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Supervisors hike permit and plan review fees

Fees for building permits, plan reviews, and other permits related to land use in unincorporated San Diego County will be increased as of April 10.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 January 7 to approve the fee increases, although since an ordinance amendment is involved a second reading and adoption is scheduled for January 28.

Supervisors Greg Cox, Dianne Jacob, and Pam Slater-Price voted in favor of the increases while Supervisors Ron Roberts and Bill Horn opposed the increased fees.

“I understand the building industry’s concerns about this, but I do not think it’s going to break the back of the camel,” Jacob said. “The downside of not approving it is far greater.”

County staff indicated that the implementation of cutbacks rather than fee increases would likely result in increased wait and processing time.

“The time is probably far more valuable to these applicants,” Cox said.

“For right now, I believe this is a reasonable proposal.”

Roberts and Horn fear that additional fees will cripple the building industry even further, although Horn understood the need to retain the county’s full cost recovery policy and its general management system.

“I don’t want to see us day after day tinkering with the general management system,” Horn said. “I think it’s worked well.”

The fee increases are expected to raise an additional $200,000 for the portion of Fiscal Year (FY) 2008-09 in which they would be in effect and an additional $1.59 million for FY 2009-10.

“The fee package before us today is not an effort to replace revenue to previous levels,” said county Department of Planning and Land Use director Eric Gibson.

Staff at the Department of Planning and Land Use’s building division has been reduced from 105 to 64, and Jacob noted that her support was based on the fact that the department has already cut expenses due to lower revenues.

During 2004-05, approximately 8,000 permits were processed, and about 2,000 of those were for single-family tracts while the rest covered items such as swimming pools and spas, building additions, and various other construction or grading.

The current annual estimate is 5,000 permits, with approximately 550 of those being single-family tracts.

The fees are normally adjusted annually, and the most recent adjustments also improve coordination for fees and deposits collected by the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use, Department of Public Works, and Department of Parks and Recreation.

The average building permit fee will increase by $129, or 3.9 percent, for the remainder of FY 2008-09 and by $145, or 4.7 percent, for FY 2009-10.

The average discretionary fee will increase $20, or 4.6 percent, for 2008-09 and $17, or 3.8 percent, for 2009-10.

Many projects require deposits to cover staff time, and the average deposit will increase $125, or 4.7 percent, for 2008-09 and $115, or 4.1 percent, for 2009-10.

Because county expenses include fuel and staff driving time for inspections, the actual county cost to service unincorporated communities exceeds similar costs for most incorporated cities.

However, the increase would bring the building permit fee for a four-bedroom, three-bathroom single-family home with 2,700 square feet of living space, a 600-square-foot garage, and a 240-square-foot patio to $3,966.61, not including the Traffic Impact Fee or other mitigation costs.

That figure for the permit is lower than 12 of the 18 incorporated cities.

“It costs money to do business,” Jacob said.

The county costs include staff salary and benefits, internal direct and indirect costs, and external overhead. Overhead costs include information technology and building expenses.

The building industry was split on the fee increases.

Bob Stewart felt that the continuity of service merited the additional costs. “The modest increases that are being asked for are reasonable,” he said.

Matthew Adams of the Building Industry Association noted that San Diego’s building industry has lost approximately 20,000 jobs.

“Our industry at this point is on life support,” he said. “Every little cost increase, whether you think it’s substantial or not, is one impediment to reviving this industry.”

Past fee increases have often been passed on to homebuyers.

“At this point the market just can’t absorb additional economic impacts,” Adams said. “What needs to happen is to stimulate new home construction.”

The building permit fee for a single-family dwelling or duplex up to 2,000 square feet will increase from $3,413 to $3,558 for the 2008-09 portion of the increase and $3,722 for 2009-10.

A single-family dwelling unit or duplex of 2,001 to 4,000 square feet will see an increase from $3,896 to $4,064 for the 2008-09 portion and $4,250 for 2009-10.

The fee for a single-family dwelling or duplex between 4,001 and 7,000 square feet increases from $4,515 to $4,711 and $4,927, while the current $5,655 fee for more than 7,000 square feet will be $5,906 and $6,175.

The $678 fee for a swimming pool or spa will rise to $700 for that part of 2008-09 and $735 for 2009-10 while the $2,592 fee for a cabana will increase to $2,708 and $2,830.

The permit cost for a major remodel with no square footage addition will increase from $2,485 to $2,596 and $2,714.

Additions of up to 100 square feet for a single family dwelling or duplex will have the $909 fee increased to $939 and $985.

The fee for additions to a single family dwelling unit or duplex more than 100 square feet but simple enough for an over-the-counter review will increase from $1,415 to $1,466 and $1,536 while the $2,772 fee for such additions requiring submittal of a plan check will increase to $2,893 and $3,025.

“We’re the only business I know of that raises its price when it can’t sell its product,” Horn said. “This is only the beginning of what we’re going to see.”

One new fee – for the post-approval annual report of a resource management plan – was added.

The initial cost will be $170 and the fee will increase to $180 for FY 2009-10.

Two deposits were added, one for pre-application project review for minor projects and one for condition satisfaction review and mitigation monitoring compliance for large projects with numerous conditions.

Gibson told the supervisors that without the increases the staff cuts would increase wait times from approximately 25 minutes to approximately 45 minutes while increasing residential plan processing from three to seven weeks and commercial processing from five to nine weeks.

“I wish we could just simply ignore this. However, we ignore it at our own peril,” Slater-Price said.

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