News

Woodsider homeowners respond to poll on town's building-review process

 

For years, Woodside town officials have heard complaints from homeowners and others that the process for getting a building permit in town is unnecessarily difficult and costly.

Wanting to get to the bottom of this matter, the town in May emailed a questionnaire to 175 homeowners and 11 architects and building-trades professionals who had home-building projects under town review during 2014, 2015 and part of 2016.

Of the 52 responses received by the town, including from 43 homeowners, there was an even split overall between satisfaction and dissatisfaction, with comfort levels higher when dealing with Town Hall staff, and lower when processes involved citizen-review panels: the Planning Commission and the Architectural and Site Review Board.

Dissatisfaction also grew with processes that add cost and time to a project, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said.

"Overall, I think the survey demonstrates that there's a lot of work to do," Mr. Bryant said in a recent report to the Town Council. "I think that's true pretty much (at the time) a project comes through the door to its completion. ... Staff is not entirely pleased with the response and understands that we have work to do."

Resolving complaints about time and cost are high priorities, he said. Streamlining could include eliminating requirements for arborist reports on trees within construction zones since the process for protecting them is well understood. Also unnecessary may be requiring a licensed engineer to approve certain traffic-control plans, and requiring setback surveys for structures "well beyond" setback lines.

The point is to be less bureaucratic, Mr. Bryant told the Almanac. "It's not that we want different outcomes. It's just that we don't necessarily need all the process."

The questionnaire

The questionnaire had 33 questions divided among four areas: general feedback for staff, and comments on project planning, permitting and building phases.

For example, question 16, in the staff feedback section, asked whether staff had been fair and reasonable in interpreting the meaning of gray areas in ordinances and guidelines. Of 44 responses, 19 were agreed that staff were fair and reasonable while 14 disagreed. Seven were neutral and four said the question was not relevant.

Question 21 asked whether planning review processes reflected a reasonable balance between preserving Woodside's rural character, the primary mission of project review, and a landowner's property rights. Of 40 responses, 20 expressed negative opinions compared to 17 that were positive.

Crafting the questions in consultation with Mr. Bryant were former mayor Dave Burow, Planning Commissioner William Fender and residents Greg Raleigh and Bengt Henriksen all prominent critics of Woodside's planning and review processes.

Mixed reviews

In a report, Mr. Bryant boiled down the survey's favorable and unfavorable opinions on interacting with local government.

■ Interacting with staff: nine favorable opinions and three unfavorable.

■ Interacting with the architectural and aite review administrator (Planning Director Jackie Young), who reviews projects not needing the scrutiny of the review board: two favorable opinions and none unfavorable.

■ Interacting with the Architectural and Site Review Board, two favorable opinions and eight unfavorable.

■ Interacting with the Planning Commission: two favorable opinions and seven unfavorable.

■ Interacting with the Town Council: Five favorable opinions and two unfavorable.

Click here for full survey results.

Council comments

"We have a problem, and we need to address it," Mayor Deborah Gordon said at the meeting.

Mr. Burow, in a comment from the audience, said he considered the survey response rate as low "given the emotions people feel about this topic."

Given the possibility that people blocked the emailed invitations because they originated with Survey Monkey, Councilman Chris Shaw recommended sending postcards inviting people to take the survey on the web.

Councilman Tom Livermore recommended getting more feedback, particularly from professionals who represent homeowners at review meetings.

Councilman Peter Mason suggested that a future survey go back further than 2014 to combat "lingering beliefs" about building and planning processes and make the point that the town is interested in the issue.

Councilwoman Anne Kasten asked for monthly updates on how staff is responding to the survey.

--

Follow the Almanac on Twitter and Facebook for breaking news, local events and community news.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by William New
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Aug 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm

My "beliefs" have lingered for 20+ years or more as I have participated in the Woodside building process both as property owner expanding our family home and now considering very small in-law/grannie abode. Both have been inordinately expensive and difficult (even on large land parcels) compared to other familiar areas of California with comparable rural density and geo/eco-risk (e.g. Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Marin). We truly have created an expensive nightmare ( in time, money, effort) where our adult children cannot hope to return and live here. Sad. Very sad.


11 people like this
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 11, 2016 at 2:50 pm

"For example, question 16, in the staff feedback section, asked whether staff had been fair and reasonable in interpreting the meaning of gray areas in ordinances and guidelines. Of 44 responses, 19 were agreed that staff were fair and reasonable while 14 disagreed. Seven were neutral and four said the question was not relevant.

In the private sector, if in response to a survey the tally was 19-14 in happy-unhappy with their customer service response, the CEO would fire everyone on that staff. 57% of your "customers" say they are happy? That's success???


Question 21 asked whether planning review processes reflected a reasonable balance between preserving Woodside's rural character, the primary mission of project review, and a landowner's property rights. Of 40 responses, 20 expressed negative opinions compared to 17 that were positive.

A 20-17 NEGATIVE vote regarding the Town's efforts to "preserve rural character." The Town Council doesn't see this response as problematic?


Interacting with the Architectural and Site Review Board, two favorable opinions and eight unfavorable.

The opinions are 4 to 1 citing a negative experience with the ASRB.


These numbers are abominable! We don't need another survey, the Town Council needs to wake up and do something.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

It's long been known to those of us in the building and design business that Woodside's planning process is terribly broken. I have recommended to numerous people that have consulted me regarding building on property they were considering in Woodside that they NOT buy the property. Unless they were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on design and the plan review process, not to mention YEARS trying to get approval.

IF they were able to get approval for what they really wanted to build on their own property. Especially with the intrusive meddling of the ASRB who routinely require plans to be modified because they don't "like" the design. Never mind the design conforms to the requirements of the town. They're held hostage to some committee person's opinion. We all know what opinions are like.....

Woodside: you need to fix your problem.


2 people like this
Posted by Didn't try
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Aug 13, 2016 at 10:50 am

If they do further surveys, it would be great to send something to residents who have *not* done work recently. Obviously the survey for these folks couldn't be as detailed, but it might capture the sentiment of residents who, like me, were so discouraged by the process that we decided against actually having any work done. While the current survey base allows for very detailed questioning, it also introduces a selection bias that might understate the extent to which people are discouraged from actually having work done.


2 people like this
Posted by Canada rd
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 15, 2016 at 8:52 pm

As someone that did a project last year, I'm horribly disappointed that we didn't get a survey questionnaire! If survey monkey was the only method, and emails commonly get blocked by spam filters, this is not an acceptable method to have as the only way to complete a survey


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Downtown Redwood City gets Japanese kaiseki restaurant
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,934 views

Couples: Child Loss, "No U-Turn at Mercy Street"
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,391 views

Which Cocktail Has the Least Calories?
By Laura Stec | 10 comments | 1,176 views

UCSB's CCS program
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 119 views