In March 2013 the planning directors for California’s 58 counties were surveyed to gather information about counties’ practices for processing applications for discretionary planning entitlements. Ultimately, 41 counties responded to the online survey and the results are presented in this report.
The impetus for this survey was a desire to gather reliable data around the highly variable (and sometimes volatile) subject of permit processing. This is a lively topic in many communities and often the source of rancorous criticism by permit applicants, the general public and elected officials. While the differences among counties are often striking, each county planning department works under the same general structure that defines land use planning in California: we all follow the same state planning and zoning laws and the same California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and our processes include features that are well understood from county to county (zoning codes, public hearings, staff reports, permit applications, etc.). The particular permit processing issues that arise in any given county often lead to a common question: how do they do this in other counties? This report of survey results provides answers to some of these questions.
The survey sought information about each county’s processing of discretionary planning entitlements, including use permits, design reviews, tentative subdivision maps, coastal permits and legislative approvals (rezoning or General Plan amendments) related to development applications. Counties were asked to exclude information on ministerial site plan reviews, zoning approvals (e.g., home occupations), building permits or other ministerial approvals. Respondents were asked to provide their best estimate if hard data was not readily available.
The survey results can be used in at least two different ways. First, counties now have an opportunity to compare their practices (and their outcomes) with other similarly situated counties. Such comparisons could help identify areas where a county excels or where they may want to focus their process improvement efforts. Counties can also see whether their practices are “within the norm” for other similar counties. Second, the survey results could be a source of inspiration and great ideas for counties looking to improve their approach to permit processing, something that virtually every planning director works on nearly every day.