The following is a business column Bob Brown did for the Times Standard Online.

Read on the Times Standard


Pacific Wren

I recently heard a story of two young children walking along a trail spotting a small group of people ahead. One yells out, “They’re bird watchers! Run!” I am not sure what they feared but the birding stereotype of ” ‘Miss’ Jane Hathaway” on the Beverly Hillbillies has changed. If you haven’t check out the movie “The Big Year,” with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, you should sometime.

A study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that birdwatchers contributed about $32 billion to the U.S. economy. “About 85 million Americans enjoy observing, photographing or feeding wild birds. Birding ranks 15th on a list of the most popular outdoor activities, just below bicycling and beach bumming … . About 18 million are serious enough to take trips exclusively to commune with other birders or count birds by sight or sound, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” (Terry Byrne, USA Today, Jan. 4, 2014.)

Really? Birding? Our north coast environment is rich with birds; it is one of our untapped ecotourism opportunities that is literally flying past us. I became somewhat interested in birding five years ago and have since become a “lister” and “chaser.” I started keeping a list of birds seen each day throughout the year, attend out-of-town birding festivals and meeting the local “birding community.” I started to attend Godwit Days, a seven-day birding festival held each April in Arcata with more than 300 people participating in some of the 100 offered trips to view birds. This is Arcata’s third largest event but is the only countywide ecotourism event of this size in our area.

While this event has been attended in the past mostly by locals, the number of out of town visitors is increasing. Comparing Godwit Days with other birding events in the region (Klamath Falls, Chico, Stockton, Monterey, etc.) our local festival has the potential to bring in 300 out-of-town guests each staying an average of 2-3 nights and eating 10 meals during a time of year (April) when occupancy rates are low and restaurants are not full. Now that’s not chicken scratch.

Our local tourist-related businesses are encouraged to take advantage of Godwit Days and similar tourist-drawing events throughout the year. Godwit Days is holding their “Fall Preview” birding trips Oct. 4-5 this year (http://godwitdays.org/). Those of you in the tourism industry should sign up; see what birding is all about. No experience necessary; just bring/borrow a pair of binoculars and check out why this area is “going to the birds.” Godwit Days will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in April 2015. If you are interested in being a Godwit Days sponsor or advertiser give a hoot.

Bob Brown is on the Godwit Days board, and is owner of Streamline Planning Consultants, a local permitting firm emphasizing business advocacy and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations.fallpreview_ad

Part 1: Stomaching the Permitting Process
By: Bob Brown, Principal

Talk to most anyone in the small business arena and they will quickly tell you it’s the government’s fault that businesses cannot develop in a timely manner.

Well that doesn’t have to be true. Like any investment –what you invest in your business expansion or relocation is what you will reap in the end. Preparation is key to a smoother permitting process. Before jumping in, here are some tips to consider.

Tip #1  Avoid. You might find the ‘ideal’ location for your business but find out that conditional use permits, coastal permits, variances, etc. are needed. Instead, find out what zoning allows your business with as little permitting review as necessary.

Tip #2  Check In. Before putting your business into an existing available building or lot make sure your business is allowed by checking in with your local building and planning departments. Need extensive permitting? re-read Tip #1.

Tip #3  Know your project. Write out your project description before going to the Planning Department. What are your short-term / long-term needs? What size structure or property do you need? Hours of operation? # employees? What about noise, dust, odors, lights or other potential nuisances? Special utility hook ups or public services?

Tip #4  Sell it. Treat the permitting process like a business deal. Know your audience. Offer incentives. Negotiate. Don’t burn bridges. Develop a relationship with those behind the counter; it might be the best sales deal you broker. (There are times to be assertive –that is in a later tip in Part 2)

Tip #5  Getting to Yes. The person at the counter’s main job is to identify problems and requirements related to your business, sending you off with a head full of jargon, paperwork and restrictions that translate into extra costs. Ask them for advice, solutions to the problems they raise. Don’t understand something? Ask again, and again. Their job is to make this process clear to you.

Tip #6  Invest. Growing or relocating is an investment in your business. Anticipate spending time and money. Remember, success will result in increased sales and an improved life style.

Tip #7  Don’t give up. Hire a professional if you don’t have the time or patience. Our clients are typically in a growth cycle; permitting distractions take valuable time away from growing their business. Hiring someone can take away that frustration and allow you to grow your business. Don’t give up your business plans –many successful businesses have achieved that dream because they persisted with what they knew to be a promising future.

So you have your planning application and fees submitted and have overcome the roadblocks put in your way. Now what? The normal reaction is to wait…get back to working on your business plan or product expansion, pick out the carpet colors, celebrate, etc.  Part 2 explains what you should know about how your application will be processed and a couple steps to take next.

Part 2: What happens once you get your permit application submitted?

Streamline Planning Consultants is a local permitting / business advocacy firm and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations. They offer free consultations if you are considering a business move.

