L. A. council votes to merge planning, building departments

Council member Mitchell Englander is pushing for consolidation of city departments dealing with planning and development.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

Los Angeles council members agreed Wednesday to draw up a transition plan to merge city departments dealing with planning and development into a single agency that would process building and business permits in a more timely and cost-efficient manner.

On a 11-0 vote, council members agreed to hire a consultant to work with Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, business groups, neighborhood councils and developers to spell out how the city should consolidate the city’s Planning Department with the Building and Safety Department by Jan. 1.

The report would detail cost estimates for a transition and consider whether some jobs, including managers, could be eliminated as a result of the merger, according to Councilman Mitch Englander, who is leading the change.

“There may be an overlap in terms of some functionality,’' Englander said after the vote. “But the goal is to not eliminate positions but to perhaps re-purpose them.”


The vote is part of a broader effort by city leaders to turn around City Hall’s reputation as a tough place to do business. Los Angeles was cited as the region’s least welcoming city for business by 60% of respondents in a survey released Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Business Federation.

Long Beach, Burbank and Glendale, by contrast, were cited as “business friendly.”

The difference, Englander said, is that the smaller cities have instituted changes that make it much easier and quicker for developers, business owners and even residents seeking a room addition to obtain permits. Wednesday’s vote, which Englander called “historic,” begins the process of making similar changes in Los Angeles, he said.

The goal is to have one city point person assigned to each permit application to track a project from the time an application is submitted until a certificate of occupancy is obtained, Englander said.


Permit-seekers would also be able to track the progress of a permit online, much like consumers enjoy with private delivery services, he said. What happens now is a “nightmare” requiring applicants to navigate a maze of different people and counters, lengthening the time it takes to get a permit.

Streamlining service at City Hall was a major theme for Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti during his mayoral campaign. He promised that during his administration permits would be issued in a more timely fashion and that calls would be promptly returned.

Garcetti was absent for the vote.

“Making it easier to open a business in L.A. is key to our economic recovery, and I’m hopeful consolidation can result in significant savings of time and money,’' Garcetti said in a prepared statement. “I want to send a clear message that customer service — not red tape — will be the priority at City Hall.”


[For the record, 10:54 a.m., May 30, 2013: A previous version of this post contained a quote from Garcetti that read, in part, “I want to send a clear message that customer service--red tape--will be the priorty at City Hall.” The phrase should have read “not red tape.”]


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