Streamlining the development review process has been a priority of the City Council for several years.
The Ventura City Council made the process of obtaining construction permits and developmental approvals easier at the city council meeting held on Dec.6. The council voted 7-0 to approve a streamlining ordinance during the meeting.
The changes are expected to cut down to about a year for approvals instead of the several years it has been taking. In some cases over 10-years.
Changes included in the streamlining process include.
The community development director will be given the authority to route a project to a different decision maker than is ordinarily required. This is on a case-by-case project.
When a project requires multiple hearings in front of various committees, the community development director will “identify a single final action body,” essentially determining which committee will make the final decision. An appeal can still be filed and heard by the city council.
In response to our request Peter Gilli, AICP Community Development Director told the Breeze.
“Streamlining the development review process has been a priority of the City Council for several years. A consultant report (referred to as the Matrix Report), endorsed by the City Council in 2019, included recommendations calling for staff to propose ordinance amendments to simplify the hearing process, reconsider whether to retain DRC/HPC or reduce their scope, and to shift more application types to staff hearings or administrative actions.”
“Council adopted a temporary Emergency Streamlining Ordinance (ESO) in May 2020. In February 2021, City Council set a goal to adopt streamlining by the end of 2021. In April 2021, Council extended ESO for another year to allow the “permanent” streamlining ordinance to be prepared. “
“The proposed ordinance places aspects of the temporary ESO into the Municipal Code. The Planning Commission reviewed the streamlining changes at hearings on 11/3 and 11/17, and recommended approval of the streamlining changes on a 5-2 vote with a short list of recommended changes. “
“It is unfortunate that some in the community make statements such as what you were sent. Here’s a high-level overview of the streamlining proposal:”
- DRC and HPC are retained.
- Any project over 5 units will continue to go to DRC, as they have in the past. Every housing project over 5 units will continue to have at least two public hearings, as they have in the past.
- Any project that affects a historic resource will continue to go to HPC, as they have in the past.
- Projects with Major Variances or Exceptions will continue to go to PC, as they have in the past (a housing project over 5 units with an Exception goes to DRC and then PC).
- Before ESO, façade changes (changes to the exterior of a building that does not involve additional building area) were split between administrative action and DRC review, depending on location. Streamlining will make all façade changes administrative.
- Before ESO, use permits were split between staff hearings and PC depending on the type of use permit. Streamlining will make all use permits go to staff hearings (these are still public hearings, with public notification, public comment and the ability to appeal)
“Staff finds that housing projects are what the community has the most input on. Streamlining will keep those projects going to multiple hearings as they would have in the past. By shifting the rest of use permits to staff hearings and the rest of the façade changes to administrative actions, we not only simplify the process (Matrix) but also fulfill shifting application types to staff hearings and administrative actions (Matrix).”
As is typical in many jurisdictions, there are generally two pathways that a project may take: discretionary or ministerial.
Ministerial projects are generally smaller in scope, and must meet certain criteria, but generally have less review than discretionary projects. Typical examples of ministerial projects include putting in a backyard gazebo, interior building improvements, room additions, fences or even obtaining a marriage license.
If a ministerial project meets the requirements of the municipal code and the required fees have been paid, the permit will be granted. Furthermore, the city has very little discretion on whether it can say yes or no; oversight is limited to the various requirements that are already laid out in the code.
The ministerial phase still involves building, encroachment and grading permits, but in this phase these do not require public notification and hearings. Ventura issues thousands of ministerial permits every year.
With discretionary projects, the city has discretion about whether or not to approve the project. The project, such as a residential home build or a multi-unit development, must still meet state and local code requirements, but various studies — traffic impact, environmental review, etc. — are included in the review phase. Discretionary projects require public notifications and hearings and include an appeal process in which parties opposing decisions on the project can seek an alternative. “
According to a January 2021 report produced by Ventura City Manager Alex McIntyre and Gilli, about 100 discretionary projects are approved each year. Most are minor projects, but a few attract public interest.
Both ministerial and discretionary projects require a sign-off from various agencies including public works, fire and Ventura Water, and the city attorney’s office weighs in when legal support is needed.
“Most simply, the problem with this phase is the difficulty in getting through it. This is not to say that the process should be easy. But when describing past experiences with this phase, developers were pleading simply to be able to get through the process to a hearing, where a decision could be made,” stated the city’s 2021 staff report.
The report cited “internal” factors that are “completely within the city’s control” that lead to the reported struggle developers have with the process.
As previously reported by the Ventura County Reporter, Gilli said (“State law puts city into a corner,” Kimberly Rivers, Apr. 28, 2021) that the current process for reviewing development proposals includes a web of various committees, which are restricted in what they can review and act on. This means a developer must present a project to several committees, none of which have the final thumbs up or down on the entire project, but rather only commenting on and approving a piece of a project.
This can create an onerous appeal process, both for the project developer and for members of the public that object to the project. An appeal could be filed regarding one committee’s decision, only to have the project sail through another committee.
What developers are asking for, and what Gilli said the city is working to achieve, is a process that ensures plenty of public input opportunities, a thorough review of the project, but also a clear approval and/or appeal process, which, as is the goal, would shorten the time a project is in review.
The report continued, “Since the City’s future tax base relies on private investment in property, addressing these internal factors in the development review process has been a City Council priority.”