In my previous post ,I argue that the Sunroad project exemplifies the special treatment developers get at the city. A streamlining mantra is repeated through every level of implementing development regulations. During the recent budget deliberations, some light was shed on Mayor Sanders’ proposed reorganization of Development Services. In this post, I will discuss some of these proposed reforms.

Limit number of cycles of Community Planning Group review and comment by establishing a consistent process and timeline.

Cycles of review should depend on the complexity and size of the project. Cutting off community review arbitrarily to fast-forward any development minimizes the effectiveness of community input — a developer only needs to wait it out. Planning groups frequently face the lack of transparency in the outcome of the project from developers. What they need is an objective analysis of community benefits and impacts, which would allow both parties to talk like adults.

In June 2005, the Kearny Mesa Planning Group recommended approval of Sunroad’s 180 foot tower. What is the responsibility of this group in ensuring public safety, and do they have the tools to do their job?

Change the Municipal Code to strengthen and clarify the appeals criteria that must be met and evidence that must be submitted to justify a project decision appeal. If the criteria and submitted requirements are not met, the regulations would deny the appeal.

Sunroad demonstrates why every environmental determination by Development Services is suspect. In a major lawsuit against the city on condo conversions, the city argued that the environmental appeals were frivolous and not based on facts. The judge thought otherwise. Development Services should not be the arbitrator of determining whether appeals against its own decisions are valid.

Here is another proposal by the Sanders administration:

Modify discretionary project submittal requirements to require only what is necessary for conceptual review and approval, particularly when those regulatory compliance issues must also be reviewed at the construction permit and inspection level.

Development Services is essentially begging for the Sunroad conundrum again and again. The last City Council hearing on this project occurred in November 2002. At this time, the council did not know the details of this project, especially how high the towers would be. The council essentially approved a project in “concept” and thus completely unaware of what would result in the end. And when Development Services did find out about the 180 feet tower in 2005, it decided against going back to council for further review. The focus was on issuing building permits as quickly as possible.

Here is another proposal to further streamline the process:

Increase the scope of projects that can be reviewed over the counter (both walk-in and by-appointment).

Is Development Services aware that the reason why we don’t hand out permits to whoever walks in the door is to protect public health and safety?


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