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City seeks faster, cheaper developer application process

OCEANSIDE — At the request of two council members, city staff is creating a process within 90 days of council’s Aug. 7 meeting that is meant to streamline development applications.

Councilman Chris Rodriguez, who along with Mayor Peter Weiss introduced the requested the process change through an ordinance at the Aug. 7 meeting, wants to improve a process that he believes is lacking in structure and bogs down application times for both big and small developers.

“What we’re looking to do is move on a much more efficient and streamlined pathway for the development community so that they can save on costs, they can have improved timelines and they have a sense of certainty,” Rodriguez said.

Within 90 days, staff must establish a process that would:

  • Establish a planning case review schedule so that applicants have a better understanding of application processing times
  • Have applicants meet face to face with city staff during the initial 30-day application review period to discuss approval conditions and work through potential issues
  • Give staff authority to make decisions to minimize or get rid of future, repetitive application reviews
  • Reduce the need for subsequent 30-day review cycles as projects are revised and resubmitted
  • Identify fee adjustments to ensure full cost recovery of the process and present any needed adjustments for council consideration.

Rodriguez said this would be a “win-win” as it will save both the city and developers time and money.

Arleen Hammerschmidt told council the ordinance sounded like it prioritized developers over residents with pending applications through the city.

“Developers could jump ahead of a homeowner who has an application in because it sounds like it just applies to developers,” Hammerschmidt said.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez shared that particular concern, calling it a potential “pay-to-play” process.

Development Services Director Jonathan Borrego told council that the process would apply to all applicants, “whether it’s a mom and pop adding to their home or a developer that’s building a shopping center.”

Sanchez also said she checked with city staff and was told that staff is already doing most of what the ordinance requests to be implemented in the new process. The only real change, she said, was the face-to-face meeting with developers.

Rodriguez said he worked with city staff to form the ordinance, adding that this process would implement “big changes” because it isn’t what staff is already doing.

Borrego told council that the current process is not “very structured” nor does it establish set deadlines for applicants.

Rodriguez explained that the city has “excellent staff” and permitting processing systems that are “some of the best in the county,” but that is not what the ordinance is addressing.

“We’re dealing with the entitlement pathway, which is a lot more in depth and requires a lot more cost on the developer’s part,” he said. “For example, if they have to move forward on this study or that study, they can easily spend close to $300,000 before they have an entitlement, and that’s a lot of risk.”

Council passed the ordinance 4-0 with Sanchez abstaining. Sanchez said she would remain neutral until she sees what process staff creates.

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