One year ago, on November 7, 2005, in response to complaints from COWs, the Town Council held a special meeting to “Discussion and Approval of Approach to be Utilized to Solicit and Address the Public’s Concerns with Aspects of the Town’s Building Process and their Suggestions for Improvements to the Process.” The Council reviewed a status report on 16 recommendations that had been made by Management Partners on July 26th of 2005. We haven’t seen any status report since May 5 months ago, so we have tried ourselves to gauge how much progress has been made.
Recommendation 1: Add one dedicated and field experienced engineer to the Engineering Division and make him/her responsible solely for development review. EJ Kim has been hired, but he doesn’t appear to be in charge of the development process.
Recommendation 2: Prepare a detailed application checklist for all divisions to be used by the applicant in preparing the submittal and by the reviewer in evaluating the submittal. We haven’t seen any such checklist — have you? We would hope it would be posted on the Web.
Recommendation 3: Prepare a standard format for review comments to improve organization and clarity of responses. We haven’t seen any such checklist — have you? We understand from other COWS there has been no change in this process and some feel it’s even worse now.
Recommendation 4: If plan quality does not improve measurably with the addition of a development engineer, add clerical staff to ease project manager workload so that they can more thoroughly screen submittals.
Recommendation 5: After the development engineer position is added, set specific review timelines and measure performance against them. We haven’t seen any such timeline and again we have reports that the review period is even longer and more frustrating.
Recommendation 6: Set standards for customer service and measure employee performance against them. When will there be real accountability for staff’s actions? When will the public’s input really be taken seriously? We think this is too important to get lost in the haystack.
Recommendation 7: Advertise the Town’s willingness to hold pre-application meetings and encourage new applicants to attend one to go over the Town’s process and to discuss realistic timelines. Staff has begun to encourage additional pre-application meetings. An “advertisement” about the availability of these meetings is to be placed on the Town’s website and a flyer placed in the information kiosk at Town Hall. The December 2005 edition of The Woodsider was dedicated to the entire development process, including pre-application meetings.
Recommendation 8: Copy the applicant/owner on all comments and conditions given to contractors. We believe this is being done.
Recommendation 9: Publish a website page or community newsletter article on the basics of building in Woodside. This was accomplished — it appears to us to be only recycled information from already existing handouts. We were hoping for something more comprehensive and which reflect the “real” process.
Recommendation 10: Hold quarterly meetings with the development community to discuss regulatory changes, outline the Town’s development review process, and other related matters. As far as we can tell this is not being done.
Recommendation 11: Create a menu of standard design options and amenities and set design standards as much as possible to reduce variability at the Architecture & Site Review Board. The only attempt to create design options that we have seen, instead of streamlining actually considered a more restrictive and onerous policy on fencing. Fortunately, in the final analysis, while streamlining was not accomplished, the ordinance was unchanged.
Recommendation 12: Assure that applicants are given a copy of staff recommendations prior to finalization and are afforded an opportunity to provide comments in writing for distribution to all decision makers as part of the standard review process. From what we hear, while the reports are coming out earlier, applicants are not given an opportunity to comment before finalization and are not being given an opportunity to have their comments go forward at the same time as staffs’ report. Or far more importantly for staff and applicant to work through any problems before going to Council.
Recommendation 13: Set fees and surcharges to fully cover development-related costs. A consultant was retained to undertake a study. We haven’t seen the results. We do not think additional fees are needed for cost recovery if staff works efficiently. Indeed, there is a widespread suspicion in the community that fees are overcharged and some of the harassment that folks experience is motivated by the desire to collect fees.
Recommendation 14: Purchase and implement a new computer software system that automates the development review project tracking and financial systems. This is the new Trakit system.
Recommendation 15: Expand open counter hours to the public to include the noon period and provide some hours open to the public after 3 p.m. when construction work generally winds down. Not done.
Recommendation 16: Provide reviewing employees the workspace necessary to be efficient, as funding and space permit. This recommendation may not be practical and we do not perceive it to be the cause of most inefficiencies.