Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT

DATE: JUNE 17, 2003

SUBJECT: COST REDUCTION PROPOSALS FOR VIEW RESTORATION SERVICES

RECOMMENDATION

Direct Staff to: 1) Develop a new fee structure to better cover the costs of view restoration services, as part of the City permit fee study currently underway; 2) Develop penalties to deter non-compliance with the City’s foliage maintenance directives; and 3) Initiate a Code amendment to streamline the City Tree Review Permit process contained in Development Code Section 17.76.100.

BACKGROUND

As part of this year’s budget hearing process, the City Council held a Budget Policy Issues Workshop on April 14, 2003. One of the budget policy issues presented to the Council included a proposed "Reduction in View Restoration Contract Staffing Support". The issue involved whether to reduce View Restoration Staffing levels to reduce overall program costs. At the April 14th workshop, the City Council directed Staff to maintain the funding for the view restoration Staff support at the current level but to also take steps to make the overall program more efficient and cost effective through a combination of disincentives for non-compliance, new fees and revised review criteria for City Tree Review Permit requests.

Pursuant to Council direction, Staff is now presenting the specific cost reduction proposals for the Council’s consideration.

DISCUSSION

Staff is introducing specific proposals to reduce the cost of the View Restoration program and to make the process more effective and efficient. Specifically, Staff is proposing to:

    1. Recover costs of services currently provided free of charge and where necessary, increase existing case processing fees;
    2. Introduce penalty fees for non-compliance;
    3. Introduce a Code Amendment to Section 17.76.100 of the Municipal Code that will streamline the City Tree Review Permit process.

Recovery for Cost of Services

Currently, the City only charges applicants fees for processing View Restoration Permits. The fees are used to offset the cost of Staff’s analysis, which includes site visits, preparation of a Staff Report and attendance at a Planning Commission meeting. The City currently does not charge applicant fees for View Preservation petitions nor does the City charge for City Tree Review Permits. Table 1 below is a summary of the services that the View Restoration program provides:

Table 1.

Service Type

No. of Permit requests*

% of Staff Time

Application fee

Processing fee

View Restoration

25

30

$185

$1,800 (avg)

Preservation

7

10

No fee required

No fee required

City Tree Review

31

50

No fee required

No fee required

Non-compliance abatements

3

10

N/A

N/A

* Fiscal year 2002-2003

As reflected in the recently approved FY 03-04 budget, the City is expected to spend up to $280,000 in the next fiscal year in program costs for View Restoration services. At the same time, we can expect the City to recover only a small portion of these costs (approximately 2-3%) under the current fee structure. The fees associated with the program have only generated between $3,000 and $12,000 per fiscal year since 1996. This is because fees are only taken in for View Restoration permit applications that are formally processed through the Planning Department, which are ultimately acted on by the Planning Commission. The fees do not cover all the follow-up work after Commission decisions are made and do not cover the pre-application process. In addition, fees are not charged for the processing of View Preservation cases or City Tree Review Permits.

The City Council last changed the view restoration fee structure in 1998. Since then, Staff billing rates and demands for View Restoration services have increased. Earlier this year, the City Council authorized the Finance Department to obtain a consultant to perform a City-wide fee-for-services study. The consultant’s fee study is underway and as a result, Staff proposes that the fee study include the following tasks:

    1. Re-evaluate the existing View Restoration Permit fee to ensure that it includes cost recovery for all aspects of the process, including the pre-application process;
    2. Establish an appropriate processing fee for the View Preservation Permit process, including the pre-application process;
    3. Establish an appropriate processing fee for the streamlined City Tree Review Permit process.

Staff seeks Council authorization to pursue the establishment of the fees noted above in an attempt to recover more of the costs expended by the City to administer the View Restoration program. The actual proposed fee amounts will be presented to the Council as part of the overall fee study recommendations, most likely sometime this fall.

Penalty Fees For Non-Compliance

One of the reasons administering the view restoration program takes a lot of Staff time is because the view restoration Staff is also responsible for enforcement of the City decisions. If foliage owners ignore trimming deadlines or do not perform the trimming as mandated, Staff time is spent trying to get compliance through a series of letters and follow-up inspections. This puts a drain on Staff resources, as it takes time away from processing new cases. One way to minimize or eliminate these types of situations is to impose financial penalties if foliage trimming is not performed on a timely basis.

