City’s ambitious rebuilding plan

by Burris DeBenning

Boldly proposed at the City Council meeting of January 22, the Community Development Department presented a plan to rebuild Ventura’s burned communities and get residents back into new homes as quickly as possible. “The consensus here is that we want a fast, inexpensive and efficient means for people to rebuild,” said Mayor Neal Andrews.

Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert had his game on with a crisp explanation of the specific steps his staff intend to take to push plans through a faster approval process. Displaced homeowners can expect a 14-day plan check review, instead of the usual six to eight weeks wait, for rebuilt single-family homes. “Our staff has met with homeowners and we know the stresses they’re under, so we want to help them as quickly and painlessly as possible,” said Lambert.

City Hall Room 117, which currently has plan check and permit desks staffed during normal operations, will expand with the additional staff and consultants dedicated solely to displaced homeowners. The new Thomas Fire Rebuild Permit Office, according Chief Building Official Yolanda Bundy, will provide personalized attention and prompt customer service to bypass the standard procedures that can take months or even years.

Regenerating a sense of community was another theme addressed by staff. “Some homes lost were tracts from the 60s and 70s,” Lambert told Council, “and we want to help people get back what they had but also conform to the latest building codes, build homes that represent the character of Ventura and include more sustainable materials.” Still, staff urged flexibility with this. Homes with add-ons or features that may have been inconsistent with today’s zoning ordinances will be approved as well. Of course, up to a point. Basically, homeowners can request the original footprint, plus an additional 10%. Beyond that, residents would have to go back to the regular, lengthier review gauntlet, unless, as Planning Manager Dave Ward stated, council sought to increase this percentage through a code change.

That was a sticking point with several council members who sought an expedited process for all displaced homeowners, regardless of the size of the new addition. Councilmember Cheryl Heitmann emphatically wanted the process equalized, and asked staff, “how will people even know they are being expedited?” She also said she’s hearing that “people want to build bigger and better than what they had.” Mr. Lambert and staff emphasized the 14-day review and said they’ll prioritize all displaced homeowners but return to Council if lots of permit applications are for additions more than the 10%.

Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere asked: “What if there’s no more homeowner’s insurance left to cover the 10%, or other fees.” Mr. Lambert said that his staff could track these instances so that a solution can be found, and Interim City Manager Dan Paranick added that “the City’s General Fund may have to be tapped to cover fees and such not paid by insurance.” Staff returned to the subject of community, pointing out that neighbors must live with each other, and someone who wants to put a 15% addition on their property could infringe on the folks next door. Finally, yellow tagged homeowners with partial damage will not have their debris removed by CalRecycle, the State program sent to clean up the totally destroyed properties and must pay these expenses out of pocket. Stop by Room 117 in City Hall to have your questions answered.

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