O.C. Planners Propose Big Fee Increases

Times Staff Writer

Developers should be charged at least $2,335 to process a 2,000-square-foot model home in Orange County, according to a report released Friday by planning officials -- a 64% boost over the current fee.

That is nearly twice what Riverside County charges for a slightly larger model home. It is less than similar fees collected by Irvine, Newport Beach and Orange.

County planning officials released a list of sweeping fee increases Friday, proposed after a different payment schedule was scrapped last month. The Board of Supervisors will consider adopting the new rates at a Jan. 28 meeting.

Officials said the increases are needed to help balance the budget of the Planning and Development Services Department.

The new fees prompted a fresh round of protests from Dick McCarthy, a retired developer who is suing the county over its planning and building fees. He argues that the county has grossly overcharged for services in defiance of state law that allows only cost recovery.

"It's obscene," McCarthy said Friday of the newly proposed fees. "They're still at least three times too high."

County officials say the new fees are needed to stem a $200,000 weekly deficit at the planning department, which has already spent an $8-million emergency loan approved by supervisors in August.

Rather than the current flat fees, the new fees are based on the expected time spent on plan checks and inspections, multiplied by the county's hourly costs, the report said. Auditor-Controller David E. Sundstrom estimated the county's total cost for salaries, benefits, supplies and overhead at $78 an hour. With a fee of $2,335, that contemplates 29.9 hours to process a 2,000-square-foot model home.

Riverside County charges $1,275 for inspecting a 2,800-square-foot model home. That consists of a $660 charge for plan checks, and $615 for a six-hour inspection.

Orange County planning officials were not available to explain the difference in hours.

For non-model homes, which account for about 95% of new homes, Riverside charges $690; Orange County's fee would be about $1,950 under the plan.

Questions to Chief County Executive Officer Michael Schumacher's office about the new rates were directed to Sundstrom. He said he calculated the hourly cost but that planning officials calculated how much time the process would take.

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