Responding to a public protest, the Board of Supervisors appears ready to back down on its previous order that nearly tripled the cost of appealing some county development decisions.
More than a dozen community activists from environmental and homeowner groups complained to the supervisors last week that the higher fees had stifled public access to the county’s decision-making process. The new policy made it appear that the county was protecting developers by making it more difficult for their projects to be challenged, critics charged.
But a letter released Thursday by Supervisors Harriett M. Wieder and Gaddi H. Vasquez says the supervisors will vote Tuesday on reducing the fee.
The fee is required to file an appeal of a decision by the County Planning Commission. It was raised last summer from about $560 to $1,785 under a new county policy in which the financially strapped government is seeking to recover the costs of many of its services through higher fees.
Several other fees--such as those required for building permits, license applications, background checks and other county functions--also have been increased, many substantially.
The supervisors’ letter said: “The county has clearly stated its intention to recover the costs for providing services wherever possible, and the current fiscal picture provides no compelling reason to deviate from this policy.
“However, the issue of increased appeal fees and the process permitting the citizens of Orange County the reasonable right to seek a recourse from the Board of Supervisors creates a unique situation which we believe deserves a second look.”
The letter recommends that the fee be reduced to $760, based on a $38-per-hour charge for the average of 20 hours it takes to process an appeal. For appeals that require fewer than 20 hours of staff time, the letter recommends that the difference be refunded.
If the board sustains the appeal in its entirety, the entire $760 should be refunded, the letter states.
The supervisors’ letter stated that the original increased fee of $1,785 was based on the average cost to process an appeal, but the average included some lengthy and complex projects.