Therefore, Staff is recommending that penalties be imposed for the following situations:

    1. If the initial tree trimming/removal required through a decision by the Planning Commission is not completed by the 90-day deadline, then a base penalty would be imposed on the foliage owner. If the foliage owner continues to take no action for an extended period of time, additional increased penalties could also be imposed.
    2. If the subsequent maintenance trimming required by the Planning Commission is not performed within the prescribed time limit (i.e. 6 months, one year, etc.) then a base penalty would be imposed on the foliage owner 30 days after a reminder notification is provided by Staff. If the foliage owner continues to take no action for an extended period of time, additional increased penalties could also be imposed.
    3. If tree trimming/removal required as a result of a View Preservation Permit decision is not performed within 30 days of Staff’s notice to trim/remove, then a base penalty would be imposed on the foliage owner. If the foliage owner continues to take no action for an extended period of time, additional increased penalties could also be imposed.

Staff seeks Council authorization to pursue the imposition of the penalties on the situations noted above. Upon receipt of this authorization, Staff will consult with the City Attorney’s office to draft an Administrative Penalty Ordinance, which would subsequently be presented to the City Council for consideration. The draft Ordinance would include the actual fine amounts, which are set by the Government Code.

City Tree Review Permit Code Amendment

City Tree Review Permits (CTRP) are processed by Staff with no processing fee charged to the applicant. Although, in certain cases the applicant does pay for the trimming or removal of a view-impairing tree.

The tasks involved in the CTRP process are comparable to the lengthy View Restoration Permit process. Reviewing new City Tree Review applications involve time consuming procedures since Staff conducts view impairment analysis of City trees that are alleged to impair a residents view in the same manner as View Restoration and View Preservation permit reviews. Once a decision to trim a City tree is made, the tree trimming is performed by the City’s tree trimming service, West Coast Arborist, Inc. The City expects to expend $35,000 to $40,000 for City tree trimming costs over the next fiscal year. Additionally, since the trees require annual maintenance, these costs will continue to increase unless the process is modified and/or fees are charged.

Due to the significant increase in the number of submitted CTRP applications and processing requirements dictated by the current Development Code, the cost of processing CTRPs has increased and will continue to do so. In an attempt to reduce costs, Staff is proposing to amend the Development Code to modify the processing requirements as follows:

    1. If the City trees are found to significantly impair the view, then the trees are to be automatically removed and a small replacement tree(s) planted. Currently, the process gives the option of trimming and/or removal.
    2. The City at its discretion may require trimming of the City tree(s) if a neighbor objects to complete removal of a tree(s). This would replace the current procedure that calls for a neighbor to adopt a tree and be responsible for the maintenance if there is an objection to removal. The current method has not proven to be cost effective since the City Attorney’s office must get involved to draft the adoption agreement and then Staff has to spend time to get the adopting party to do the annual maintenance trimming.

Staff believes that implementation of these proposed changes would minimize the need to coordinate and monitor trimming work, as well as the need to perform annual follow-up maintenance trimming. Staff estimates that said change would save $40,000-$50,000 per year in the consultant contract.

If the Council agrees with these proposed amendments, Staff will initiate a Code Amendment process that will involve the review of the specific code amendment language by the Planning Commission and ultimately by the City Council.

FISCAL IMPACT

Authorization to proceed as proposed would not result in any additional costs to the City’s General Fund. Should the City Council approve the proposed measures, Staff anticipates that there will be an overall cost savings of approximately $80,000 per fiscal year.

ALTERNATIVES

The City Council may also wish to consider the following alternatives to the Staff recommendation:

    1. Modify, add, or delete the cost proposals suggested by Staff.
    2. Identify any issues of concern that may require further study and direct Staff to provide additional information at a subsequent meeting.

CONCLUSION

As part of the Budget Policy Issues Workshop in April, the City Council directed Staff to reduce the overall cost of administrating the View Restoration program. In response to this directive, Staff is recommending that the City Council authorize Staff to review a new fee structure for View Restoration services, work with the City Attorney to impose penalties for non-compliance and amend the Development Code to streamline the City Tree Review Permit process.

Respectfully submitted,

Joel Rojas, AICP

Director of Planning, Building and

Code Enforcement

Reviewed by:

Les Evans

City Manager