A proposal to shorten the amount of time applicants have to appeal land-use decisions was tabled Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, who said they want to hear more community input on the idea.
A pair of county committees that have been meeting to find ways to streamline a turgid and off-putting land-use process suggested the change in the appeal period, from 14 days to 10 days.
They also wanted to limit who has a right to appeal. That, too, was handed back to the planning staff for refinement and more comments.
The suggestions were a small part of a much larger report to supervisors by the six- to eight-member committees, which are composed of planners, architects, developers and an environmentalist.
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The committees also suggested that the Board of Supervisors take a firmer hand with the Community Advisory Councils that dot the county — setting uniform standards for how they choose members, for example.
But supervisors made it clear they don’t want to get closely involved with CACs, which are close to the citizens in each community and, supervisors felt, should not face interference from the higher body.
Although there were many recommendations for reform on numerous subjects in the 26-page report, the appeals drew the largest outcry. Environmentalists in particular mobilized to fight the shortened appeal period, which some of them characterized as an attack on the democratic process.
Some supervisors were sympathetic to keeping the appeal period at 14 days. Jim Patterson said shortening the appeal period for complicated projects is “doing a disservice to the public.”
However, others said the shortening would align the county with the state and the California Coastal Commission.
“I don’t have any heartburn with the 10 days,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.
The question of “standing” — who gets to appeal a project and under what circumstances — also drew comment.
The committees objected to people jumping in late in the permitting process.
“There have been a number of instances where individuals have not participated in the initial hearing, appealed the project and then only participated in front of the Board of Supervisors,” the committees wrote.
“Requiring participation in the initial hearing will assure that the review authority hears from all interested persons at the earliest decision point,” they wrote.
Committee members also wanted appellants to state their interest in the project and be more precise in laying out reasons for opposition.
Although they took no formal action, supervisors praised committee members and county Planning Department employees for trying to make it easier for people seeking to build something in the county — or easing the steps in the process, as Mecham put it.
Planners have been working at this for several years now, trying to streamline the process from an applicant’s first visit to the permit window to the final step before the Board of Supervisors.
The board has broader motives as well, Chairman Adam Hill said.
Hill said the board wants to move away from a planning environment that has become an “increasingly destructive battle between people who want growth at any cost and those who want no growth whatsoever.”
“We have to find a way to not always be at odds,” Hill said, adding that the sometimes fractious nature of the planning process is “the result of enormous amounts of frustration and politicization (that) didn’t make things better.”
Supervisor Bruce Gibson quipped that he was looking forward to the day when, “in a far-off land,” there would be one-stop shopping for applicants — a place where they could take care of all the paperwork.