By Joe Naiman
The 35 recommendations of the County of San Diego’s Red Tape Reduction Task Force were split by the County Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 29 meeting into those to be implemented and those to be evaluated for further review.
The board voted 5-0 to direct county staff to implement 17 recommendations and to evaluate the remaining 18 and return to the board for a March 28 hearing.
“I’m encouraged. I feel we are actually making progress,” said County Supervisor Bill Horn.
The 18 recommendations still to be evaluated will be the most controversial. One proposed that community planning and sponsor groups be eliminated or significantly restricted while another called for the elimination of the county’s Resource Protection Ordinance with reliance on existing local, state, and federal environmental laws.
Based on the supervisors’ comments, the changes to community planning and sponsor groups will likely focus on board member training rather than on structural modification.
“I look forward to dealing with the balance of the recommendations when they come back March 28,” said Supervisor Greg Cox.
The task force was created in April 2011 to examine the land development permitting process and identify potential operational improvements.
The goal was to improve efficiency. On May 4 the task force adopted a mission statement along with nine objectives.
The 17 recommendations directed to be implemented call for ongoing staff training to enable planners to recognize unnecessary steps, an ongoing training and mentoring system for employees, making customer service a top priority in the land development permitting process, establishing an ongoing customer service training program, and assigning project managers to project applications early in the process and having those managers remain as the customer’s contact person on all aspects of the project.
Other recommendations are: developing a philosophy of urgency and timeliness for processing projects, eliminating duplicate review phases, implementing the new permitting system, empowering and rewarding employees who demonstrate results, exploring incentives for staff recognition, empowering project managers to make decisions including project timelines in performance measures, changing focus from employee tasks to project processing completion, keeping smaller projects out of “priority project” stormwater designations, shifting as many project approvals as possible to ministerial, and supporting California Environmental Quality Act reform efforts.
“I think a couple of things need changing here,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “I think we have a lot of work to do here.”
The task force’s activities included reviewing department policies and procedures, hearing public speakers, sharing individual experiences of task force members, and reviewing the Citygate Associates LLC report titled “Functional and Organizational Analysis of the Department of Planning and Land Use” and the associated “Service First” initiative.
“This basically is consistent with the Service First initiative and the Citygate report that we adopted in 2008,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said of the 17 recommendations directed for implementation.
The task force’s proposed changes if planning and sponsor groups are not eliminated include limiting their scope of review to the preparation and amendments of the general plan and community plans, providing a senior level planner and county counsel at each planning or sponsor group meeting, eliminating free appeals if a planning or sponsor group appeals a county Planning Commission decision to the supervisors, adding term limits, and reducing the number of planning or sponsor group members.
In both the elimination and the restriction proposal, applicants for discretionary projects would still need to prepare a Public Participation Plan to inform community residents, and at least one publicly-noticed meeting would be required in the community.
Jacob has met with representatives of District 2 groups who have proposed other alternatives for streamlining the discretionary process in addition to expressing concerns about the recommendations for planning and sponsor groups. Jacob plans to meet with the District 2 chairs again this month.
“They’re working on improvements on how to make the planning group process better in the way they operate,” Jacob said.
“I want to see at the end of the day that we significantly change the processing times,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “There is something incredibly broken here, and we need to fix it.”