Part 2: Getting Your Permit Processed

Part 3: The Home Stretch

Visit our website www.streamlineplanning.net
Contact Bob Brown bob@streamlineplanning.net 

Part 3: The Home Stretch
By: Bob BrownPrincipal

Okay you have made it this far. What can you expect to happen next? Maybe it has been a while since you have heard from the Planning Department. You got busy managing your business, expecting your application to be almost approved. You call up and find that it is sitting on a desk collecting dust. What now?

  1. Push. Know that the Planner is working on a pile of projects that came in before yours. How important is your project? Can you wait or what happens if your project gets stalled? At some point in the process it is your turn to have a staff planner work on your project. Keep checking in to ask about progress. Know that when problems arise it is easier for the planner to set your project aside to work on other projects. Stay in contact, return emails, phone calls and respond to requests for information as quickly as possible. Don’t lose the momentum that your project is gaining or it may be slow starting again.
  2. It’s Understandable. The Planner’s role is to assist and represent the public, including you. You deserve straight forward answers to your questions. They should be able to answer why and in a manner that you can understand. A planner that gives me an answer I don’t like but does so respectfully I can respect. A planner that lays down the law because of their position (“It’s that way because I say so”) –that is when I make the call to their supervising planner or director. Planners have bad days like the rest of us –give them some grace; but constant bad attitudes shouldn’t be tolerated. They are public servants, whether they like that term or not.
  3. On Guard. There is a set process of taking your project through approval. If you act like a jerk –there are sometimes ‘special processes’ just for you. Remember Part 1 Tips –your involvement in this process is like an investment, look at it as a sales pitch to get your project approved. Keep the goal in mind and don’t let petty attitudes get in the way, especially yours. Know that it can be a stressful process –guard your responses carefully.
  4. Terminology. There is also set terminology. You should be given a clear understanding of the process, some best case/worst case scheduling dates and an understanding of all the jargon that is thrown out during the process. The Planners role is to help you understand this process. Keep asking questions until you understand it.
  5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  If your project goes to a public hearing (e.g. Planning Commission hearing) then notices are sent out to the neighborhood surrounding the project. Where you may be working with Planning staff for months the neighborhood may know nothing about your project until a week ahead of the public hearing. People generally are not comfortable with change, no matter how wonderful you think your project is. In order to review your application the neighborhood may need to take a day off work and who really likes to go to night meetings anyway? Most applications go to the Planning Commission with a recommendation of approval because all the known concerns are worked out ahead of time. This makes the neighborhood mad because they think it’s a done deal and they haven’t been able to express their concerns or ask their questions.
    So here is the question. Do you want to engage the neighborhood earlier in the process to see if you can inform them about your project, listen to their concerns and address their issues? Or do you want to risk delay in your project as the Planning Commission continues your project to the next meeting so staff has a chance to address those changes?
  6. What else happens when you deal with a concerned neighborhood? Petition drives, neighborhood organization meetings, pulling in attorneys or environmental advocacy groups, presenting challenges to the process or substance of the staff determinations, etc. The public has been given the right to be involved in this process. Alleviating their concerns with good design and then reaching out to the community to inform and to listen goes a long way to set aside the need for the neighborhood to take these other extreme measures.
  7. Business Advocacy. Where a neighborhood may be concerned with negative impacts there is also a need in the greater community for businesses providing jobs, services, goods; exactly what your business is proposing. Most people who show up at public hearings are people who have concerns about the project. It is sometimes helpful to have those who support your project or are part of the business community to show up and speak. They speak for the greater good of the larger community that goes beyond the neighborhood setting. Request support from your clients and vendors, either by showing up at a meeting or writing a letter of support. Why is your business important to the community?
  8. Project Approval-what then? As you pat yourself on the back know that it isn’t over yet. Talk with your planner to learn about when conditions or fees need to be paid, other reviews or permits are necessary and more important when your project approval becomes final. There usually is an appeal period where people can challenge the decision made on your project.
  9. Dream On. You just went through a long, expensive process. You have become a different person having experienced this process and you will probably never want to go through anything like it again. You question the sanity of anyone who does this for a living, including your consultant.

There are a lot of mixed emotions you might be experiencing. But setting aside the hurt feelings, the attacks, the expenses –remember your initial goal. You have approval of your project and it is now up to you to make the most of it. But you can do it because this is your business. This is what you are good at doing. This is your dream, your vision.

Part 1: Stomaching the Permitting Process

Part 2: Getting Your Permit Processed

Streamline Planning Consultants is a local permitting / business advocacy firm and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations. They offer free consultations if you are considering a business move.

Visit our website www.streamlineplanning.net
Contact Bob Brown bob@streamlineplanning.net 

Part 2: Getting Your Permit Processed
By: Bob BrownPrincipal

So you have your planning application and fees submitted and have overcome the roadblocks put in your way. Now what? The normal reaction is to wait…get back to working on your business plan or product expansion, pick out the carpet colors, celebrate, etc.

The following is what you should know about how your application will be processed and a couple steps to take next.

