Orange County's Planning & Development Services department "is in critical condition," according to an internal county audit released in late July.
The 117-page report by the county's Office of the Performance Audit Director detailed a planning department that has seen its workload and staffing level decline drastically this decade because of incorporations and decreased building activity. At the same time, the department adopted a new time-and-materials fee methodology and went through several permanent and interim directors.
Seven years ago, county officials revealed the department was operating at a $500,000-a-month deficit, a situation that forced out both the planning director and the county administrator. The deficit arose after the county slashed fees to burn off $18.5 million in excess plan check and building inspection fee revenue. The county later shifted to a time-and-materials fee basis.
The county auditor concluded, "Avoiding an operating deficit continues to be, by far, the top priority for the PDS (planning and development services) organization. In response to drastically declining revenues, PDS has made significant operations changes to achieve financial solvency, in many cases at the expense of customer service."
Department Director Tim Neely retired earlier this year. New Director Bryan Speegle responded to the audit by agreeing with many of the findings.
California's farm and grazing lands decreased by 275 square miles from mid-2004 through mid-2006, according to the state Department of Conservation. A total of 81,000 acres of prime farmland were lost to urban development or other changes, the greatest decrease in prime farmland since the state started the farmland mapping and monitoring program in 1984.
Two members of the board overseeing the Orange County Great Park who sued the public agency over access to executive recruitment information should have their attorney fees paid, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
When 5.7 million people say they want to shield local funding from grabbing hands – as they did in November -- that should be the end of the story. At least, that's what California's redevelopment agencies would hope after this annus horribilis in the redevelopment world.
In Year Three of the Great Recession, it's comforting to think that California has heard all the bad news it's going to hear. Or at least we're so accustomed to bad news, that we've stopped getting depressed by it. As a result, many of this year's top stories come with silver linings.
The no-growth vs. slow-growth vs. build-everything debate has become a faint murmur, since not much of anything is getting built anyway. What is getting built, though, is generally pleasing to the smart growth crowd.
Fans of infrastructure development have surely cheered the progress on projects like High Speed Rail and Los Angeles Metro's 30/10 Initiative. Then again, skeptics may be assuring themselves that these projects will never get built.
A major residential and resort development on the Tejon Ranch has won unanimous approval from the Kern County Board of Supervisors. The project, known as Tejon Mountain Village, is proposed to have 3,450 housing units, two golf courses, 750 hotel rooms, a resort and extensive highway commercial development on about 5,000 acres east of Frazier Park.
Forced into negotiations by the state Legislature, the City of Walnut has dropped its lawsuit contesting the adequacy of an environmental impact report for a proposed professional football stadium and 3 million-square-foot entertainment complex in the neighboring City of Industry.
A project that had become a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lightning rod has apparently died. Nestlé Waters North America notified the McCloud Community Services District that it is dropping plans to convert a closed lumber mill in Siskiyou County into a water-bottling plant because it is building the facility in Sacramento instead.
In this roundup of news: The Orange County planning director resigns only days after the Board of Supervisors ordered a task force to overhaul the department; Irvine amends its agreement with developers of the old El Toro base; Stockton's downtown redevelopment takes a hit; Santee sues San Diego County over jail expansion; Palo Alto adopts a private street ballot initiative.
In the latest roundup of California land use news: The governor signs urgency legislation extending the life of all tentative subdivision maps by two years; the Los Angeles MTA approves its first congestion pricing project; a Desert Hot Springs development dream becomes species habitat instead; a developer takes its case directly to Mendocino County voters.
Two environmental groups that sued the City of Rancho Cucamonga and developers to gain ownership of 86 acres of habitat mitigation land have failed to persuade an appellate court to reverse a devastating lower court ruling.The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the argument put forth by The Habitat Trust for Wildlife and Spirit of the Sage Council that the city, developers and San Bernardino County had collaborated to deny the environmental groups' right to own the property.