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L.A. City Council pulls back plan to raise fees for development appeals

October 21, 2009 | 12:18 pm

Bowing to pressure from homeowner groups and environmental advocates, the Los Angeles City Council voted today to pull back a plan to hike fees for residents and groups that seek to challenge the city’s development decisions.

The council had been planning to impose an array of new fees, which would have required residents to pay as much as $500 to appeal a zoning decision and as much as $3,000 to challenge a permit issued by the Department of Building and Safety.

But in the wake of neighborhood protests, the council agreed to take another look at the plan, which is designed to help the city recoup more of the costs of processing citizen appeals.

“No way do I want to stop community groups from having input,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents coastal neighborhoods stretching from Westchester to Pacific Palisades.

Councilman Ed Reyes said he hopes to bring back a reworked proposal within 30 days.

The current plan would have increased the fees charged to individuals, businesses and groups that seek to reverse decisions involving construction projects, including recycling centers, shopping malls, nightclubs, and residential towers.

The proposal also would have, in many cases, required those who live more than 500 feet from a proposed development project to pay more to challenge it. City officials contend the city typically spends $13,000 to process an appeal of a development decision to the planning commission and $11,000 to process an appeal of a development decision to the city council.

Councilman Greig Smith, who serves on the council’s budget committee, said the city needs to recoup more of those costs to shore up the planning department, which has more than 100 vacant positions and 80% of its staff taking furloughs every other week.

Smith also argued that the appeal system is being abused by businesses and organizations that seek to derail development or keep a competitor from completing a real estate project.

“The easy access to the appeal process ... is clogging the planning department,” he said.

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