Ok, that will be the last Rolling Stones distorted allusion in this op-ed.
Please close your eyes and imagine with me the reality that developers experience in the building application process ….
Before you enter the building where you work, there are a few things that you need to do. Until you satisfy all these requirements you will not be allowed in the building, you will not be allowed to go to work and you will not be paid.
You must write a description of what you do. This description must be approved by your immediate supervisor, the immediate supervisor’s supervisor, the Planning Director, the Planning Commission and the City Council. But, you learn that you can only talk with your immediate supervisor. You start to think: “Since I cannot have a direct conversation with anyone, maybe I need to hire an attorney that talks to these people all the time.” You think to yourself: “I wish it were not this way, but what else can I do. Plus, it will cost a lot of money. It should be a more honest and straight forward system.” As I think about each of these groups I need to satisfy, I come up with a different vision of what each one of them think I should be doing. If they all had one vision, it would be so much easier. This is like pin the tail on the donkey. “If I do not pick the right vision, I will not get to enter the building?”
As a test of my community planner skills, the city wants me to imagine a project on the fringe of downtown. I put on my thinking cap and try to come up with uses with the highest demand. I try to apply common sense and what I have learned in planning school. There is a very strong demand for affordable housing, but the governor killed all redevelopment agencies, so there is no 20 percent set aside money for affordable housing. Next, I think about building housing for the homeless. Then, I remember that politicians only talk about solving the homeless problem. There is no money to help subsidize housing for the homeless. Next, I think of a way to produce the most sales tax for the city—a car dealership. It could be multi-level. Maybe I can get four votes for a car dealership, even though it would be b*tt ugly. Next, I decide that market rate rental apartments are the best way to go. Then I think about all the times that I have made developers put retail on the ground floor. However, there is no foot traffic in this area. If I put retail on the ground floor, the project will probably not be feasible. Hopefully, my colleagues will listen to me better than I listen to other developers.
The city wants a traffic study of 19 intersections. Oh, I don’t live far enough away to go through 19 intersections. No problem. I will have to study 19 intersections any way. Then the city will have the “study that we need.” Remember, this is about the city’s needs and rules, not my needs. Why do my fellow city planners make people do things, just because they can?”
When I am all done studying those 19 intersections, I submit the results to my immediate supervisor. Weeks go by. I don’t hear a word. I am still outside the building. I want to get inside the building and start my work day, but I cannot enter the building until my traffic impact study is approved. Finally, I receive word from my supervisor: “I am too busy. I just returned from vacation.” You start to become impatient, but you cannot get mad. “I wish the people inside the city building could operate with a sense of urgency and customer service.”
One of the staff members comes out to tell me that they want a focused EIR. I am thinking: “Why couldn’t you tell me that months ago.” I wonder how long it will take them to agree on a “project description.”
After submitting my traffic study and focused EIR, it takes months for all the city staff involved to read all the sections and provide their comments. This is like Chinese water torture. The longer it takes the more in debt I am. I do not think people inside city hall really care. Was I like that?
Finally, the supervisor of my supervisor tells my supervisor that I need to go meet with the community, so that they can sign off on my proposed project. You ask: “Sign off on my project based upon what?” “Just have them ‘approve’ of the project.” The first question I ask is: “Who is the community?” Who knows. I want my supervisor and his supervisor to come to the community meeting, but they do not want to be associated with me and the project. They do not want it to look like they are favoring me. I am walking into the lion’s den all by myself. They will not believe me about what I tell them were the comments at the meeting. What am I going to do?
When I present my project to the community, I tell them that the proposed project will be good for the community. I plan housing projects, with retail on the ground floor to enliven the pedestrian environment (“I have no idea if I can lease this space.”). I try to convince them that my project creates jobs, generate taxes, provide services and much needed housing. All I hear is: “It will generate more traffic. We do not want more traffic.”
The community reacts negatively to me and the councilperson representing them. “We do not want any person coming to work for the city. You, Mr./Ms. Planner will cause traffic. We do not want to hear about the study of 19 intersections. You will disrupt our peace and quiet.” You try to put a good face on as you leave the meeting.
The next morning you try to enter the city building. Until all the studies are done on me, I am not allowed in. If I am not in the building working, I am not getting paid. If I am not getting paid, that is not good for me. But, no one inside the building seems to care.
Then comes the real shock. I finally get a hold of my supervisor to find out the status of my traffic study. “Well, I just talked to my supervisor about your traffic study. They think that you need to study 23 intersections, not 19.” You say to your supervisor: “Why didn’t you tell me this in the beginning? This is going to take more time and cost more money.” Silence. They do not seem to care.
It is hard to believe that three years have gone by. I feel like a homeless person out here. I have grown a long beard. In the meantime, I hear people walking by me and talking about the impending recession. If the area is headed toward a recession, why do I want to keep messing around with these people. I think I will go somewhere else.
During the recession, I receive a call from my immediate supervisor. “If you will come back propose your project, you will not have to study 23 intersections, only 19. However, the data is more than a year old, so you will have to update it. Also, you will not have to put retail on the ground floor.” I think about it for a minute and then I tell my supervisor: “I don’t trust you. I am going somewhere else to do my development.”