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E.C. business permits take too long, study shows

July 28, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The city of El Centro takes too long to process business permits, taking as much as twice as long as other cities to process conditional-use and change of zoning permits, according to a year-long study by the El Centro Chamber of Commerce.

The study was headed up by Allen Tyler, chairman of the chamber's economic development committee.

He said the message underlying the study is a positive one in that the city is in a hole in regard to the number of development projects but solutions can be found.

"We've tried to identify solutions that are relatively easy to implement and get us back on track," Tyler said.

The report says it takes the city of El Centro four to six months to process a conditional-use permit, the city of Brawley takes one month to 45 days and the city of Calexico two months. A change of zoning request takes seven to eight months in El Centro, two months in Brawley and four months in Calexico. The cities of Coachella and Indio take about the same time to process CUPs and COZs as Calexico.


The chamber report lays out 11 recommendations the city can make to improve the processing of permits. They include:

· the need to review and upgrade the city's general plan to cut the number of CUPs and COZs needed.

· the need to embrace and adopt so-called remarkable customer service values throughout the city's departments.

· the need to increase city staffing in the planning, building and engineering departments, or out source some of the workload.

· the need to develop a more flexible meeting schedule for the city's administrative review committee, Planning Commission and City Council, and general plan amendments.

· a streamlined permitting process, with an emphasis on improved interdepartmental communications.

· an ordinance to specify what must be done with open canals so developers know what is required when they purchase land for possible development.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the chamber's report in September.

Councilman Larry Grogan said the study was needed to compare El Centro to other cities.

"We are obviously in competition for economic development," he said. "Many times economic development depends on speed."

Grogan said development projects frequently have schedules that must be kept.

"We must be able to respond in an appropriate time frame to ensure the city meets the applicant's needs," he said.

Mayor Cheryl Walker said city staff was recently directed to review the report and development ideas on how to make the city more efficient and welcoming.

She said the problem is likely due to a lack of staffing.

The report encompassed several surveys and questionnaires given to local builders and developers. They were asked to rate and describe their experiences with the city's departments.

"The general consensus among the respondents was that the building and fire departments were easy to work with and responsive to their needs," the report says.

The report states several respondents have not worked with the new engineering department director, and thus did not evaluate that department, although a majority of those who responded found it to be easy to work with.

"Sixty-six percent of respondents pointed out a number of problems they have encountered with the Planning Department, including the length of time needed for CUP and COZ approval and quality of service," the report continues.

City Manager Abdel Salem and Planning Director Oliver Alvarado did not return calls seeking comment.

Meanwhile, it is unknown with whom the blame, if any, lies.

Tyler, Grogan and Walker all said they are not seeking to place blame.

"It's not a blame thing," Walker said. "It's how we can improve our customer service. This is going to be a positive exercise in how to be more efficient."

Grogan said there is no one single thing that can be pointed to as the problem.

Tyler said there are a lot of issues, but they can all be solved.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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