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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  1. hijinks says:

    For your $599 fence height exception, which should take about five minutes for somebody on staff to approve and next to no staff work, here’s what you get. If Michael Codron, an inept planner promoted to assistant city manager, is in charge of it, the permit application sits on his desk for three months because he’s “too busy” to deal with it. Then, when he finally takes five minutes to sign off on it, because he can’t find anybody out there to raise the sort of ruckus that might get the applicaiton denied, you discover you also need a building permit, which is yet another fee. (The building department does approve the thing within about five minutes of when you pay up.) I don’t usually agree with all the pis-ing and moaning on this site, but this story actually under estimates the indignity the little guy faces when dealing with SLO city hall. They screw the residents and little people, but bend over for the big guyss. The big developers like Copelands and Hamish Marshall get kid glove treatment, and in the C’s case sale of taxpayer-owned property for a tiny fraction of its value, and in M’s case an outright multimillion $$ handout of city funds courtesy of our corrupt staff and out to lunch council who think they work for bidness and not for the people.

    (12) 18 Total Votes - 15 up - 3 down
  2. msminiver says:

    Fees go up and the staff that should know how the fees were determined (what makes up or justifies the fee) can’t answer a simple question. Then other staff bullishly lie and state that the fees in San Luis Obispo are equivalent or lower than other local jurisidictions. Are they really that in the dark or have they been taking lessons from Councilman Ashbaugh.

    (25) 27 Total Votes - 26 up - 1 down
  3. isoslo says:

    This article points to the lack of compassion a government worker has for the business community that supports him/her. Government workers for the most part care only about their own pay package and how they can get more money into the government system to continue to pay that package. They do their jobs, but their motivation, as with most people, is to increase their personal wealth.

    (25) 33 Total Votes - 29 up - 4 down
  4. Booty JuJu says:

    Pilgrim shoulda just poured some concrete and set up his benches.

    (28) 28 Total Votes - 28 up - 0 down
  5. OhHenry says:

    Well, unfortunately, the cat’s out of the bag now. The article of course, brings attention to outrageous fees and regulations for even the simplest of things in SLO. My fear is that all the other cities mentioned in the article will just go Wow!, we have been so undercharging for all these things. We need to raise all our rates! I’m a contractor. Mark my word. All permit fees and regulation fees will go up much sooner than later. Great comment by Justme. You said it best.

    (28) 30 Total Votes - 29 up - 1 down
  6. It is always about money says:

    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.

    Which cities are higher than San Luis Obispo?

    (32) 32 Total Votes - 32 up - 0 down
  7. pasoman says:

    Pitiful really.

    Government chokes small business while they, government, suffer NO financial consequences. While we in the real would suffered in this down turn, how many government employees, anywhere in the county, lost their jobs. Yet they, government officials, continue to recommend more fees to their councils & supervisors.

    How much more can we take?

    Why do we keep electing people who don’t stop this nonsense?

    Why do planners and building officials keep punishing the people who feed them?

    Why is a small business trying to expand, creating more jobs, held back?

    (41) 49 Total Votes - 45 up - 4 down
    • r0y says:

      It may not be we think we’re electing these types; it could be, as St. Augustine called it, Libido Dominandi – a lust for domination (power over our lives / control).

      That or maybe it’s time to flush out the “staff” – as it seems no matter who gets in, it’s always more of the same. Change in leadership, change in bureaucracy.

      (13) 21 Total Votes - 17 up - 4 down
    • hijinks says:

      What a dumb statement: “Government chokes small business while they, government, suffer NO financial consequences.” Government at the local and state level is broke thanks to the shenanigans of a few creeps on Wall Street, including one who’s running for President as a guy who knows how to create jobs (in China). “We in the real would suffered in this down turn, how many government employees, anywhere in the county, lost their jobs.” Well, you’re just very ignorant. Hundreds of thousands of government employees have lost their jobs, and that’s one of the stupid things people like you have applauded, and it’s dragging down our whole economy. If these people had work, they’d spend their money, and that would boost the economy. Our economy suffers a lack of demand due to the hard time so many — former private and government employees — are having. The hard times will drag on and on largely because so many ignorant commoners have jumped on the plutocrats’ government-hating gravy train.

      (-16) 26 Total Votes - 5 up - 21 down
    • The Gimlet Eye says:

      Because government is parasitic.

      (12) 14 Total Votes - 13 up - 1 down
  8. msminiver says:

    What a surprise, the cost of doing business for the little guy in the City of San Luis Obispo is through the roof. They have to charge more in fees to the little guy, thus they can then waive permit fees, building fees, creek encroachment fees and what not for their special friends (the big players who get massively reduced or their fees waived entirely). They sit behind closed doors to figure out how they can stick it to the little guy to later waive fees for their personal friends. Great job, Litchig, Johnson and Girvin! So much for transparency and fairness.

    (48) 50 Total Votes - 49 up - 1 down
    • SLOBIRD says:

      Don’t forget this City Council have to approve these waivers so they are just as guilty especially fox Marx who has that responsibility – MAYOR!

      (21) 25 Total Votes - 23 up - 2 down
      • hijinks says:

        They don’t have to approve each one — it’s all in the fee schedules. Call it “affordable” housing (affordable for doctors and lawyers), and it gets an affordable housing bonus. No kidding.

        (-1) 7 Total Votes - 3 up - 4 down
  9. justme says:

    It goes all the way to Sacremento.
    Ins.Co’s. are hurting so they’ve pow-wowed with the Contractor’s board, who’s hurting, who’ve pow-wowed with local planning depts. who are hurting, to create by enforcement with a new armed group (their name escapes me) who will come and get you with mace, cuffs and guns if necessary if you don’t have a Contractor’s lic. Bond, Workman’s comp.& liab. ins. or are paying cash to some guy fixing your fence. It keeps going.
    Ph. Co’s will now disconnect your business line on request from the Contractor’s board if you’re advertising w/o a contr. lic.number showing.
    Building insp. are asking for ins. papers, permits, bonds at the jobsite. The State decided (in a dead economy) that there is a new huge threat to all. They gave it a name, “THE UNDERGROUND ECONOMY”. OOhhh. Guys aren’t getting paid cash fixing stuff around Calif. or not caught up with their Bond or ins. Attack!
    Bonds, now they’ve decided, should rise in cost from 80-100 bucks a yr. to as much as 1300 if you credit score rises to somewhere they have decided is risky.

    All this new enforcement is required just when, THERE”S NO CONST. !!??

    Energy reg’s. are coming. You must pay to have an HVAC guy come out, fill your AC with the proper freon charge, measure the power consumpion to ensure proper running operation, seal your entire ductwork, test it and hand you the bill.
    This is how the state agencies are creating jobs………….for themselves, at your expense.

    So, const. costs rise (which means LESS const. will occur) because we must support the dead weight in the system who refuse to go home. Instead they drag what’s left of the const. industry down with them.
    Hey, State workers, we can’t afford anymore “skaters” in today’s economy or lack of one. Time to find a real job.
    This is how countries encounter revolt. Those sucking off the Gov. vs. those who support them by actually contributing to a free market setting.
    This county if more like the old USSR, prisons, Army, Nat Guard, retirements, colleges, power plants, disability recipients, soc. sec. recipients, farm subsidies, fisheries compensations. Park/ rec. Fish & Game.
    Anyone who actually runs a sucessful business here in spite of all this going against them deserves a ton of respect. The weaklings creating laws & regulations to keep their worthless, leechlike existence deserves ridicule.

    (39) 45 Total Votes - 42 up - 3 down