Planning Plan

“There are a lot of issues [with RMA],” County Supervisor Luis Alejo says. “It’s not only how big it is. We’re seeing a lot of turnover.”

Developers complain that the county’s planning staff process permit applications too slowly and would like to see a switch to electronic submissions from the triplicate system that was popular in the last century. Meanwhile, conservationists and transparency watchdogs want more consistency and enforcement from the county’s planning department, which is formally known as the Resource Management Agency.

The county Board of Supervisors and RMA leadership want to know why planners keep quitting in favor of jobs elsewhere. Last year, for example, the county lost its chief of planning, Jacqueline Onciano, to Santa Clara County.

Supervisor Jane Parker recently called RMA “the department that everyone loves to complain about.” She was speaking at the Jan. 14 meeting of the Board of Supervisors minutes before a unanimous vote to spend nearly $200,000 for a five-month study of RMA by outside consultants. (The funds will be drawn from the county’s cannabis revenue.)

Citygate Associates, a consulting firm from the Sacramento area, will review the county’s land use and community development functions. The goal of the work will be to improve “operational effectiveness,” according to a memo by county staff. Citygate will look at RMA’s “internal processes, organization structure and reporting relationships” and carry out “internal and external stakeholder discussions.”

During public comment at the Jan. 14 meeting, attorney Molly Erickson said the proposed focus on efficiency in the consultant’s study is akin to “rearranging teacups on the Titanic.”

If Citygate finds a way to make RMA more efficient, it will have achieved a goal that has apparently eluded another group that’s been working on the problem for 14 years.

Known as the Permit Streamlining Task Force, the group has no formal role in county government but meets twice a month and includes real estate developers, architects and land-use attorneys, with some participation from county planning officials. In 2014, the Weekly wrote about the task force in a 2014 story titled, “Power brokers threaten to bail if their group is subject to county oversight.” While commonly referred to in county records prior to 2014, the task force has gone virtually unmentioned since.

“From the RMA perspective,” county spokesperson Maia Carroll writes by email, “the task force seeks to understand how things work and provides insight as to how county regulations and operations affect development in Monterey County. This can help the agency identify where it can find efficiencies within a complex regulatory environment.”

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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