October 30, 1993 - From the October, 1993 issue

West Hollywood: Lessons in Small City Streamlining

By Paul Koretz, a Councilmember for the City of West Hollywood

During the 1980's, the residents of the 1.9 square miles that made up the unincorporated area of West Hollywood felt powerless in the wake of rampant development. They had no control over the size, type and design of the buildings and businesses coming into the area, and were voiceless in what they perceived as a gigantic County bureaucracy. 

In 1984, the residents of West Hollywood voted to incorporate to give themselves a voice in their community, something they felt that the County of Los Angeles did not offer them. In the early years, the City of West Hollywood, eager to comply with promises of increased responsiveness to citizens, garnered a reputation for creating a sympathetic environment for residents, while turning a deaf ear to business. 

By the time I became mayor several years ago, West Hollywood's reputation as a difficult place to do business was widespread. We're working to change that image. 

To pinpoint the problems that created such an image, I met with a number of business leaders one-on-one as well as through a series of "Mayor's Working Dinners." The clear answer from those meetings was that it was time to cut red tape and revise the city's planning and permit processes. The construction boom of the 1980's was drawing to a close, the economic situation in Southern California had dropped sharply and state and federal budget crunches loomed on the horizon. The city needed to actively address these problems by initiating a comprehensive plan to cut fat internally and aggressively attract new business by streamlining permitting procedures, 

Based on the feedback from the business community, I listed a number of areas of concern in a Council agenda item, including the application appeal process, permitting and requirements for outdoor dining, signage and "creative signage" regulations, storefront remodels, changes of use and business licensing. I directed city staff to work in conjunction with an ad hoc committee of representatives of area businesses to address these and other concerns on an ongoing basis. 

City staff collected information from other jurisdictions that were currently doing similar work such as San Luis Obispo and La Verne. Suggestions were solicited from staff, the business community and other jurisdictions to be analyzed for potential inclusion in the series of text amendments proposed by the committee. The Streamlining Committee updated the City Council frequently on their discussions regarding simplifying permitting procedures. 

The Streamlining Committee reported to Council four times over the course of 18 months. The first round of text amendments simplified the review process for nightclubs, made the approval process for outdoor dining permits easier and allowed more flexibility with regard to parking standards in mixed-use projects. 

The second round included proposed new language for changes to the appeals chapter and changes to address commercial uses in residential zones. Simultaneously, internal procedures were established for coordinated project review by city staff. 

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Applicants also said that information given could be inconsistent or incomplete. In an attempt to address this criticism, forms, information material and counter assistance procedures were examined and modified to be more "user-friendly." We established a Small Business One-Stop Center in the Community Development division with information on permitting procedures for businesses. Staff continues to work on creating a master checklist for certain procedures that will notify an applicant which permits they will need for specific requests, the type of approval they will require to obtain and/or model timeline for each step of the process. Ultimately, our goal will be to consolidate all our public counters into one. 

We are pleased that our efforts have had positive results. Fa example, since January 1992, we have approved permits for eight new restaurants and 21 new or expanded outdoor dining requests. This has improved the vitality of our commercial corridors. Our stream­lined internal procedures allowed the city to process a controversial new construction project in only four months. By removing the requirement of public hearing fer off-site parking request, staff has been able to approve intensifications in use that would have previously been too costly for small businesses.

This fall we'll lake a second look at our design review process. Review of our processes will continue until we are satisfied that our permitting process is as effective as it can possibly be.

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