SLO builders face steep fees for minor development

November 1, 2012

San Luis Obispo business and property owners who wish to make additions to their buildings and homes face a common obstacle in the city, higher than usual fees.

Though local developers face fees no matter their location, builders in the city of San Luis Obispo incur charges at significantly higher rates than those in surrounding municipalities.

When Navor Zavala, the owner of El Neibor Mexican restaurant, wanted to add patio seating to his small yet popular San Luis Obispo eatery, city planners told him he had to pay $700. Zavala said he would have paid the $700 had a planner not told him the fee merely covered the work in processing his application and that the project could get rejected without a refund.

“I needed a patio, but I don’t have a lot of money,” Zavala said. “If you want me to pay 700 bucks and it’s not approved, I don’t have the money.”

Zavala, whose restaurant is located in a small commercial complex at the corner of Taft Street and California Boulevard, also said the planning department demanded that he add 10 parking spaces and room for bicycle parking in order to install 100 square feet of patio seating.

Associate Planner Brian Leveille said he was unsure as to what constituted the $700 estimate, but he said Zavala’s planned 100 square foot patio would require some sort of permit.

While most minor development does not require a use permit from the planning department, many small projects do incur steep fees.

For instance, the city requires a permit to install a flagpole that stands 15 feet or higher. A building permit for such a pole in San Luis Obispo costs $713.

In comparison, the city of Paso Robles charges a $262 permit fee for a flagpole, and Arroyo Grande charges $245. In the city of Santa Maria, a flagpole permit costs about $150.

If a San Luis Obispo homeowner would like to construct a fence higher than six feet, the baseline permit is $599. In addition, the project could occur additional charges if deemed necessary by the planning department.

Yet, in Arroyo Grande a baseline permit for a fence above six feet costs $206. In Santa Maria, all of the permit fees for a fence 100 feet long and more than six feet high total to an amount of $130.

Adding a deck or a balcony to a San Luis Obispo home costs $980 for the first 300 square feet and $100 for each addition 100 square feet. But, homeowners can install decks at much cheaper rates elsewhere. The Grover Beach building department recently approved a permit for a 167 square foot deck. Including plan check fees and minor state fees, the permit for the deck came to a total of $450.

In Atascadero, installing a deck merely requires an express building permit. Such a permit costs $160 plus fees for document imaging.

The city of San Luis Obispo refers to permits for items like flagpoles, high fences and decks as “minor and miscellaneous permits.” Other permit fees that appear on the minor and miscellaneous list include $340 for an awning or canopy, $1,045 for a patio enclosure and $995 for a commercial trash enclosure.

For minor construction that requires little staff work to approve, the city has a minimum permit fee of $215. As with other items on the minor permit list, the minimum building permit fee in San Luis Obispo far exceeds minimum permit fees in surrounding cities. Morro Bay charges $86.86 for its minimum permit fee, Grover Beach charges $70.34, Pismo Beach charges $55.38 and Santa Maria charges a mere $40.

Despite the noticeable differences in rates, San Luis Obispo Permit Technician Lindsey Stephenson said the city keeps its fees lower than surrounding cities.

“We are lower than all the other cities in the county,” Stephenson said.

While the permit rates suggest otherwise, many prospective builders, including Zavala, disagree that the city keeps its rates low at all. Zavala said he could not pass on the cost of expensive permitting fees to his customers.

“Who will pay for a 10 dollar burrito?” Zavala said.

In addition to concern about the cost of planning and building permits, some people view high permitting fees as an infringement upon property rights. Pacific Legal Foundation Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard, who spoke at the San Luis Obispo Property and Business Owners’ June meeting, said government abuse of the permitting process threatens people’s right to develop and enjoy private property.

“Increasingly, government agencies have been requiring permits for the most mundane activities, and have imposed extortionate conditions on people’s ability to make reasonable use of their properties,” Beard said.

