Permitting Changes

January 5, 2016

COWs keep complaining about how bad the Town permitting process is. We hear many complaints about the ASRB but it is not alone. There are complaints about the Open Space Committee and Code Enforcement. The Planning Commission does not seem to have as many complaints because they appear to properly conduct hearings and treat applicants with respect. However, even a fair, well run Commission cannot compensate for the over-regulation and lack of clarity in the ordinances they are required to apply and the fact of too many levels of review. This is nothing new – the process has been broken for a very long time. We thought that things were improving after Susan George, Kent Dewell and Hope Sullivan left but it is clear that things have now gotten worse.

Ten years ago, COWcil directed Susan George to get to the bottom of the complaints and make things better. See these stories here , here and more here, here and here.

In January 2006, a consultant, Management Partners, was hired and paid a substantial sum of our tax dollars. They reviewed the process and made sixteen recommendations. They called for basic improvements in the process. Only a few were ever fully implemented.

In July 2006, we reported that the San Mateo County Grand Jury issued a report entitled “Trouble in Paradise (The Woodside Development Review Process)”. The Grand Jury took a look at the Development Process in our Town and concluded, among other things, that “Woodside’s permit process tends to be a series of fragmented activities by the various reviewing departments. Because the process is not well coordinated, submittals occasionally fall between the cracks and deadlines are missed. This causes the effectiveness and credibility of the process to suffer.” The COWS we have herd from tell us it is more than occasionally and it feels like being lassoed and hog-tied.

The Council held meetings and Susan held meetings with COWs and the complaints we herd then, are the comments we hear today. As a result of these voiced concerns, in October 2015, “staff recommended an opinion survey to be sent to applicants as they move through the development review process, after the planning review and the building permit phases. Staff would also invite property owners who have recently gone through the development process to complete the survey. We have herd from applicants that this one at a time methodology makes them uncomfortable because staff will know who responded. Fear of retribution is still very much a problem in Woodside.

We don’t think this outreach is enough. We think it would be far better to send out a survey to all that have gone to ASRB or Planning Commission or received any type of permit in the past 2 years and get their experiences and comments and any ideas to make it better.

We need a survey to identify some basic structural and attitudinal changes necessary in order to streamline the permit process.

• Change the Staff’s view of its role. Instead of “what have the applicants done wrong” it should be “how can we help this project get through.” Staff needs to value timeliness and fairness.

• Reduce redundancy in the process. There are too many advisory committees and boards with duplicate review. There should be a two hearings limit before any such group. Reviews by some departments are done when not required by Code. A strict list of who needs to review a project should be done (as was done years ago). Each review is time and money.

• Provide clarity and certainty. It needs to be clear up front what you need to do to gain approval. Regulations must be applied consistently. Written guidelines would help

• Set clear priorities for review. It appears some favored applicants are reviewed quickly while others wait longer. Also, re–submittals do not receive priority and are stuck back in the pile and can wait 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. Project managers should be responsible for managing projects, insuring they are reviewed within a certain time limit.

We challenge Town staff and the Town COWncil to finally take these issues seriously.

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