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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL
FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT
DATE: NOVEMBER 3, 2004
SUBJECT: PROFESSIONAL VIEW RESTORATION MEDIATOR
Staff recommends that the City Council: 1) Authorize the City Manager to execute an agreement with Ms. Coleen Berg for professional mediation services not to exceed $14,000 annually for the View Restoration Pre-application process; and 2) Discontinue the use of the existing volunteer mediators (former View Restoration Commissioners).
In May 2004, at a time when the City Council was set to discuss the recruitment of additional View Restoration Mediators, it was reported that the success rate of the volunteer mediators had dropped in 2 years from 81% to 53%. As a result, the City Council approved the use of a trained mediator on a trial basis to determine what the City could expect from a professional trained mediator. Based on the results of using a trained mediator, Ms. Coleen Berg, who was able to successfully resolve all seven cases she became involved with, Staff is now recommending that the City Council approve the use of a professional mediator on a permanent basis and discontinue the use of the volunteer mediators.
At the May 4, 2004 City Council meeting, the Council considered reappointment and/or recruitment of two of the four volunteer View Restoration Mediators. However, after being presented with a report on the declining effectiveness of the existing mediators, the proposal of using a trained mediator as an alternative was considered (see Attachment "A" - City Council Staff Report dated May 4, 2004). After discussion, the City Council decided to approve on a trial basis, the use of a professional mediator to facilitate meetings for the View Restoration pre-application process (see City Council Minutes- see Attachment "B"). Pursuant to the City Council’s direction, Staff is now presenting the success rate and the costs associated with using a professional mediator.
Since May 2004, the City has utilized Ms. Coleen Berg’s services to perform view related mediation meetings on a trial basis. An evaluation of Ms. Berg’s performance has been conducted. Thus far, in various stages of the pre-application process, Ms. Berg has mediated solutions in all seven cases she has been involved with. This has resulted in a reduced number of neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts before the Planning Commission. These private settlements have also resulted in a cost savings to the City by reducing Staff’s involvement associated with the formal View Restoration process.
Ms. Coleen Berg has proven effective in all stages of the mediation phase of the View Restoration process. Ms. Berg conducted four (4) pre-application meetings since May 2004 with each meeting resulting in a private agreement. Some of the cases were considered to be typical, meaning one view property owner and one foliage property owner. However, two meetings involved more complex issues, which included multiple-party negotiations.
Ms. Berg’s mediation involvement extends beyond pre-application meetings. For example, in June 2004, a foliage owner requesting assistance contacted Staff. Staff contacted Ms. Berg, who voluntarily met the foliage owner and view owner on their properties and successfully negotiated an agreement that satisfied both parties. In effect, she saved the City the cost of preparing a case file and coordinating a subsequent pre-application meeting. In another example, Ms. Berg performed mediation during the tree-trimming phase of a private agreement. A letter from the view owner thanking Staff and the mediator is available for review (see Attachment "C"). Recently, Ms. Berg’s last minute involvement in the matter of View Restoration Permit Application No. 171 allowed the applicant and the foliage owner to settle the matter privately rather than have the City formally proceed to a public hearing before the Planning Commission. As a result of her efforts, a formal Planning Commission hearing, decision and Staff follow-up was avoided. It is estimated that this resulted in a cost savings to the City of $2000. A letter of appreciation from the view owner is available for review (see Attachment "C").
Combining the success of the four pre-application meetings, and the three mediation meetings held outside of the procedural pre-application process, Staff is confident that Ms. Berg will continue to perform exceptionally well in the capacity of a View Restoration Mediator.
Costs of Services
At a proposed negotiated contract rate of $100 per hour, Ms. Berg’s service costs are considerably lower. Ms. Berg does not charge the City for any additional expenses relating to travel costs or multiple parties taking part in a mediation meeting. The mediator can be expected to perform 2 pre-application meetings a month, with each session requiring up to 4-6 hours of mediation time. At Ms. Berg’s rate, and with an average of 24 pre-application meetings per year, the cost to the City is expected to be $400-$600 dollars per case or $9,600-$14,400 per fiscal year (see Table 1 below). With a professional mediator budget set at $14,000, Staff believes that the City can cover the costs associated with the annual case load, including the cases that require an unusual amount of additional mediation effort due to multiple view owners and foliage owners.
Mediation Cost per Month/Year
Minor revision to existing View Guidelines
The proposed mediation service and dissolution of the current volunteer mediators, if approved, would require minor revisions to Section V (Early Neighborhood Consultation) of the View Restoration Guidelines (see Attachment "E"). In reference to the pre-application phase of the view restoration process, Section V (A)(b)(2) and Section V (A)(d) would have to be revised in order to note Staff’s absence at the pre-application meetings and to account for one Mediator present at the pre-application meeting.
The Planning Commission is currently in the process of reviewing the existing View Guidelines, which may result in the Commission recommending certain revisions to the Guidelines. As a result, Staff believes it is prudent to allow the Planning Commission to complete its review of the Guidelines before making any changes to the sections noted above. Therefore, should the City Council approve the use of professional mediation services and dissolve the current volunteer mediators, the specific language relating to the sections noted above will be presented to the Planning Commission. Eventually, these changes, along with any additional changes recommended by the Commission would be presented to the City Council for review and approval. Therefore, no action is necessary at this time to revise the View Guidelines as they relate to View Restoration Mediators.
Obtaining the services of a professional mediator for a not-to-exceed budget of $14,000 would not result in an increase to the City’s View Restoration budget. The cost of the mediation service would be absorbed into the Department’s existing budget. Staff anticipates that the cost of the professional mediator’s service will be offset by the cost savings resulting from the reduced View Staff’s involvement with the processing of view permits. Staff believes the average Staff cost to process a typical View Restoration case to be approximately $4000. As a result, the City can expect to save $3,400-$3,600 for each successful pre-application meeting. Therefore, should the City Council approve to utilize the mediation services of Ms. Coleen Berg, no change to the existing View Restoration budget is proposed.
Joel Rojas, AICP
Director of Planning, Building and
A - City Council Staff Report dated May 4, 2004
B - Excerpted May 4, 2004 City Council Minutes
C - Letters of Appreciation
D - Mediation Service Cost Estimates
E - View Restoration Guidelines July 2003