Development Services to get makeover?

Something needs to be done about the Department of Development Services. At least that’s what some Butte County administrators think.

The department has been criticized for responding too slowly to permit applications, and many developers believe that the process is too politicized. Others see the department’s slow pace as a good deterrent to large-scale developments being pushed through without adequate public notice.

In any case, there is a movement afoot, led by interim department head Fred Davis and interim Chief Administrative Officer Larry Odle, to find a way to speed up the process. Saying that the county has a duty to provide efficient service to those seeking building permits, Davis and Odle said the department needed to be reorganized—before they hire a permanent replacement for the recently appointed Davis.

A discussion on the matter has been set for a special meeting on March 15 at 9:30 a.m.

Addressing concerns that reorganizing the department would most benefit the big-time developers who support Butte County politicians, Odle said the issue had more to do with customer service than with any stance the county was taking on development.

“Issues of development are among those political issues we will always be dealing with because it has its nexus in the pro-growth/anti-growth conflict,” he said. “[But] the process itself should be as user friendly as possible.”

The only recent public comment on reorganizing the department has come from a special meeting held at the County Government Center on Feb. 21.

Odle asked the about 30 people in attendance which of six reorganization options they preferred and why. Most leaned toward an approach that would bring the various county agencies involved in permitting under one roof, creating something resembling a one-stop building permit shop.

Speakers, most of them builders, said that although the people working the counters are polite and helpful, their projects get bogged down once they’re submitted.

“You still can’t get a house plan approved, in many cases, in months,” said D. C. Jones, calling for a committee to which frustrated applicants could appeal. “Time is money to a lot of people.”

Another builder, Michael Evans, said that whether a project was approved often depended on which plan-checker one drew. “There are those who are supportive of development and those who are not.”

Dennis Robinson, who owns a construction firm and is on the Oroville Economic Development Corporation, said the county needed to hire a director who cared about staying in Butte County. He said builders didn’t want to have to come in with their county supervisor and have that person “pound on the counter for us.”

Several agreed they’d even pay higher fees if it meant faster service.

Linda Cole, of the Butte County League of Women Voters, said the real problem is that the county has not revised its General Plan, which would take much of the guesswork out of what type of development is allowed where.

Odle said he’s holding off on making his own recommendation known until all the surveys and other public feedback are in. He said after the meeting that the administration’s report is the completion of work started by former interim Director Tom Buford.