Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 17, 2016

Managing expectations

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

Here’s a Council Referral that I’m actually glad to see, although the increasing number of Council Referrals is a bit problematic considering that the City Council is often unable to get through the entire normal agenda without all the extras.

Recently there have been a lot of Calls for Review of Planning Board decisions, probably because even though Mayor Trish Spencer has been able to populate two of the seats with *her* people she is still not in control of the majority of the Planning Board, which given some of the comments from at least one of her appointees, is a good thing.

Anyway, Councilmember Jim Oddie who is competing for the title of most Council Referrals ever has suggested reforming the way that Calls for Review of Planning Board decisions are handled.  From the Council Referral:

In approving this referral, staff is directed to identify a process to report on the actions of the Planning Board at the first City Council meeting after each Planning Board. At that meeting, without discussing the project, a member of the Council could make a motion to call a specific item from the list of Planning Board actions for a full, de novo hearing at a future Council meeting, the motion could include a statement of concern for why the Council should call this for review and once seconded, Councilmembers would be allowed to ask questions of staff before voting. This motion would need both a second and a vote of the majority of the Council to be called for review.

1)  Notwithstanding any appeal procedures or any other call-up procedures provided by law, the City Council may call for the review of the following decisions of the Planning Board at the meeting at which the Planning Board’s decision is reported to the City Council:

a)   Any conditional use permit, or

b)  Any design review final action.

2)   If called-up for review by a majority vote of the City Council, the item will be heard de novo at a future City Council meeting following notice pursuant to subsection 3. If the City Council does not so vote, the decision of the Planning Board shall be final for City Council call-up.

3)  All provisions for notice and hearing applicable to the Planning Board for that type of decision, shall apply to the City Council in conducting its review; provided, however, that if an appeal from a decision has been properly filed, the matter shall be conducted as an appeal subject to all applicable requirements for such appeals, rather than a review subject to this section.

4)  The process costs for items called for review would be identified in the City Council budget and would not be borne by the applicant.   Once this budget line item is exhausted, Council would need to seek additional funding and identify a source of revenue or offsetting budget cut before authorizing additional funding.

Personally I think this is a great plan.  It allows the City Council to still have control of appealing a decision made by the Planning Board but it’s not just in the hands of one person to simply call everything up for review because that person fundamentally disagrees with either (1) any development in general or (2) anything approved by the majority of Planning Board members.

Also under the proposed changes, there the cost of the appeal would  not be borne by the applicants but rather to the City itself if the City Council decides to call something for review.  This is particularly important for small residential projects (call them mom n’ pop projects if you will) where the applicant, a homeowner, is forced to appear time and time again with professionals that they are on the hook for paying simply because someone has convinced one City Council member to take up their cause against the project.

Naturally some City Council members are going to take great offense at this and speculate as to why this was not done under previous mayoral administrations. Arguably it should have been done, but hey, no time like the present.  I imagine that the point of the Call for Review process was to be used in extreme circumstances when there is something deficient in the way that the Planning Board handled the decision making process as opposed to simply providing opponents a second bite at the apple to defeat a project or to increase the costs to the applicant to make it financially unappealing.  This way, this proposed procedure manages the expectations of the applicant so that they understand what happens after they make it through the Planning Board process as opposed to being left in limbo as to the whims of the City Council.

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6 Comments

  1. Let me count the ways that this is a reasonable plan. It prevents whimsical action on the part of a single member of the council, it respects a division of labor in government and the responsibility held by the planning board, and it provides a clear set of rules for the city to abide by. It’s time.

    Comment by gaylon — May 17, 2016 @ 6:20 am

  2. I guess it would work the other way too. If the “applicant” has been denied in a final decision at the design review stage by the Planning Board or approved with unwanted conditions, and a majority on the City Council votes to undertake de novo review, any “process costs” from that point on are borne by the City?

    Comment by MP — May 17, 2016 @ 7:46 am

  3. A quick point of clarification. Currently, the full costs of the staff time to prepare a call for review, staff the meeting, etc. are borne by the applicant, whether or not the call for review is successful. I believe the proposal would move that cost the the City.

    Comment by JKW — May 17, 2016 @ 9:21 am

    • The proposal seems to read that if the Council review process is used, the City would shift the process costs to the City whether the review ultimately results in overturning the Planning Board decision or the Planning Board decision is upheld. The proposal would also seem to allow the City Council to fund the costs of a review of the Planning Board decision denying an application (not just decisions approving applications) or seeking to remove the conditions of approval imposed by the Planning Board.

      I’m sure these costs vary greatly according to scope of the project and the range of issues raised in the call for review. Does anyone have an idea what dollar amount ranges we are talking about?

      Comment by MP — May 17, 2016 @ 9:57 am

  4. This may be incorrect, but I recall being told it cost $600 to go before HAB, (Historic Advisory Board) and that was several years ago. Projects which alter more than 25% of the exterior of homes built before 1943 must go before the board. The formula used to be based on % of cost of the project as opposed to physical alteration which is totally illogical, but hopefully that change got approved. $600 may have been a minimum or an average, but at any rate , adding even a couple hundred dollars to a project can be a disincentive and punitive. Approval sometimes rested on the applicant agreeing to aesthetic upgrades which were cosmetic and not structural. On one project where the exterior of a Queen Ann Victorian had asbestos siding which was proposed for removal, one HAB member wanted to require restoring the most elaborate “gingerbread” known to have been used on such structures which could have run into several thousands of dollars. Not enough to strip the asbestos which requires specialty license, (ka-ching). Staff time is billed out at over $100 an hour. I think this change is entirely reasonable. It will be interesting to see if the mayor votes for it.

    Comment by MI — May 17, 2016 @ 11:21 am

  5. A simple call for review, like 1435 Webster, would cost $2500-3000. It depends on the amount of staff work needed, and that doesn’t include the cost is architects and others who have worked on the project.

    Comment by jkw — May 17, 2016 @ 5:58 pm


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