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County Eyes Drastic Increase in Planning & Building Fees

County Planning and Building Departments want more money. They also want you to get a permit for certain work, so the key is to raise fees. Is there a map with that?

How would you like to pay $187 to replace a bathroom fan? I’m not talking about the unit itself… I’m talking about the permit from the county to do the replacement.

Is that really going to entice county residents to adhere to the state and county building codes?

Yet, as part of the budget review for 2012-2013, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors are weighing proposed fee increases (fairly substantial, I might add) and additions (you’d be surprised) recommended by the county’s Building and Planning Departments.

One of the issues REALTORS® and others deal with in home sales is work done to a home without a permit. In a countywide health and safety sense, local governments would prefer that such work be done with a permit, as would I’m sure, subsequent owners of that home. Also, it’s the law.

So one would think local government would do things to encourage (“incentivize,” if you will) residents to pull permits, do work according to code and thereby, ensure safe dwellings.

But this is turning into a Bizarro issue. Thus the answer to getting more people to come pull a permit for improving their homes (or make said work ‘legal’) is to , charge late fees/penalties, mandate design specs where none existed before and theoretically, lengthen review times.

Some ask what’s the problem with unpermitted work? Example: a three bedroom, one bath home which upon viewing is suddenly a five bedroom, two bath house. That’s not a bathroom fan to say the least. (Note: There are ways to handle same
within the real estate transaction, which we have neither the space nor time to detail right now. Plus all of that could’ve been done with a permit… but I digress.)

Plus the whole scenario could trigger a lien recordation process, which means that each day your violation remains outstanding is a separate violation, subjecting you to potentially thousands of dollars in fines that will be recorded against your home… meaning you can’t refinance the home with such a notice as a cloud on title.

What should be done? Review fees which impact the usual and traditional work done by residents when upgrading their homes… then reduce them. Most everyone knows the county is working on solving a “budget imbalance,” but if revenue from permit fees was one component of that effort, it’s not going to work with the increases proposed juxtaposed with the stated aim of the county.

Then, declare a permit amnesty period. It worked in the past and should be seriously considered again. Implement a “Homeowner Holiday.” This should be an amnesty period for work previously done without a permit -and- not charging for any and all penalties/late fees/etc. In addition, make the permit fees (building,  plan check, plan review, etc.) a minimal charge. Then market the heck out of it!

The approach needs to incentivize residents. Thus inspectors should ask how they can HELP people, instead trying to FORCE people to comply. Make no mistake: The true scofflaws should be cited but get rid of the cop/enforcement attitude on the average resident. You want people to ask for help, not to avoid inspectors whom they feel are currently are just looking to raise revenue anyway. 

