Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cleaning Up the Planning Process -- I Think!

On Monday night (Tuesday morning, actually), the City Council voted 4-3 to approve an item brought forth by Councilmembers Brennan and Summers designed to improve the development review process. The votes in favor were Brennan, Summers, Monahan, and Weir. The votes against were Andrews, Morehouse, and myself.

I didn’t vote against the item because I opposed everything in it. In fact, I supported five of the six items contained in the items. I voted against it because I couldn’s support the sixth item as written. I found it confusing and I thought it called for shift in direction that I couldn’t support. We had lengthy discussion, and it was clear that most of us agreed on the first five items but we were split on the sixth.

However, Councilmember Monahan moved to approve all six items at once – admittedly it was midnight and we were all anxious to go home – and so therefore I had to vote against the entire package because I had concerns about the one item. Because of Mr. Monahan’s motion, we did not have the option of voting in favor of the five and then “agreeing to disagree” on the sixth.

I think that Councilmembers Summer and Brennan and I agree on the direction we should take, so I am hopeful we can work this out when the item comes back to us for further discussion.

For the record, here’s what their item called for:

Direct staff to review the goals below and present a plan for implementation including strategies, feasibility, potential impact and timeline.
a. Creation of a 30-day maximum initial application review to determine completeness.
b. A plan and organizational structure to reduce overall time in the application approval process by 20%.
c. Adopt a procedure to allow applicants to outsource the creation and drafting of Specific Plans for projects in excess of 20 acres and provide for the ability to allow higher fees in exchange for retaining contract planners to assist with the overall work force.
d. Create a work plan for the implementation of the recommended application workflow including conceptual design review and Commission/public participation process as identified by the Commission Task Force. This should include the involvement of current staff and applicants to review the recommended process in comparison to other similar agencies. [This item refers to changes to the development review process proposed by a task force appointed by the council a couple of years ago.
e. Consider the use of a portion of the increased fee income for development to support the addition of one or two staff positions to assist in the implementation of the objectives.
f. Complete a City-wide coding and zoning ordinance to be used in conjunction with the Housing Approval Program (HAP), downtown and retail stregies. This should be completed as quickly as possible to provide clear direction for development and reduce the urgency for other "Plans."

Although I had some concerns about Item c, I was more than willing to vote in favor of Items a-e. The staff did state – with some justification – that they are doing many of these items already, but I saw no harm in clarifying that it is a council priority to get them done.

Item f was the subject of most discussion. On its face, it seems to me that Item f calls us to do a citywide code, something we have said in the past is unnecessary. Many constituents also feared that Item f also meant that we would lower the priority of Community Plans on the Westside and in Midtown and just do codes instead. Without clarification I couldn’t support that item.

To back up just for a moment, everything we are talking about here has to do with how we implement the 2005 General Plan. That General Plan called for an all-infill approach to development, and it states that most new growth will accommodated in a few focus areas in town, specifically the North Avenue, the Westside, Downtown, Midtown, and Wells-Saticoy.

But our General Plan is very general, and we all recognized that we had to create more specific policies and rewrite zoning codes for each of these areas. Part of the problem was that, especially in Midtown and on the Westside, we had done many different plans, workshops, and charrettes over the years – but we had never adopted any of them as actual city policy.

At first we directed the staff to create a new zoning code citywide, but then we realized that this was unnecessary because the vast majority of the city – mostly existing single-family neighborhoods – was not going to change anytime soon. So we directed the staff to write codes only for the focus areas.

Since then, here’s what’s happened:

1. We approved our revised Downtown Specific Plan. This contains both policies and codes for downtown.

2. We have been simultaneously crafting the Saticoy & Wells Community Plan (which contains policies) and processing four Specific Plans (which contain codes) for the Wells-Saticoy area. Admittedly, this has taken a lot longer than we thought.

3. We are currently drafting an interim code for Midtown, with the idea that a Community Plan would come later.

4. The staff put out a request for proposals for the North Avenue Community Plan but has not started work on that project yet.

5. We have not yet tackled the Westside.

So, out of the five focus areas, we’ve completed both policy and code in one; we’re working on both policy and code in a second; we’ve put code ahead of policy in a third; and we haven’t tackled the other two yet.

Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what Item f was seeking to accomplish that we weren’t already doing, other than encouraging the staff to move faster. I didn’t sense that anybody on the council, even Councilmember Summers and Brennan, wanted to either write a citywide code or ditch the community plan idea.

The good news is that, even though we split 4-3 on the vote, I think we are mostly in agreement about what to do. Both the council and the staff agreed – as we have before – that future community plan efforts do not have to “reinvent the wheel”. Especially in Midtown and on the Westside, there are many previous planning efforts to draw upon and therefore we can create a more community plan process that is both responsive to the community and yet more time-efficient. I have a feeling that when the staff comes back to us in six weeks with suggestions on how to implement this policy, that’s what they are going to suggest. So I think it will all work out in the end.

Remember what they say about legislation – that, like sausage, you never want to see it made?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Want to comment on my blog? Leave me a message here!