Planning, building departments combined

NEWPORT BEACH — The city has found a way to spend some of the money it saved when it convinced 52 workers to retire early last year.

Officials plan to hire two high-level managers to fill vacant positions. Their additions fit into a reorganization of city departments that the City Council approved Tuesday.

Responding to complaints by architects, homeowners and business owners who found parts of the city bureaucracy cumbersome, City Manager Dave Kiff consolidated the planning and building departments, created a position to direct the new department and proposed contracting out some city services.

"It's something that has been long overdue," said Councilman Rush Hill, an architect who has dealt with city staff over the years when building his home, a commercial building and other projects.

According to the city records, the average home project worth more than $200,000 took nearly four-and-a-half months to process in 2010. The average new commercial building took more than 11 months.

"This is all about trying to improve our customer service," Kiff said. "It helps connect the departments better … and breaks down the perceived walls between them."

Some project applicants complained they would receive conflicting messages from the building and planning departments, and their approvals process — and budget — would expand. The city held focus groups with architects and designers, Kiff said, to get their opinions. They favored a streamlined process.

In turn, the city formed a new Community Development Department that oversees both operations, including building inspections and code enforcement.

Kiff plans to hire a community development director who would replace the now-retired planning and building directors. The new director would make between $143,000 and $174,000 per year — in the same range that the planning and building directors made.

That and other positions created by the reorganization may be filled by existing city employees or by outside applicants, Kiff said.

Interim Director Joel Flick helped organize the new department during the past few months. Flick was the Anaheim deputy city manager and planning director. He'll stay on as the city searches for a permanent employee.

One of the functions that will be under the new department is economic development, and Kiff said that the city is considering outsourcing those jobs.

Two employees work on economic development currently, according to the city staff directory. They help businesses through the planning and building departments and otherwise encourage economic growth.

"There could be a better model out there that private sector companies can do," Kiff said, adding that the city will consider outsourcing other community development functions in the future.

In addition to the Community Development Department, the city restructured its information technology positions. It created the new title of business and information technology manager, which will oversee IT. That job will pay between $129,000 and $158,000 per year, and replaces the vacant position of information technology manager.

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