Councilmember Victor Cabral and his colleagues on the dais should have ample time to iron out a proposed ordinance to streamline San Clemente’s permitting process, as the item is expected to occupy a significant portion of this week’s council meeting.
In what could be the culmination of five Planning Commission meeting discussions and other city staff legwork, a council decision over whether to introduce an ordinance codifying new zoning amendments intended to expedite the review process of obtaining construction permits is scheduled Thursday, Sept. 14.
City staff is also putting on the table options to modify the city’s appeals process and update a fee schedule for permits.
The item previously appeared in front of the council at the Sept. 5 meeting, during which Cabral expressed he hadn’t had the time to properly assess the proposed amendments.
“There is absolutely no way, unless we (stay) until 2 in the morning, that we’re going to get through all my questions,” he said, prompting the council to continue the public hearing for the item to Thursday.
In August 2022, the council initiated the amendments that included the reduction of processing times for noncontroversial projects, simplifying permit procedures, and clarifying zoning regulations, according to the staff report.
The Planning Commission then pored over the amendments’ details, seeking to ensure it was comfortable with the changes and to minimize the public’s concern regarding potential changes to historic structures and their quality of life in relation to future construction.
The Planning Commission’s last hearing on the matter was on June 7, during which it recommended the amendments to the council. It also recommended the council reduce the appeals fee for discretionary review of zoning permits from $1,447.67 for applicants and $628.08 for a member of the public to a flat rate of $100 and designate the commission as the appeal body for Zoning Administrator decisions.
If the commission was able to call up Zoning Administrator decisions, the appeal process could be extended by up to 60 days, according to Associate Planner Christopher Wright, who said staff felt such actions contradicted the council’s original intent with the amendments.
Wright explained at the Sept. 5 meeting that the amendments fell into three categories: “clarify,” “consolidate” and “streamline.”
Under the “clarify” category, staff would update the language and information related to specific projects within the zoning code to help the public better understand the levels of review necessary for certain applications.
According to current guidelines, the city provides applicants with 10 different permit applications, such as minor cultural heritage, cultural heritage, site plan and minor site plan, to name a few.
Staff plans to reduce overlap by consolidating the types of applications from 10 to four.
“Say instead of three applications to get a project approved, you’d need one, but you’re still having to meet the same criteria to get the project approved,” Wright said. “What that does is reduce the amount of writing staff has to (do), and that (frees up time) for other projects.”
Additionally, staff sought only to “streamline” items that have historically been noncontroversial and to propose actions that would maintain and enhance residents’ quality of life.
If a typically commonplace project features one major feature of concern, a city planner would be able to refer it to the Planning Commission for review under the new ordinance, according to Wright. He added that staff also wanted to make the process for approving administrative permits more objective.
Councilmember Rick Loeffler spoke in support of Cabral before the council decided to continue the public hearing.
“This is really important,” he said. “I’d like Victor to feel comfortable with the questions he wants to ask. Maybe once he reads (the report), his questions will go down from 200 to maybe 100.”
The San Clemente City Council will hold Thursday’s meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall, at 910 Calle Negocio, beginning with the closed session portion at 5 p.m., followed by the public portion at 6 p.m. The meeting will also be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page.