CARLSBAD — The city is taking on the role of guinea pig in a new pilot program with the California Coastal Commission.
It is a status the City Council has embraced as it approved an agreement last week with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Service Bureau for expedited services with the coastal commission.
Over the past seven months, the city, SANDAG and commission worked to establish a framework for the program. The goal is to get earlier reviews on projects, according to City Planner Don Neu.
“The thought of using SANDAG was that if this program is successful it can be expanded to other coastal cities … or entity,” Neu said. “It will enhance coordination and shorten projects.”
Carlsbad was selected for a 30-month pilot program due to its number of projects in need of early review and expedited services. The program runs from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2018, and the earliest termination date is June 30, 2017, should the city not be satisfied with the program.
Supervisor Greg Cox, who was an integral part of the formation of the program, said 106 projects are in line for approval by the commission over the next several years.
“SANDAG had done this regarding to the North Coast Corridor Project,” he said. “That was such a positive experience. We used SANDAG as the vehicle to call everyone together.”
In addition, Carlsbad must pay for additional staff. Neu said five additional coastal commission employees were recommended in the initial survey, but only one position was approved due to budget constraints.
Carlsbad’s obligation to fund the additional commission staff member will be $166,996 (from the Community Economic Development budget) for one-year of salary for the commission employee. In addition, the city must pay $86,498 for additional salary of the employee for the last part of this fiscal year.
Although the city must pay up front, the council discussed potential costs saved due to a faster process.
“In the end, I would not be surprised to learn that perhaps this is a savings,” councilman Michael Schumacher said. “We will certainly put it to use considering how many projects we have in the pipeline.”
“I am convinced this will be a financial win,” councilman Keith Blackburn added.
The program, meanwhile, will speed the process of approving permits and approvals for priority projects, planning milestones and timelines.
Neu said Carlsbad and San Diego are the two largest customers for the commission due to the number of projects. Carlsbad, though was chosen because of its high-priority projects such as updating coastal plan, which must go through review and approval from the commission.
Updating the coastal plan, Neu said, should allow for faster permitting including permit authority for the entire city, which then gets quicker concepts, reviews and action. About 33 percent of the city falls under the coastal commission’s jurisdiction.
In addition, Coastal Commission Program Manager Gabriel Buhr said the city has eight to nine major projects planned for the next several years.
Among them is an uncertified area of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, the 85/15 plan, the Barrio and Village Master Plan and Poinsettia connector.
While Carlsbad is expected to benefit in the short term, Buhr, who works in the San Diego District, said if the initial months were successful, it would trickle down to other cities and jurisdictions.
“Once the plans are updated and Carlsbad has permit authority, it sounds to me like that in itself will save time,” Schumacher added.