With a City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee hearing on a proposed increase in city fees for land use matters scheduled for April 6, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council last night held a special board meeting to weigh in on a specific part of that proposal – the City Administrative Officer’s recommendation to increase land use appeal fees — from less $100 for individuals and other small entities to the level of “full cost recovery,” which could be as high as $16,000 per appeal.
The matter was first discussed at last week’s GWNC Land Use Committee meeting, where the committee recommended that the GWNC board oppose the fee increase. But committee members also acknowledged that the upcoming PLUM committee meeting is scheduled before the next full meeting of the GWNC board, so the Board scheduled last night’s special meeting to ensure a timely vote on the appeal fee issue.
At both the Land Use and GWNC special meetings, Windsor Square resident, land use attorney, and former GWNC board member Jane Usher explained that the City Planning Committee recently recommended a modest increase in a number of city land use fees, including appeal fees, which might potentially double those costs, but would still be within the realm of affordability for most individuals.
But Usher reported that the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Richard Llewellyn, Jr., later proposed raising approval fees by a comparatively astronomic ratio, to the level of “full cost recovery” for the city – or about $16,000 per appeal.
According to Usher, the CAO’s fee proposal would be unreasonably prohibitive for most individuals, and that would effectively lock out anyone but deep-pocketed developers from the city appeal process. And this is supremely important, Usher contended, for several reasons:
- Individuals with interest in land use cases rarely get a “first bite of the apple” (a chance to weigh in with their concerns) in land use matters, because city decisions are often made before the items come up for public hearings or final votes with the planning department or city council. So formal appeals are often the first chance individuals have to present their detailed cases and have them thoroughly considered by city officials. Raising fees to the level suggested by the CAO would effective rescind most individuals’ right to challenge city land use decisions.
- Individuals cannot file lawsuits in land use cases unless they’ve first filed and lost an administrative appeal, so putting the appeal process out of reach financially also cuts off possible legal remedies, further disenfranchising individuals in land use matters.
- “Full cost recovery” suggestions for land use appeal fees have been proposed in the past, but in the end have always been withdrawn because the city has recognized that allowing individuals to redress a land use disagreement is a “charter responsibility” (i.e. a fundamental obligation) of the city.
- When such increases in city fees have been opposed in the past, the suggestion has usually been justified by claiming that the original low fee has been abused, or at least over-used, in some way…but there has been no such suggestion made or proved by the CAO in this case.
In the end, the GWNC board members agreed with Usher and voted unanimously to oppose the CAO’s proposed land use appeal fee increases. They also agreed to submit their position to the city through a formal Community Impact Statement, as well as a letter outlining their reasons for the opposition. And they empowered board president Caroline Labiner Moser to appoint someone to present the board’s official position and communications at the upcoming PLUM Committee meeting, and other subsequent city hearings on the topic.
Finally, individuals were also urged to sumbit their own communications on the fee increase to the city. This can be done through the city’s Council File Management System for Council File 09-0969-S3. Interested individuals can also attend the City Council PLUM Committee meeting on April 6. The agenda and access link for that meeting will be posted closer to the meeting date at https://www.lacity.org/government/follow-meetings/council-committee-meetings.