A Steer In The Right Direction

September 22, 2005

On July 26, 2005, the Town Council reviewed and approved a very important consultants’ report. Management Partners, Inc. was retained to analyze the engineering services function of the Town, with a specific focus on development review activities. We don’t know if the Council was aware that Town Manager Susan George has a personal relationship with Jerry Newfarmer, president of Management Partners, and that both Susan and Kent Dewell worked for him when he was City Manager of San Jose.

“Development” in Woodside is not the kind of large complex subdivision that that occurs in other communities. Development here means that a resident wants an addition, or a pool house or a garage. Yet, here are some things that even this consultant had to say:

“The average review period for engineering was approximately 41 days. Based on experience in other cities and the California Permit Streamlining Act. residential permit reviews should generally take 21-30 days. The Engineering Division cannot be depended upon to meet review deadlines and provide a consistent process for the customer.”

“Responsiveness should increase markedly by having one person solely devoted to performing such reviews and being accessible to meet and communicate with the public.”

“There were many comments for each permit application and some appeared to be more for the Town staff’s benefit than the customers. Comments were not very well organized, not numbered consistently from initial to subsequent reviews, and at times could be vague and difficult for inexperienced developers to understand.”

“In some cases, information is not provided properly to staff in order to complete a review. In other cases, staff is unclear in communicating what Is required complete the application.”

“One of the common complaints heard from customers is that the technical requirements and comments from the Engineering Division are not applicable and/or reasonable. Repeatedly we were told that engineering wanted such a level of detail on plans that they were, in essence, no longer design plans but ‘as builts’.”

“Customers are not given set review timeframes that they can count on, and the Town does not require itself to meet any such deadline.” ”

“While the Town has set goals for review turnaround times, it does not hold itself accountable for meeting these goals nor guarantee them to the customer. Some jurisdictions go so far as to offer reduced fees if stated timelines are not met.”

“Customers did repeatedly complain that phone and email messages are sometimes not returned in a timely manner or at all, particularly in the Engineering Division but elsewhere as well. While they recognize staff is busy, they expect common courtesy and access to ask questions, get Information, and move their projects forward.”

“While not a primary concern, customers repeatedly remarked that the current limited open counter hours was a problem. Currently counter hours are open from 8 to10 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m., and customers stated they would like to see longer counter hours and/or have employees be more accessible. In particular, they noted that having the counter closed at noon – when many are free to come in – was not desirable.”

COW will watch to see if the Town really takes the bull by the horns and addresses these concerns.

NO BULL: See for yourself, here’s the consultant’s report.

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