November 11, 2005

On November 7th, the Town Council held an extraordinary meeting, attended by a number of COWs and others who would not be cowed. A couple of dozen people, despite expressed fears of retaliation, bravely stood up and told the Council how bad things are on this range.

The Council heard concerns that the process has too many reviews, a ridiculous amount of detail and nonsensical requirements or requests asked by staff. The Staff and inspectors often have an attitude that makes it seem that they are only looking for errors and do not provide guidance as to how to correct those errors. In many case, the Staff is arbitrary. Most damningly, it was reported that a number of good contractors and architects will not work in Woodside. There was even a suggestion that a slump in Real Estate prices and sales may very well be tied to the problems in the department.

Susan George, as she should, accepted complete responsibility for Town staff. She, once again, gave her commitment to help improve the process. She will hold special meetings with residents, contractors, and architects to discuss what needs to be done to improve the current permitting process. She vowed anonymity with no reprisals. It seems strange to us that the person who was in charge of the process and is responsible for its failures will have private meetings to determine what the problem is and decide on solutions. It seems like these meetings should be conducted by Council members, not Susan George.

Keep in mind that there have been two studies (see our stories here and here) and the recommendations from those studies have not been implemented. Keep in mind, that Susan is a hands-on manager and that significant issues are always referred to her by staff. How often have we all heard “it is Susan’s decision”? You don’t put a bull in a china shop and you don’t put the person responsible for creating the problem and supervising the staff in charge of a process where honesty and candor are required. It seems like the barn will be whitewashed.

Nonetheless, we urge all of you to participate as fully as you can. We will continue to use this blog as our bully pulpit. We urge you to express your views on this site anonymously if you prefer. It is our Town.

No Bull: Here is the agenda for the meeting, which has detail on the staff’s reponse to soliciting public comment.

Here is a list of topics discussed at the meeting:

Some of the comments we heard at the meeting:

· Nothing is definite — it is unclear what you need to do to gain approval.

· Annual or semi-annual review of the process was suggested.

· Re–submittals do not receive priority and are stuck back in the pile waiting just as long as new submittals. Woodside is the only town that does this. Additionally once the resubmittal is looked at there are new comments, independent of anything identified in the first set of comments.

· Look at best practices from neighboring communities as recommended in both of the consultant’s report and information already provided to the Town.

· Fear of retribution is perceived because of subjective nature of process.

· Delays add up to cost

· Applicants need advocate facilitator

· If I knew what it took to live in Woodside, I would not have moved here. I have heard people in Woodside indicate they would not live here given permitting requirements.

· Susan’s proposed process will take too long. Others besides Susan should be involved.

· There is too much redundancy in the process with multiple of people reviewing. Details are asked for like “How long are the nails?”.

· Milestones for tracking improvement process are needed thereby making it measurable.

· Find redundancy in process.

· Make process easy for people, not onerous. Staff needs to be more customer service oriented and find solutions not roadblocks.

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