Let the User Pay
Item 12 on the City Council’s agenda for last Tuesday’s meeting was quite the stinker. A whiff even made it so far up the hill it attracted the attention of Neil Fitzpatrick, a former mayor from the last century. The crowd was large and the mood surly.
City Manager John Pietig was able to extinguish the flame under the tar kettle and spare a chicken its feathers for another day by continuing the item to some unspecified later date. Perhaps never.
The gist of this item was the offer by a developer, who will have lots of projects before the city, to donate to the city a sum of money to pay for planners that will review projects such as his.
A variation of this proposal was floated in the last century. Somebody suggested applicants for development permits could elect to pay extra for speedier service. Maybe the memory of this is what brought Mayor Neil down the hill, far from his home and comfortable bed.
That proposal was turned down on the basis of not being very democratic. The only difference between rich folks and the rest of us is that they have more money. Equal rights means we all have the right to the same miserable or excellent service currently being dished out by government.
What would be next? Perhaps special luxury prisons for the wealthy miscreant? The real problem is that this proposal is only dealing with a symptom, not the root problem.
Our fee structure, which we use to fund the enterprise of regulating community development, is not sufficient to fully fund the task. The fees collected for both the planning stage and the actual construction process are too low. This may be a bit hard to understand in the paper processing stage of the development process. It comes into focus when you look at the construction stage.
The concrete subcontractor, working on the mega mansion across the street from Wet Suit Worldwide Headquarters, spent all day waiting for a building inspector who never came. This isn’t unusual. One wonders why the city building inspection department can’t do as good as cable TV. They at least give you a two-hour window.
The answer lies in the fact that this mega mansion contains more concrete than the Hoover Dam, and more timber than a national forest. “How many times has the inspector visited the project for concrete inspections? Ten and we’re not done.” The typical house, that the permit fees are based on, contemplates only a couple concrete inspections. We’ve inspected the last eight times for free and there’s more to come.
The user of these services should pay the full costs of plan check and inspection. That isn’t happening now. That is the problem we need to fix. Not stick our tin cup out for donations.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.