AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre “We need a consultant to tell us whether we are charging adequate fees,” said Eva Yuan-McDaniel, deputy director of planning for the Los Angeles Planning Department. “Some cases are close to full-cost recovery, and other cases are just unbelievably low,” she said. “If we can have full-cost recovery, that would be much less burden on the general fund – and that’s less subsidy with taxpayer money.” The planning-fee review comes as the city is facing falling revenues and a tightening budget. To lessen the drain on the city’s general fund – which pays for basic city services such as police officers, firefighters and street paving – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s budget team has initiated studies to see whether Los Angeles needs to charge higher fees. Los Angeles taxpayers are subsidizing more than half the cost of processing new development approvals in the city, according to a Daily News review. In many cases, the planning fees developers pay cover just 40 percent of the expense of staff review and public outreach. In controversial or complicated projects, the fees might cover only 20 percent of the cost. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab, which can top $10,000 in some cases. Now, as Los Angeles leaders face a budget crunch and prepare to cut city services, the city has approved a $150,000 study analyzing the possibility of raising planning processing fees. About 13 departments are analyzing the need for fee increases or have recently completed analyses that have justified fee increases. This year, the city raised ambulance fees and fees levied when city crews clear brush on private property. Next year, the city will consider raising fees for animal services, transportation and the Police Department. “When we have a tough budget year, we look at whether we are really recovering the cost of providing a service,” Chief Administrative Officer Karen Sisson said. “It does cost us to provide certain services, and when our expenses go up, we need to make sure we can cover those costs.” Some community activists were surprised, however, that Los Angeles has not attempted to recoup the cost of processing new development applications – especially amid a building boom over the past several years. “All the fees have been going up for residents,” said Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, who also cited recent increases in water rates and sewer fees. “It’s unfair to force the full burden of fees on the residents and then give away the store to developers.” But it’s not just the Planning Department. The Department of Building and Safety has not raised its fees in 14 years, even though the department’s workload has soared 80 percent in recent years. “We changed the way we do business. We’re doing more with less,” spokesman Bob Steinbach said. The Department of Building and Safety is now comparing its fees with other cities’ charges. Yuan-McDaniel, with the Planning Department, said the city’s planning-fee structure is so old and complicated – there are 160 different fees – that nobody has attempted to overhaul it. Politics has played a role, too. The business and development community does not always welcome fee increases. “It’s always been this notion of being business-friendly,” said Councilman Ed Reyes, who heads the council’s Planning and Land Use Committee and has pushed for higher fees. “We were not as aggressive in raising that concern.” With the city’s financial crunch – and new Planning Department leadership that has pledged to reform the project-approval process – Reyes said he is hopeful that L.A. taxpayers won’t keep subsidizing development for long. Holly Schroeder, with the Building Industry Association’s L.A. chapter, said the development community could accept higher fees – if the city eases the bureaucracy, which would save developers money. “Sometimes it takes longer to get a housing project approved than it takes to get a drug approved through the Food and Drug Administration,” she said. “If they had a real, rational, effective process that would work, we’re willing to talk about fees paying a greater portion or all of that process,” Schroeder said. In the last few years, L.A. has begun charging full cost for projects that go through the expedited unit. Developers get more speedy service and pay for the staff hours it takes to process their applications. Based on bills sent to developers by the expedited unit, planning officials figure the current planning fees cover about 40 percent of the cost of processing an average project and only 20 percent of the cost of a more complicated or controversial project. Neighboring cities already charge higher fees than Los Angeles. The city of Santa Clarita charges among the highest planning and development fees in the region – yet it was recently ranked one of the most business-friendly cities by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “We don’t expect our existing residents to pay for development,” said Robert Newman, director of public works for Santa Clarita. He said city fees are based on the staff time needed to process applications, and they’re updated about every five years. “We’ve had very few complaints on the fees we charge,” Newman added. Glendale charges slightly higher planning fees than Los Angeles, and it attempts to recover the full cost of processing development applications. “Even though we’re trying to set the fees at full-cost recovery, we’re nowhere near full-cost recovery,” said Jeff Hamilton, a senior planner with the city of Glendale. Still, Burbank charges fees significantly lower than both Los Angeles and Glendale. “Each year we’ve been trying to increase our fees little by little,” said Joy Forbes, deputy city planner with the city of Burbank. “But we always look at the cities nearby, and the council likes the fact that we’re always right under Glendale and Pasadena. “While we continue to increase fees, we’ll probably never be over those cities.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!