Guest Opinion: Old rules clog up Woodside planning process
Having just staggered to the end of a three-month, very costly approval process in order to build a one-room addition above my carport, I can speak feelingly to the San Mateo County Grand Jury's comments about the Woodside Planning Department.
The problem, as I see it, is not in the staff of the planning department, who, for the most part, are simply doing what they have been told to do. The counter staff is especially customer-friendly, being stuck with the difficult task of explaining bewildering rules, regulations and fees.
The problem is the accumulation of endless and pointless regulations over time because each town council adds requirements but never eliminates any. The problem is that these councils have seen their job as preventing development of any kind instead of trying to facilitate good development. The problem is that the staff is fearful of failing to document in detail every nit which town councils have forced them to pick.
A reasonable fast-track process would have a small project (however defined) require only one set of plans, checked in order by each department, instead of multiple plans, each submitted to a different planner.
A reasonable process would encourage staff to collect questions and then visit the site with owner/architect/contractor to get information instead of having each staff member write out often redundant questions requiring written responses. (In my own case, such questions related to types of trees not being touched, the location of a tree canopy visible in a submitted site photograph, property lines hundreds of feet from the site, and whether a hill was man-made or natural — obvious to the naked eye.)
A reasonable process would not require endless oversight unless there is some major change in use, or damage to neighbors' views or the environment. There is no reason for the town to be involved in structural issues — current regulations require that engineering standards appropriate to a high-rise building be applied to a doghouse.
It's really easy for the town to fix this. Call a moratorium on any additional regulations, and then take time to examine every regulation put in place in the last 20 years. Set a goal of removing the least useful half of these, and then remove them. Then, for projects under a certain size or cost, remove as many more as possible.
Then we could go back to the way Woodside was when most of the houses were built here — houses that stand to this day.
Is this too simplistic? Almost certainly. But it is a lot better than the situation we have now. Otherwise, why is it that every homeowner, architect, or contractor with whom I have spoken just laughs when I mention Woodside?
David Fleishhacker lives on Albion Avenue in Woodside.