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County responds to grand jury report on minor use permits 

In an uneventful process, San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors adopted on July 12 the county’s official response to a June 7 grand jury report that picked a bone with the minor use permit process.

The volunteer citizens group’s report, “Minor Use Permits: An Oxymoron” recommended sweeping changes to the minor use permitting process. The county Planning and Building Department requires a minor use permit for projects that may cause concerns to the surrounding neighborhood, and can include small residential projects; additions to larger dwellings; or multi-family, commercial, and industrial projects.

The grand jury report recommended the county overhaul its general plan—which was written in 1980—and fold in the extensive list of land use ordinance amendments made since in order to make permitting requirements easier to navigate. The county’s response said this was neither necessary nor feasible because the general plan is “very much a living and relevant document” and that the entire plan is available and searchable on the county’s website.

The county did acknowledge that because the land use ordinance is integrated into the general plan, it has led to “perceived inconsistencies, wide ranging interpretations, and a complex process.” That said, a comprehensive general plan update could cost between $3 million and $5 million and could theoretically be done in five years or fewer. However, the response noted it would likely take longer: “Experience shows that the creation of a new general plan for a county as complex as ours could take up to a decade to complete due to changing political cycles and almost inevitable legal challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act.”

The response also addressed recommendations that fees, public noticing, and review processes be beefed up. The response said that the county already has a fee schedule that recoups staff time and processing costs. 

As for the public process, the county points out that current public noticing to neighbors at times exceeds state requirements, and that while not all hearings for a minor use permit reach the public process, a neighbor can request that they do.

While neither the report nor the response garnered much attention, one vocal interest group did take notice. The July 10 weekly update of the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business (COLAB)—a conservative group that advocates against regulations and government involvement—argued the grand jury was right to critique the permitting process, but that its critique fell on the wrong side of the issue.

“We were hopeful that the jury would expose the problems in the costly and capricious process,” the weekly update read, before suggesting that the group has become dominated by the left. “Instead the jury actually recommends that the Board of Supervisors add a number of costly and delaying processes to the already convoluted system.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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