In most jurisdictions throughout California, the typical project review and processing for discretionary planning applications, such as Conditional Use Permits, and the related California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, ranges from six months to one year. Depending on the jurisdiction’s staffing levels, presence of controversial project issues, and level of community engagement, this timeframe can often exceed one year. For this reason, it is critical that applicants and prospective applicants take steps to expedite the environmental entitlement and review process. Here are five ways to do so:
1. Pre-Application Review
Most agencies offer a pre-application review process or meeting as an opportunity for prospective applicants to present their conceptual project to staff or decision-makers and obtain feedback early on in the discretionary application review process. This is usually provided for a nominal fee and allows prospective applicants to gain a preliminary understanding of any fatal flaws concerning their project as well as an environmental entitlement “road map.” So, take full advantage of this option!
2. Consider Permit Expediting Options Offered by Lead Agency
In addition to the pre-application review process discussed above, many agencies now offer various arrangements for expediting the processing of applications and preparation of environmental review documents required under CEQA. In many cases, applicants can expedite the processing of their entitlements by contracting with environmental planning services consultants, such as FirstCarbon Solutions, to prepare staff reports and the appropriate CEQA documents. While this option may be more expensive than using in-house staff, the time savings and a higher quality legally defensible CEQA document are invaluable.
3. Early Public Outreach
Early consultation with the public through neighborhood meetings, websites, and other means is essential. If you’re receiving public comments for the first time at a scheduled public hearing, such as a Planning Commission, it’s often too late to address them in a cost-effective and efficient manner. If possible, try to garner the support of local elected officials first so that they can serve as “project advocates” and facilitate the timely processing of your application.
4. Complete Application and Project Description
A complete application and project description is important to initiating and keeping the entitlement processing and environmental review process on the right track. Moreover, an incomplete application or project description frequently leads to costly delays as project plans, technical studies, and CEQA analysis must be re-done to address the new information.
5. Establish Ongoing Communication and Support with Lead Agency
Lastly, make every effort to establish positive ongoing communication with the lead agency staff assigned to process your project upon submittal. With most Planning Department facing reduced budgets and staffing shortages, this can make the difference between your application moving forward in a timely manner or languishing in a holding pattern.
Did you enjoy this post? The author of this article is Jason Hade. Learn more about him here.