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Monday night, March 2, the Development Oversight Commission (DOC) will hold their monthly meeting and the proposal to eliminate the Design Review Commission will be on their agenda (see agenda here: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/dsd/meetings/commissions/development-oversight/2008/DOC_Agenda_3-2-09.cfm).
This article will examine this agenda item and a few others of interest to the Neighborhood Efficiency, Accountability and Transparency (NEAT) Coalition (http://tinyurl.com/cdjkyy). The DOC rarely has attendance of the citizenry of Sacramento at their meetings and would likely benefit from voices and advice of the community and neighborhoods. Please consider spending a couple hours with them Monday night and offering your opinion of the proposal to eliminate the Design Review Commission and other items of interest to you.
The DOC ‘s mission is listed at the top of their agenda:
The Development Oversight Commission (DOC) is a commission of the City Council with review and recommendation authority. Its purpose is to provide a forum for the public to introduce and discuss suggestions, comments, and concerns regarding the City's Development Services function. The DOC will host public meetings to hear public comments before providing its recommendations to City Council.
The DOC’s membership is made up of nine-members, seven from the development community and two public members. The DOC is staffed by the Development Service Director, a City Attorney and a program specialist. Staff reports are given by various staff members of Development Services Department (DSD).
On the March 2 agenda there are 3 items of interest to the NEAT Coalition:
Item #2, Development Services Director Report
The DOC is one of four City Commissions that have oversight over the City’s Development Services. Yet, it is the only one that receives a monthly report from the Development Services Director on planning and development activities, project updates, DSD updates, budget items and other items of interest and use to any body with oversight responsibility for development in Sacramento. Last months report covered such items as: an update on the budget cuts and impact on DSD, a report on the DSD’s strategic plan, the City’s Fee Streamlining Project, the River District Specific Plan, the Downtown Urban Design Plan and a fee structure to institutionalize the work of the DOC, including the DOC Fee Subcommittee where all development fees are vetted. The Directors report is an incredibly valuable collection of information for citizen oversight and is delivered to the Planning Commission in nearly every other jurisdiction in the State. This information is not given to any of the other three Commissions.
In order for citizen oversight boards to be effective they must have access to as much information as is reasonable to provide. The same DSD Director’s report delivered to the DOC should be delivered monthly to the other three City development oversight commissions.
Item #6, DOC Subcommittee on Commission Streamlining and Process Improvements Report-Out
At their January 5, 2009 meeting the DOC voted to send a letter to Mayor Johnson (http://www.cityofsacramento.org/dsd/meetings/commissions/planning/2008/documents/DOC_letter.PDF), calling for a series of recommendations to significantly change the development oversight process in the City, including eliminating the Design Review Commission, “moving the majority of project decisions to the staff level, removing all current Planning Commissioners and reducing the membership of the Planning Commission to seven from nine. The next steps to bring the recommendations forward as an ordinance were offered by the Development Services Director: “Bill Thomas clarified next steps, including a letter from the DOC to Mayor and City Council, review of applicable codes in January, and ordinance language to City Council in February. “ (DOC Meeting Minutes, January 5, 2009. http://www.cityofsacramento.org/dsd/meetings/commissions/development-oversight/2008/DOC_Minutes_1-5-09.cfm ).
To date the DOC and City Staff have not provided any analysis to show the problems in the current process that the recommendations would address, nor the benefits expected from the implementation of the recommendations. Additionally, no community groups or any of the affected commissions were given the opportunity to learn about the proposals before they were suggested to the Mayor and placed on a fast track to ordinance development.
Before any such changes are made that could limit the opportunities for citizen input and participation the City should provide an analysis of: 1. the barriers in the current development oversight process attempting to be solved by DOC’s recommendations, 2. what other municipalities have done to solve similar problems, 3. What the range of options available to the City are to address the identified barriers, 4. What are the coast and benefits of the options available. This analysis should be reviewed by a joint DOC, Planning Commission, Design Review Commission and citizen committee that will hold public workshops to allow neighborhood input into the development of an efficient, equitable and transparent development oversight process for Sacramento.
Item # 7 DOC Subcommittee on Certified Master Builder Program
At their November 3 meeting the DOC appointed a subcommittee to develop a proposal for a Master Builder Program (http://www.cityofsacramento.org/dsd/meetings/commissions/development-oversight/2008/DOC_Minutes_11-03-08.cfm ). Among other features the Master Builder Program would give the builder certain advantages including marketing, exemption of certain plan review and inspection requirements. There is no written report for this item so it is difficult to determine what criteria will be used for the program. However, exempting any market player from regulation and oversight based upon past performance should be implemented cautiously. Plan check and inspection became part of the development oversight process in order to ensure that development design and construction met legal standards for the protection of the public’s health safety and welfare. Waiving of those protections should be awarded in rare circumstances and with assurance of equal protection as provided by the current process.
The DOC should provide a detailed study on the community-wide benefit of waiving certain plan review and inspection of projects and the process the City will use to ensure a commensurate level of protection.
The NEAT Coalition supports the development of an elegant design review process that is efficient for our developers and City staff, inclusive of our neighborhood concerns and will enable us to continue to strive to be the most livable City in America. The Coalition feels this can best be developed and implemented through robust dialogue between the City, the various City commissions involved in development oversight and the citizenry of Sacramento.
The process that was used to develop the recommendations to eliminate the Design Review Commission has been lacking the public dialogue. Neighborhoods and citizens are encouraged to engage in this process now and the first place to start is the DOC Meeting March 2 at 300 Richards Boulevard - 2nd Floor Training Room at 5:30 pm.