. The Board of Supervisors denied the appeal and affirmed the Planning Commissions approval, with modifications of conditions.
6. Montecito Valley Ranch Tentative Tract Map, Montecito area: The applicant appealed the Planning Commissionís approval based on inconsistent in-lieu fees calculations. The Board of Supervisors modified the in-lieu calculations slightly and denied the appeal.
7. The Winery at Bridelwood Development Plan, Santa Ynez Valley area: The neighbors appealed the Commissionís decision based on the potential for adverse sound and lighting impacts, adverse impacts to the neighborhood incompatibilities based on traffic, and the scenic and rural character of the area. The Board of Supervisors approved the project with revisions made by the applicant, and agreed to by the neighbor appellant, which included a reduction of amplified noise, lowering of the maximum number of attendees at events, reduction of parking and reduction of the number of annual special events.
8. Plier Tentative Map Condition Modification. Santa Ynez area: The appeal of a neighbor to the relocation of a barn. The appeal was based on ten procedural, technical issues including title interest issues, illegal structure process resolution, subdivision development restrictions, evidence of material change of circumstances, absence of environmental review of building envelope changes, exemption of Board of Architectural Review, timely filing of opposition papers, violation of setback requirements, violation of full disclosure report requirements. The Board of Supervisors granted the appeal, in part, and approved the project with a revised building envelope.
9. Lotusland Revised Conditional Use Permit, Montecito area: The Planning Commission approval was appealed by approximately fifty three aggrieved persons/neighbors based on the contention that appropriate findings were not made to reduce community incompatibility issues based on traffic etc. The Board of Supervisors granted the appeal and changed the project to reduce the number of visitors and special events.
10. Mountain View Ranch Development Plan and Recorded Map Modification, Goleta Area: The Planning Commission approved the modification of conditions. The appeal was based on the issuance of occupancy clearances without meeting the original condition of the permit which required the completion of Cathedral Oaks Road Segment II, prior to occupancy. The Board of Supervisors upheld the appeal, but allowed limited occupancy prior to the completion of Segment II.
11. Mariposa Townhomes appeal of a land use permit for a residential development plan. Orcutt area: The Planning Commission denied the appeal of the neighbors, who requested the project be denied on the basis of affordability, smaller units, and change of roofing materials. The neighbors appealed the Planning Commissionsí decision on the appeal. The applicant also appealed based on objections to a condition change made by the Planning Commission to modify the size of the project (slight increase in building size) and change the roofing materials and colors. The Board of Supervisors denied the neighbors appeal, and granted the applicant appeal, essentially upholding the original design and development plan. The case raised an issue of the noticing of zoning ordinance "substantial conformity" determinations by staff. Although this related to a zoning ordinance provision, the ordinance is clear on the wording to be used in the circumstance of a substantial conformity finding.
12. Jacor Communications, (Development Plan and Conditional Use Permit) Goleta Area: The Planning Commission denied the project with findings that the application overbuilt the site based on zoning ordinance provisions. The applicant appealed the decision but withdrew the building plans and requested only the antennas (CUP) to be approved. The Board approved the antennas.
13. Val Verde Museum (Conditional Use Permit) Montecito area: The Planning Commission approval has been appealed based upon neighborhood incompatibility and traffic safety issues. The appeal is pending.
B. Appeals to the Planning Commission from departmental decisions on ministerial permits:
2. Shaeffer single family dwelling, Carpiteria area. A neighbor appealed a permit for a single family dwelling in order to obtain rights to a drainage easement. The appeal was dropped prior to Planning Commission hearing.
3. Mariposa Townhomes, Orcutt area. Staff issued a permit for a project that had reduced square footage than the original; and the project that had been changed from 25% to 100% affordable housing. The neighbors objected to the level of affordability, the reduction in size of the units, and the roofing materials and colors. The Planning Commission denied the appeal but applied a condition, initially agreed to by the applicant, to make the buildings slightly larger, and to apply different roofing materials and colors.
4. Meldahl Residential Addition, El Sueno Road, Goleta area. The appeal from the neighbors over a second story addition was made on grounds of privacy intrusion, and concern that the addition would be used as a second unit. The Commission upheld the appeal.
5. Lambert Driveway land use permit, Montecito area. The neighbor appellants contended that the driveway impinged upon their privacy. The Commission upheld the appeal and required a lowering of the driveway. Drainage issues were also discussed in this two part appeal.
6. Lambert, land use permit, Montecito area, The neighbor appellant believed that the driveway constituted a privacy infringement and an aesthetic incompatibility. The Commission upheld the appeal and rescinded the departmental approval.
TRAINING RPOGRAM OUTLINE/SAMPLE TRAINING SURVEY
The purpose of this survey is to better understand where training efforts should be focused and to set priority for training.
Evaluate the following areas on a rating scale of 1 to 5, 1 equals unacceptable and 5 being outstanding.
PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT TRAINING PROGRAM
SAMPLE BILLING STATEMENT
Application Review Victoria Greene
Review of Resubmittal Materials Brian Baca
Patricia Miller 2.2
Subdivision Meeting Brian Baca 0.6
Initial Study Preparation Brian Baca 26.0
CEQA Review Brian Baca
Shannon Werneke 1.5
Staff Report to Hearing Patricia Miller 40.0
Hearings Patricia Miller 3.0