What you can do to process Land Use Projects and Plan Check Submittals and Reviews effectively with Cities and Counties in this unprecedented time.

I recently had an international client of mine who is considering building a large logistics/warehouse facility in the City of Perris, CA ask me if governmental departments are still operating as usual, or is the entitlement process being affected by COVID-19. This is not an uncommon question, and I have been asked this question recently by multiple clients.  The truth is, due to this virus, cities and counties are modifying their procedures for dealing with land use discretionary issues/permitting and ministerial grading/public improvements/building plan check reviews and permitting.  To help you effectively work with cities and counties in this unprecedented time, below I have shown some of the changes I am seeing at the cities and counties that I work with. Additionally, after the State of California removes the COVID-19 working restrictions, I believe some of these changes will remain.

  • I made a Tentative Parcel Map submittal for a large acreage project in the City of Menifee by emailing a drop box link to the Planning Director with all the submittal documents and plans, then I sent a next day UPS delivery of a hard copy of all the submittal documents and plans to the Planning Director. The planning staff then emailed me the invoice, and my client paid the invoice online.
  • County of Riverside is at the head of the pack with its digital submittal PLUS Online system, where I have been able to upload complete winery and hotel plans vie this PLUS Online system. Meaning that there were no paper plans submitted for these two major building plan checks submittals.
  • At the City of Carlsbad, I scheduled an appointment to make a Minor Conditional Use (MCUP) initial submittal for a project by setting the submittal package on a table under a tent outside the front door of the Development Services Department. However, it was rainy and windy that day, so as I soon as dropped off the MCUP submittal package, l called the planner and asked her to come outside and pick up the MCUP submittal package ASAP so it did not get wet. Fortunately, she picked it up as soon as I called her because 10 minutes later the tent fell down in the wind.
  • I had a Zoom video meeting with the Economic Development Director, Planning Director, and Public works director (all from their homes) on a major institutional project in the City of Wildomar where we will need a Zone Change, Conditional Use Permit, and a Plot Plan Review. Then on this same project, I had Zoom video meeting with the Engineering Manager for the EVMWD (Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District) on some water and sewer issues with this project.
  • I have done multiple Developers Conference (DC) meetings at the City of Oceanside, where representatives of each city department meet with me and my clients to go over their development requirements for the project. However, recently I made a digital DC submittal online, and the meeting was held on the scheduled date, but my client and I were not allowed to be in attendance like I have been for all other DC meetings. But, at the end of that day, I received an email with development requirements for the project from each of the different city departments even though I did not attend the meeting.
  • For a hospital expansion at the City of Murrieta, yesterday I held a Zoom video meeting with the planning director, the fire marshal, and the city traffic engineer. Then, later today, day I am holding a zoom meeting with a principal engineer for the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) and the City of Murrieta Fire Marshal. In both of these zoom meetings we are resolving significant issues that in the past would have required in person meetings, but due to COVID-19, we are resolving these issues via zoom video meetings.
  • As the entitlement consultant on the project team with a major project management firm competing for the work on a large historic building renovation in the City of Los Angeles, we are doing all of the presentation preparation and the actual presentation in front of the project owner on a Zoom video meeting.
  • In doing due diligence at the City of Los Angeles regarding converting a 85 bed sanitarium/hospital into a large residential care facility, by using the city’s staff directory and org chart, I contacted the assistant head of code enforcement, the senior planner in charge of case management, and the senior planner in charge of the West LA and Valley Planning Counters to give me direction on the best way to entitle this facility, which turned out to be a variance. I did this all by never leaving my home office.
  • I was told by a friend of mine on the City of Carlsbad Planning Commission, due to the COVID-19, the Planning Commission meetings will temporarily be done via Teleconferenceing. In fact, the City of Carlsbad website under Planning Commission states “Per State of California Executive Order N-29-20, and in the interest of public health and safety, we are temporarily taking actions to prevent and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by holding Planning Commission meetings electronically or by teleconferencing.”

I believe that many municipalities are realizing that, when they have to, they can do land use and plan check processing in a very different way.  Some of the methods listed above like making the submittal at the City of Carlsbad on a table under a tent outside in the rain on a windy day will probably not continue after COVID-19.  However, the move to digital submittals without paper that I am seeing at the County of Riverside, may remain and be the future of land use and plan check submittals. Additionally, as I saw with the City of Los Angeles, while doing due diligence research via emails and phone calls, and also via the Zoom video meetings with the senior staff at the Cities of Murrieta and Wildomar; in person meetings at city/county counters and conference rooms may be changing in a way that requires less in person meetings at municipalities and more online digital communications.

Terry Strom of Strom Entitlement Permitting PM, LLC can be reached at 951-970-7995 and terry@strompermit.com.