  1. And So It Begins… What happens to the information submitted? A file will be set up (Applicant’s name or APN Number), and the referral process begins. Your information will be sent off to other city/county departments including public works, engineering, health dept. and may also be sent off to state agencies or neighboring jurisdictions. The planning department is looking for any comments, concerns, costs or requirements that these departments might have. Typically it is wise of you to follow up a week after you submit your application to see if or when the referrals get sent. A week after the referrals are sent out you should be calling up the referral department to find out if they have any questions about your project and to ask about any concerns or requirements they might have. Ask if they will be getting their written comments in on time and if they would email a copy to you.
  2. Chase. A few days after the deadline for submitting referral comments you should contact the staff planner assigned to your project and see if they received all the referral comments. Contact those who have not returned their comments to see if they will be submitting soon. Figure out the most effective way to communicate with them; phone call, email or in person. Each person is different.
  3. They Want More? Based on the comments received the planner may request additional studies (e.g. traffic, wetland delineation) or tell you that you need to hire someone to do an environmental study (CEQA document). There are specialists, such as Streamline Planning, that do this type of work. You often do not need to hire an engineer firm at higher rates to do this type of work.
  4. A Determined Look. The Staff Planner’s next step is to determine if your application is complete. Technically the State Permit Streamlining Act requires that they notify you within 30 days of your application submittal whether they have a complete application. This is another step to push to get a response. If they request additional information of you they are saying that your application is incomplete and it stops the deadlines in the Permit Streamlining Act until you respond and submit that information. In reality the Permit Streamlining Act deadlines are rarely met or enforced; there are plenty of loopholes to the specified time limits.
  5. Don’t Take No for an Answer. There may come a time in the process when you get worn down. It looks like nothing is going right. Expenses are increasing. Your staff planner just dumped a big restriction on you that seems insurmountable. They look at you with a ‘Sure you want to go through with this?” look.  What you hear all around is ‘No’. But don’t give in. Fight the urge to give up. Your second wind is just around the corner. Find out what the problem is and there is often a solution around it. The creative juices begin to flow and you find yourself addressing the concerns and digging out of the hole. ‘You can do it, yes you can’. This is a pivotal point in the process. You’ve heard of ‘last person standing’; this is the time to take your stand and wear the other side down.
  6. Many Ways to Cook a Potato. After you have submitted an application the Planner’s role is to process your application to completion. During this project they may receive additional comments from agencies, find other restrictions in the zoning code but basically they will be looking for ways to approve your project and may find it necessary to add conditions to your project to make it conform to the zoning ordinance, to the community and to state and local environmental regulations. Some of these (e.g. noise or creek setbacks) are standard; some are the planners preferred way of addressing the concern. At this point it is important for you or your consultant to represent you to come up with innovative solutions that adequately address both the agency’s concerns and your project needs. There is often more than one way to solve a problem; you shouldn’t be stuck with the most expensive solution.
  7. Friends in High Places. When is it appropriate to contact a friend who may also be a Planning Director, Planning Commissioner or City Manager, Supervisor or Councilperson? First beware that such contacts may need to be disclosed during a decision making process and may even disqualify a decision maker who was contacted from voting on your project.  Second if dissatisfied with a staff person’s response I suggest working up the ranks. If you can’t get answers from the planner, go to their supervisor and work upward. There is a difference between requesting a satisfactory answer to your questions and trying to influence the decisions.

Okay you have made it this far. What can you expect to happen next? Maybe it has been a while since you have heard from the Planning Department. You got busy managing your business, expecting your application to be almost approved. You call up and find that it is sitting on a desk collecting dust. What now?

Part 3: The Home Stretch

Streamline Planning Consultants is a local permitting / business advocacy firm and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations. They offer free consultations if you are considering a business move.

Part 1: Stomaching the Permitting Process

Part 3: The Home Stretch

Visit our website www.streamlineplanning.net
Contact Bob Brown bob@streamlineplanning.net 

Bob Brown

Bob Brown (Principal) of Streamline Planning Consultants

Bob Brown of Streamline Planning Consultants has been invited to join the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) ‘Rural Issues Focus Group’. He will be participating in a new statewide group focusing on issues that pertain to rural areas.

“This is going to be an exciting process; one of the first tasks we have been asked to evaluate are the draft General Plan Guidelines. These are the State’s guidelines that convey the minimum requirements that cities and counties need to follow when updating their general plans.”
Read More →

Biological-Surveys

Biological surveys are generally subject to seasonal restrictions depending upon the life cycles of individual target species. Most surveys must be conducted in spring or summer. Streamline Planning Consultant’s biologists are dedicated to helping you plan and design your project successfully. Ensure that your projects are not delayed by contacting us today! Not sure if you need a survey? Surveys are generally necessary for the following activities:

  • Timber Harvesting
  • Mining and Other Resource Extraction
  • Pre-Construction and Grading
  • Proposed Development Applications
  • Mitigation or Restoration Projects
  • Streambed or Wetland Alteration