Grand jury calls SLO County’s minor use permit system an oxymoron

Calling it an oxymoron, the San Luis Obispo County grand jury has slammed the county’s system for minor use permits.

The report said that minor use permits are an oxymoron because they are used for everything from adding a small deck on a home to building a new multiunit housing development. The report urges the county to update its general plan, which was written in 1980 and has been amended more than 140 times in the past 36 years. A general plan is a blueprint for growth and development.

The report also recommends that the planning department include an estimate of the cost of any particular development or project. The investigation was prompted by requests from the public.

“This dollar value would enable the public to more accurately gauge the size and impact of the project,” the report stated.

The grand jury found that the issuance of a minor use permit is complex and confusing. Adding to the complication is the fact that the county’s zoning is divided into coastal and inland sections with different requirements for each area.

The report noted that the county’s general plan was issued in 1980, when the county was much more rural than it is now. County staff was unable to say if the fees the county charges for minor use permits actually cover the costs of issuing one.

“Over 140 amendments attempt to bring the general plan up to date and only serve to make navigation by an ordinary citizen more difficult,” the civil grand jury report stated.

A minor use permit is what the county calls a discretionary permit. It can be issued by a hearing officer within the county planning department. If it is appealed, the county Board of Supervisors would hold a hearing.

The report specifically recommended that the Board of Supervisors update the general plan, make it easily accessible using an electronic search and indicate the cost of each project to assist the public in evaluating its potential impact.

It also recommended that larger projects, such as multifamily residential projects and commercial and industrial projects, be given a public hearing rather than being placed on the department’s consent agenda.

In the process of preparing the report, the grand jury interviewed the planning department’s assistant director, two longtime members of the planning staff, as well as a local builder and architect and the executive director of a professional homebuilders’ organization.

The report, which is nonbinding, requires a formal response from county Chief Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi and the Board of Supervisors.