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By Chris Frost
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Oxnard-- The Community Services, Public Safety, Housing, and Development committee, Tuesday, June 8, provided feedback about implementing the voter-approved Oxnard Permit Simplicity Act.
The act passed through Measure F was approved by the voters, November 3, 2020, and codified as chapter 26 in the Oxnard City Code, and it creates a permit self-certification streamlining program.
The building department will not perform a plan check on a self-certified project, and the permit will be issued within one business day if the project meets all the requirements and pre-approvals. From there, the city will issue the permit, and the project will enter the construction phase.
Project applicants must be pre-qualified for the program and must receive permit simplicity training facilitated by city staff. The pre-qualification process includes state licensure as an architect, engineer, and certification by an outside organization. Project applicants must also show evidence of $1 million of professional liability insurance held five years after the project is completed.
Assistant Director of Community Development Jeff Pengilley presented the item to the committee and said, by no means, can someone act outside their authority of the licensure they have.
"A landscape architect would not be permitted to prepare plans for a multi-story apartment building," he said. "The act, in no way, implies that anyone can act outside of their licensure."
The applicants must also provide a structural peer review for projects requiring a civil engineer.
"Most commonly, projects involving structural engineering will have structural calculations and plans prepared by a licensed civil engineer," he said. "This act requires they have, before they submit those plans, a third-party licensed structural engineer provide a structural peer review. It's essentially a third party highly qualified licensed structural engineer who will review those aspects of the plan before they are submitted to the city."
He said the city would develop a list of qualified structural engineers for project applicants to choose from.
"There's also a requirement that pre-approvals are required prior to a project being accepted into the program," he said. "An example of pre-approvals could be planning permits and entitlements for a larger project approved civil infrastructure and grading plans and approval from other city departments, such as the fire department. There may be a requirement for certain types of projects to have approvals from outside agencies."
A typical example of this is a food use or restaurant, which requires the approval of Ventura County Environmental Health. The city would require that in advance of a project being accepted into the permit simplicity program.
"If for some reason a project is not accepted into the program because they failed to comply with the requirements, they can appeal that to the building board of appeals," Pengilley said. "That's a new board that we're in the process of forming that would hear the applicants appeal regarding city staff's interpretation of the permit simplicity act."
The city will have an audit process in place, he said, and projects selected for an audit after the project is issued mandates audits for the first four projects from any developer to be audited. Any project over 100,000 square feet must be audited."
"A random sample of 10-20 percent is indicated in the act itself," he said. "An audit for purposes of this discussion is effectively a building plan check. That audit will take place after the permit's been issued. Any adverse audit results or code violations discovered by field inspectors would result in plan revisions being required. Ultimately, depending on the nature of the concerns discovered, it could result in a work stoppage. That is highly dependent on the nature of the items being discovered through an audit or a field inspector identifying code violations."
An applicant who fails multiple audits or fails to address field corrections in a timely manner can be subjected to suspension or revocation from the program.
Included in the program's outreach is a comprehensive program guide, a quick reference fact sheet, permit simplicity training, a submittal checklist, audit and appeals procedures, hold harmless letters & certification statements, and the creation of a building board of appeals.
"All of the information will be posted on the city's website for easy access," he said.
After the committee meeting and throughout June, the city will have outreach efforts. Between June 9 and June 30, there will be potential modifications to the program's implementation. Starting the week of July 12, the city will hold training registration, and the week of July 19, there will be training and final exams.
Project submittal appointments will be accepted starting July 19, and a new round of training registrations will be accepted in November and December.
"The act stipulates that we are to hold at least two training sessions per year, so we want to implement the first training in July," he said. "Then, we think around November or December would be a good time to have the second training of the year. Depending on public demand, we can push that up earlier. We'll see how the program rolls out, and we will be ready by that timeframe."
Pengilley anticipates bringing a program update to the committee in 2022.
"We will be analyzing the program during the implementation and analyze it for the appropriate staffing and funding needs we may need based on the public demand for the program," he said.
Cost recovery for the program is limited to staff time to facilitate permit simplicity training.
"We estimate our fee based on our currently adopted hourly rates to be somewhere in the range of $150 to $250 per applicant," he said. "We will narrow that down as we get closer to the program implementation. If there is a need for a project applicant to appeal, either to the building board of appeals or the city council, we will utilize the existing adopted fees for appeals which are currently set at $214.83 for appeals to the building board and $1,921.50 if an appeal to the city council is requested."
The city will reexamine the program's needs once it has been implemented.
"It's highly dependent on the level of public participation as to how much staff time will need to be utilized to operate this program," he said. "Should additional staffing resources be necessary, we will make those resource requests in future budgets."
Mayor John Zaragoza said while it might be called permit simplicity, not all projects will be accepted, and some will fail.
"You have to comply with the requirements for the program, and of course, if they fail that program, they can appeal to the committee," he said. "The other thing they are going to require is a permit simplicity test program which is really important. If they fail the final exam, they can go for more training. It's called simplicity, but I think a lot of concerns the people have that people can call up and they're going to get a permit. The staff has done an excellent job pointing out that they're going to have an outreach program and also a comprehensive program to guide individuals to submit their checklist, and of course, it's going to be audited. All the programs are going to be posted on the city website."
Chairman Bryan MacDonald said he hears a lot of people talking about self-certifying for their permits, and that leaves him at a little pause, thinking that if someone self-certifies and there is something wrong with the project, where does the liability fall?
Pengilley said this issue is a concern he's also heard.
"There is a requirement for the program, in addition to the pre-qualifications and the training, there is a requirement that they hold $1 million of liability insurance," he said. "That's intended, I think, to address this concern, and it could be a barrier to some getting into the program. That insurance has to be held per this act for five years after the project is completed."
MacDonald asked if the insurance binder requires that the city be notified if there is a cancellation.
"That is stipulated in the act and is another concern that we had," he said. "That was covered by the act and the ordinance. There is nothing that prohibits them from canceling their insurance, but they have to notify us 30 days before cancelation. If they cancel their insurance, we have the right to revoke their permit. That doesn't solve the potential liability problems, but it does provide a barrier for them to want to do that."
The motion passed unanimously and moves to forward to the full council.