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Council to Consider Hiring Consultants to Speed Up Planning Process

By Lookout Staff

December 14 -- In an effort to beef up the City’s planning staff and speed up a chronically slow process, the City Council Tuesday night will consider paying consultants as much as $530,000 a year.

While the City’s plan check and inspection staff will continue to meet average workloads, the consultants will provide “consistent levels of service during peak periods,” according to the staff report.

The consent calendar item comes in response to a recommendations made in July by the Matrix Consulting Group, which evaluated the City’s permit, plan check, inspection and code enforcement processes. (“Audit Reveals Ways to Fix Planning Woes,” July 7, 2004)

If approved by the council, the City would hire two consulting firms -- California Code Check and Scott Fazekas & Associates, which would be paid as much as $200,000 and $100,000 respectively.

The City would also expand the services of two other firms -- Bing Yen & Associates and JAS Pacific Corporation -- already providing services for the Planning Department. The contracts would be for as much as $120,000 and $113,000 respectively.

Because none of the half dozen firms bidding for the contracts could provide “on-call, short-term assignment” consultants, two additional inspector positions were included in the budget “to provide sufficient resources to accomplish next-day inspections for nearly all volumes of requests,” according to the staff report.

“Consultant inspection services will be used in the event of staff vacancies or similar interim, fixed-term needs,” the report stated. “Consultant plan check services will be used to provide traditional intake services during peak request periods when internal staff resources are insufficient to meet desired turn-around time frames.”

Hiring several consultants will provide the City with greater flexibility “in the event any one firm is facing a heavier-than-expected workload and cannot complete the services within the required timeframe,” according to staff.

The four-month-long audit by Matrix found that Santa Monica’s Planning Department typically takes weeks and even months to approve projects and permits, which is longer than similar cities take.

The report found the City also suffers from staffing shortages and high turnover and is riddled with inefficiencies.

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