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County Votes To Eliminate Red Tape, But No Vote On Planning Groups

The supervisors heard testimony from a builder who said he was thinking of leaving San Diego because the county’s permitting process is so frustrating.

The county’s Red Tape Reduction Task Force, initiated by Supervisor Bill Horn, has been meeting for the last year, and came up with a list of more than 30 recommendations to speed up permitting.

But Oliver Smith, chair of the Valley Center Planning Group, said the task force met without any input from the general public.

“All but one of the task force were developers and their representatives,” he said at the supervisors’ meeting. “Community members were specifically excluded from this group.”

The chairs of 26 local planning groups from unincorporated areas like Fallbrook, Julian and Alpine came out to protest a recommendation to either eliminate or limit the role of planning groups.

They were also worried about a change to allow only "one bite of the apple” for those reviewing projects. In other words, even if more information emerges about a project, the new rules could make it impossible to go back and review that information when considering a permit.

This week, the supervisors only approved recommendations that affect the county staff, not the planning groups. They voted to make customer service a top priory for staff dealing with developers and land use permits. They approved changes to give county staff incentives to work with “a sense of urgency and timelines. “

Board Chair Ron Roberts said the changes are badly needed.

“When it takes six, eight, 10, 12 years, sometimes for a minor subdivision, there is something incredibly broken here,” Roberts said. “ We are spending not just millions but tens of millions of dollars in a process that, in many instances, creates zero value for the public good, that’s what we’ve got to change. “

The board agreed to return on March 28 to vote on other Red Tape Reduction Task Force recommendations, including whether to limit the role of local planning groups. A majority of the supervisors, Dianne Jacob, Pam Slater-Price and Greg Cox, indicated they were not in favor of eliminating them altogether.

The way the Red Tape Task Force recommendations have been handled has raised criticism among some members of the public.

Gordon Shackleford told the board it is not clear when the agenda is posted whether the board intends to vote on an issue or not. This makes it difficult, he said, for people who live many miles away to know if they should attend the meeting or not. That means they could miss the opportunity to testify.

County counsel said even if the agenda says staff recommends no action until later, the Board of Supervisors has the power to make decisions immediately if they chose.

On this week’s agenda notice, there was an attachment suggesting the board only vote on certain recommendations and leave the issue of the local planning group until later.

Roberts chided those who spoke on the issue of planning groups for not knowing where to find the agenda on the county’s website. However, according to the explanation from the County Counsel, the board could have decided to vote on planning groups at this week’s meeting, in spite of the recommendation.

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