Atherton council removes penalty cap on building projects that exceed time limit | October 23, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 23, 2019

Atherton council removes penalty cap on building projects that exceed time limit

Town also approves community outreach on traffic calming measures

by Angela Swartz

The Atherton City Council voted on Oct. 16 to eliminate a $250,000 penalty cap on building projects that violate the town's construction time-limit provision, given the size and value of homes covered by the rule, according to City Manager George Rodericks.

In September, the council asked town staff to draft an amendment to a time-limit ordinance that eliminates the cap on penalties for projects that exceed the time permitted for construction. A harsher penalty, town officials have said, might help speed up projects, which create noise and more traffic from construction vehicles.

According to the ordinance, after a 30-day grace period, daily fines are imposed starting at $200; they increase to $400 after two months. The fines escalate to $1,000 a day when projects go 121 days beyond the time limit, up to the $250,000 cap.

Since 2015, 13 projects have exceeded the time limit; deposits were forfeited and collected by the town, totaling $538,800, according to a town staff report.

The council voted to amend fees on town services — such as building and planning permit and facilities rental fees, according to a staff report. The fees were last updated in 2013, and town staff recommends that the council implement a fee adjustment based on new hourly pay rates for staff.

Staff recommended that fees that have a labor component be increased by 19.5%. It also recommends a 5% adjustment to planning fees followed by a subsequent adjustment in January 2020 once that amount is determined. This adjustment could net the town between $180,000 and $210,000 annually, according to the staff report.

The staff is proposing to do a master study of fees for town services during the 2020-21 fiscal year, when the town will have a better idea of its potential overhead costs associated with the new civic center. There will be no changes to the valuation-driven fees at this time until a new cost study is performed, according to the staff report.

Town staff studied the possibility of imposing penalties for doing construction work without a building permit. It recommended, and the council agreed, that a penalty with an escalator for successive violations would be an effective approach.

But there was some concern that, because the responsibility for the permit lies with the property owner, an escalated penalty may not be directed at the culpable party. For example, a contractor may get caught working without a permit and the property owner would be charged twice the permit fee. If the contractor does more work without a permit on another property, the second property owner would then have to pay three times the permit fee since the contractor has a repeat violation.

The second property owner may not have known that the contractor had a prior violation, but is now paying three times the permit fee because he or she innocently hired the contractor, Rodericks explained.

Staff recommends adopting a penalty of twice the cost of the building permit and incorporating that penalty into the town's fee schedule. But it will investigate ways to address charging the proper party for the penalty.

Traffic calming measures

At the same meeting, the council delayed voting on amending a contract with transportation consulting firm TJKM to include an additional fee of up to $166,220 for community outreach efforts related to traffic calming in town, according to a staff report. The council asked staff to refine the proposal for the work by reducing, and/or combining, neighborhoods for outreach and return the proposal to the council at a future meeting, according to Rodericks.

The proposal includes hosting community workshops to hear concerns, gather feedback on traffic calming solutions and prioritize projects, along with hosting booths at community events to demonstrate proposed traffic calming solutions.

In July, the council asked staff to study priority projects to keep traffic moving on the most heavily used streets. Council members, who received a traffic report in April from TJKM, said in July that they prefer a strategy of moving traffic smoothly through town on major roadways such as El Camino Real and Marsh Road, rather than trying to discourage drivers from traveling through town on residential and secondary streets.

The council also delayed taking action on a proposal from Interwest Consulting Group to provide continued project management support for the community outreach phase of the traffic project. Interwest provided a proposal for $15,460.


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