Government / Politics

LAND USE – What to do before you fill out that application

Explanation of local planning processes and advice on obtaining knowledge

Many people in our community believe that they are powerless when it comes to regulatory processes at the local, state or federal level. Two of my favorite lines are these: “in order to play the game, you must know the rules.” I’m not sure who said that but I do know that Francis Bacon was the first to say that “knowledge is power.” I hope that I can impart some knowledge to you and give power back to the people of this lovely community.

This column will serve as step one to breaking down those rules and provide a guide to getting a project through its process. Hopefully in time you will contact me with more specific questions or items you would like to know more about and we can all educate each other.

So where should I begin? Let’s start with what I know best and work our way down:

LAND USE – PART ONE – What to do before you apply.

My first glimpse into the regulatory process came when I was still attending UC Davis. I was given the opportunity to intern at the City of Sacramento’s Historic Preservation Department. I must admit that my initial desire for the job was that it was a decent paying internship at the time. What college student doesn't want to make money!?! What I learned there would forever change my perspective of rules and how to use them to get what you want.

So picture this scenario: You have plunked down your hard earned money to put together a project submittal (a new business, subdivision or perhaps a senior second), paid additional application fees and now you play the waiting game. Where does your application go from there? How long will you wait to find out the status of your project? Will there be issues? How much more money will those issues cost me?

Look familiar? That's because it happens to almost every person approaching the counter of any regulatory agency when money and applications are involved.

Before turning in any application I recommend the following first:

  1. Write a plan: What is your project all about? What do you intend to achieve? Put everything you would like to do in there. Leaving things out may prolong your process after you submit your application. Remember you can always take things out before submitting your application over the counter. Heck you can take it out or change it during the application review process!
  2. Draw it out: Draft out your site plan. Whatever you want to do, what will it look like?
  3. Set up a meeting: Contact your local planning department; see if they charge a fee for pre-design meetings. If not, work to make arrangements to meet with all agencies involved in your project in one setting. If they do charge money for a pre-design/application meeting, you might have to schlep it to each agency individually and make your pitch. Do not pay for a pre-design/application meeting. It is the responsibility of regulatory agencies to assist you in better understanding the process. It will help you and them in the end.
  4. Make your pitch: Propose what you are going to do, show them your draft plan and be prepared to answer questions. If your project means a great deal to you it will show in your presentation.
  5. Ask, ask, ask. Then ask some more: Ask these agencies what the hurdles will be, what the process will be like, costs involved (up front costs like application fees/fees to generate reports and back end costs like permit or impact fees), type of permit you would need to apply for and what that means, ask if CEQA is involved (more on that in the future), etc. If you want to get a little cheeky, ask them if you're totally screwed cause you are near a wetland or faultline.
  6. Write it all down: Everything they tell you, WRITE DOWN. This is going to be your action list.
  7. Weigh it all out: After having the deflator meeting (trust me, most are) you need to decide if it’s all worth it. Make your good and bad list. Make your decision and move forward!

Once you hit that GO button we will need to talk about your rights under the Permit Streamlining Act. But that’s for another column.

I hope this information proves to be useful. A well thought out project will have a better chance than a project thrown together on the fly. I have seen many applications come across a counter and it was always the well prepared applications that were much easier to process.

settee