L.A. Plannning Department Hit by Audit


The Los Angeles Department of City Planning still has not done enough to streamline permit processing, according to a follow-up audit released Friday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Four years ago, an audit found the planning department was inefficient in processing permit applications and recommended a “cradle-to-grave” approach in which one planner handles a case from beginning to end.

In Friday’s report, Greuel was sharply critical of the department for failing to fully implement most of the previous recommendations. She said the agency still had not assigned planners to track cases and that only modest progress has been made in reducing case processing times.

“One area that has long kept the city from being more business-friendly is that Angelenos spend months and sometimes years awaiting approval for zoning and land use permits,” wrote Greuel in a letter to the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accompanying the audit.

“Out of all the audits I have done so far, this is among the most disappointing,” she continued. “While small improvements have been made in a few areas since our original October 2005 audit, the department has been unable to take necessary steps to become more efficient.”

Greuel was especially critical of the department’s failure to fully implement its portion of the “12-to-2” plan to reduce the number of city departments that applicants must deal with to get permit approvals. Currently, an applicant has to deal with about a dozen departments.

Planning Director Gail Goldberg said in a written response to the audit that staff cutbacks have made it more difficult to reduce permit processing times and implement the recommendations. Despite this, Goldberg said, “we are pleased that given these challenges we have been able to maintain our timeframes without significant declines.”

Goldberg added that, “We are committed to an improved case processing system and we have already begun to reorganize our department to take best advantage of our remaining staff and to achieve the objectives set out in the audit.”

Earlier this year, Villaraigosa also responded to criticism that the permit process remains a problem.

In January, he appointed investment banker Austin Beutner as a deputy mayor in charge of economic and business policy. One of Beutner’s tasks is to kick start implementation of the 12-to-2 plan.

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Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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