If you’re not outraged – you’re not paying attention. Chat with your County Supervisor today about this matter as there’s no permit fee needed for that.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lou Covey, The Local Motive May 11, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Paul, while I agree that the timing and scope of the increases is poorly thought out, we can't really say they are too big. The county has kept fees low, in fact below cost, for many years while it waits for some sort of increase in tax revenues. A significant portion of the deficit is the county's continued "subsidy" of construction. These increases are actually long overdue.
Steve Hayes May 12, 2012 at 12:28 AM
I disagree that there is a "subsidy". I think the real problem is that homeowners are being nickled and dimed for too many things. There are too many inspections and the calculation of inspection "cost" is distorted by throwing in all sorts of unreasonable overhead. I assume it would take about an hour to inspect a bathroom fan (for example) if you include the to/from driving time and report documentation - the incremental cost of that would be about $50 (labor and benefits). Of course the actual inspection would take about five minutes. The County wants to charge $284 for that "service" - more than the cost of the fan along with professional installation. The real question is why are projects like fan installations even inspected? - is it being done to improve the value of the home or just to expand the base of building fees to help cover County costs? Perhaps we would all (except for a few building inspectors) be better off if the County resized its inspection organization and provided a web page with instuctions/guidelines for minor building improvements.
Mark Jamison May 12, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Paul, I have read enough of your posts to realize that you are nothing but a fear monger. There is not one fact in this article (eg how much are the proposed increases that you bemoan? Have they increased as fast as inflation?) Lots of innuendo, but no facts. More of the same from the real estate sales industry. The people that got rich convincing you that if you don't buy now you will never get in, telling you that real estate is a cant miss investment, that the market will take care of everything. Now they want to further reduce protections for homeowners. Who will ensure that work is not defective, that your electrical work will not create a fire. Not your real estate agent. Their advice will be to simply check the permit history and then collect their 4% commission (6% is for suckers).
frank May 12, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Amen, my sis in law bought a home in 06, the previous owner was a real piece of work. If they were required to get the appropriate permits, she wouldn't have had a fire trap.
Paul Stewart May 12, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Wow Mark... I'm a fear monger. I can add to the list which includes Tea Partyer and Liberal (go figure.) Actually, the proposed increases are a fact. That the county needs to incentivize things so people will pull permits is a fact. I had thought about posting the list of proposed increases but at 60+ pages, it was too long. You can, though, get it on the county's website. (And the increases are greater than inflation - but then you knew that) And as a renter, you seem like the person who would take the time to read the 60+ pages and you are to be commended. But there is a some pot-kettle action going on with your diatribe... the issuehas never been about trying to reduce protections for homeowners; quite the oppostie. You wrote that... and sooo, where are your facts?
Mark Jamison May 13, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Here is a fact Paul - the County has proposed a 5% increase in all Planning and Building permits. Here is the documentation for that fact - http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/Attachments/planning/PDFs/Drc-sign%205%2002-22-2012.pdf. This document also says that we haven't seen a general increase since 2004. Fact - the CPI has grown by 21% since 2004. Thus, how do you back up your claim that these increases are greater than inflation? Fact - You suggested that inspectors should not force compliance with permitting processes and provide amnesty for those who have done work without permits. This reduces protections for homeowners. Are you telling me that, as a real estate agent, you would advise clients not to be concerned about work done without a permit? I would like my agent to inform me of the risks involved here. Also, why do you assume that I am a renter? Or was that simply a disparagement?
Maria RUtenburg May 13, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Mark, they can call an increase general or not, but in 2005 there was an increase and 2009 another one. Plus, the 5% increase is not really 5%, but more like 18-20% if you account all the new fees, increase in filing fee of 38 that applies to every single permit, etc. The truth is that they have got 49 people on payroll with enough work to keep the third of them busy. Not a single one was laid off while the construction has gone down significantly. They are struggling to survive. Their MO is to bully and humiliate people into compliance with their contradictory codes. I saw a 60 year old man in an elevator whose hands were shaking after he talked to Carmen at the Building Counter. Sad and unfair. They should not be inspecting my countertop or my garbage disposal replacement or my dishwasher replacement. I do not need it and I do not want to pay them for it. They are inefficient and too expensive.
Dwayne Harrold August 04, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I am a homeowner near Edgewood County Park. I have a detached 2 car garage that is about to fall down. We had stamped engineered plans to construct a new garage. Just to start the permit process of planning and permits was $1500.00.Then Cal Fire got into the act and wants more things to be done than you can imagine,ie: They want me to have my bridge engineered to hold 75,000 lbs when the bridge entering the park 50 ft. away is placarded "max load 14,00lb. that was for a fee to Cal Firre for $440.00. Did I mention the $95.00 "Waste Management Plan" fee of. My wife and I have since cancelled the permit. Only because we received a notice from the County of San mateo that they want an additional $3,500.00 for a so called "Emerald Hills Design Review Fees". That was the straw that broke the camels back. We approached the Planning and permit department for a refund. That request was denied. there went $1500.00 in the toilet. We approached Public Works for the $95.00 refund, and again we received a resounding NO. We have been in our home for 1 year and want to improve it a higher standard but the County just regulated themselves out of any improvement to this property. How sad that one cannot improve his property without being levied by these outlandish fees. No wonder most of the people that buy electrical, limber, and plumbing materials, at Home Depot, in bulk do not get permits. Dwayne Harrold

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