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I just don’t know when enough is enough for these politicians. I ordered a ton of stuff on line yesterday for Christmas (refuse to deal with parking and homeless issues so doing everything on line this year) and I had to pay sales tax to Amazon and several other sites this year. I don’t mind paying it BUT AGAIN, that is a whole lot more money coming into the State, County and City since they do it by zip code. New revenue for the State – millions of new dollars for the government – and geez, Brown and the other banderilleros.

We should be encouraging this guy: if he can sell more burritos, he’ll pay more taxes due to his bigger gross, and his workers might get in a few more hours a week working there so they have more money in their pockets. That is a win-win for everyone. We need a top-down review of all this nonsense.

This article clearly defines why The City of SLO’s budget and expenses need to be evaluated, as the city costs keep increasing for reduced levels and quality of our already expensive municipal services poorly delivered by every city department within “Happy Town”……………………………………………………………………

This has been a growing trend over the last few decades. The cost of doing business in the buliding field has gotten out of control partly due to fees and regulations that are overseen and enforced by the bloated county and city staff. Just permit fees and plan check fees are burdensome, then throw in special planning fees for non compliant properties or buildings and the costs are outrageous.

The requirements based on a book or legislation seem fine, until applied to actual situations limited by size of the property, the building or antiquated street setbacks. Parking space requirements have long been a boondoggle (and money maker for the cities or the county)as the footprint of most of the cities dating back a century in some places, can not physically support the required spaces for off street parking, or many of the setback requirements.

These costs all get passed to the public or taxpayers, either up front or in the form of higher prices at the register.

And don’t get me started on bloated salaries and benefits of the current state, county and city employees. The actual per employee cost that is tacked onto any project would outrage anyone who takes the time to look.

Those of us who have to try and make a living in the bulding industry are the ones who have to go back to our clients and explain why the costs are so high even before a permit is in hand, then have to bear the ginding down that all customers do to get real building costs down to unrealistic low ball prices. Everyone expects high quality craftsmen and workmanship but no one wants to pay for it.

Usually, one would expect the anti-prop 13 crowd to show up and cry about how the government can’t soak property owners on their annual tax bills, so they have to soak them in the development and other areas.

The actual problem is the growth and spending of government. It really is. One cannot expect that a city with little to no growth should have a 250% increase in their annual budget without passing those costs on to everyone, 99% or 1% or otherwise.

I recently read an interesting piece on a woman who has kept track of all her fees and taxes this year. She’s in Maryland (not nearly as taxed as much as CA) and through October, she has paid $26K so far in taxes and fees in every-day stuff (employment, gas, phone, utilities, etc).

My fear is that it really is not going to end until everything burns. Figuratively or literally.

“The actual problem is the growth and spending of government. It really is. One cannot expect that a city with little to no growth should have a 250% increase in their annual budget without passing those costs on to everyone, 99% or 1% or otherwise.”


Oh, and do not forget your new lumber tax…

In 2011 the local Sierra Club investigated & published a survey of small scale commercial solar installation fees countywide and encouraged cities to bring the fees more in line to reflect the actual costs of processing the permits. The Tribune ran an article and an editorial about it at the time.

study results:

The exposure helped bring fees down considerably in a few jurisdictions. The cities need to be held accountable for their fee schedules. Not everything needs the same level of review. SLO City is litigation-driven.

I always like how Gov. likes to use the term fees. COMON IT’S A TAX!!! PERIOD!!!!! They take more and more and YOU get less and less. Most of these workers (not all) would NEVER make it in the private sector. That is because in the private sector we expect RESULTS!!!

Since Zavala would pass along the cost of this tax/fee to his customers, this could be characterized as another tax upon the poor.

Since, by definition, only one percent of the population makes up the “1%ers” the other 99% of us are stuck paying this fee/tax.

My conflation generator is working overtime this morning:

Since a disproportionate percentage of SLO’s populace (aka Zavala’s customers, aka payers of the tax) is employed by the government, it stands to reason that that a disproportionate share of the tax will be borne by government employees. Which means the effing union is going to get involved.

Have to pay for your partime city manager and bloated administrators salaries some how.

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