Permit Process in L.A. Is Condemned : Bureaucracy: Survey finds building process cumbersome and expensive. It's costing city jobs and tax revenue, a sponsor says.


Los Angeles takes up to 16 times as long as other cities in the region to process building permits and charges up to 22 times more in fees to do so, according to a new study commissioned by a coalition of business, labor and civic leaders.

Comparing Los Angeles' building and permit processes with those of Anaheim, Burbank, Long Beach, Las Vegas and Phoenix--five cities considered among Los Angeles' chief rivals in attracting employers--the report found Los Angeles to be by far the most costly, time-consuming and hostile to its customers.

"This report is a stinging statistical and analytical indictment of a bureaucracy that quite literally chases jobs and tax revenue beyond the city limits . . . ," said Steve Soboroff, president of the city's Recreation and Parks Commission and co-chairman of Progress LA, the group that ordered the study.

The extra time and added costs are a major disincentive to developers and employers seeking a favorable location to open or expand their businesses, said Richard D. Farman, chief executive of Southern California Gas Co. and co-chairman of Progress LA.

Citing UCLA Business Forecasting Group statistics, Farman said the cumbersome process is partly to blame for a decline of almost 50% in the number of building permit applications issued in Los Angeles since 1988. He said every $1 billion in new building permits creates 28,000 new jobs and generates $28 million in new tax dollars.

The study also concluded that Los Angeles was the only city studied that "does not treat its applicants as customers." As a result, neighboring cities have been able to use their user-friendly building and permit systems as selling points, Soboroff asserted.

"The city has enough perception problems and troubles with its economy that it can't afford to treat people like enemies. We need to put out a welcome mat and treat people like real customers," he said.

Progress LA was established in October to assist Mayor Richard Riordan in his push to improve the city's business climate and economy. The group plans to release the report today. The organization's funding--about $700,000 pledged so far--has come almost exclusively from the business sector. Mayor Riordan also contributed.

The report, conducted by Glendale-based Planning Company Associates Inc., includes a video profiling the difficulties various businesses and homeowners faced as they maneuvered through the city's problematic permit process.

Another survey of 500 recent building permit applicants is being conducted by the Los Angeles-based polling firm Yankelovich Partners to determine their satisfaction with the current system.

The basic problem is that Los Angeles is not used to having to actively attract employers, Soboroff said. Failing to realize that it has lost much of its previous appeal, the city has evolved without a plan and consequently outgrown its system.

"The system is a mind-boggling maze that can double, triple or even quadruple the price and time of building anything in the city of L.A.," Farman said. "What employers would want to move to or expand in L.A. when they can locate in any number of adjoining or nearby communities and save time and money in doing so?"

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