How California’s Cities Strangle the Permit Process, by John McNellis

One huge business cost that rarely gets mentioned is the costs imposed by government bureaucracies. From John McNellis as

If cities don’t start seeing the forest for the trees, our business landscape—if it hasn’t already—will irretrievably change.

California’s cities want to do the right thing. They’ve been telling us all the right things since the Covid mess began: promising to speed building permits for struggling landlords and tenants, to slash red tape, to help small businesses—particularly retail—through to the other side. But somewhere between our public employees’ enthusiastic adoption of remote working and city Zoom calls that resemble a high school yearbook, that right thing is proving elusive.

Like they say in Jersey, I know a guy. This guy has a small apartment portfolio in San Francisco. He wants to convert some of his garages into studios; that is, he wants to create accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Because a garage-turned studio is by definition lower income housing, the state of California has mandated that all cities swiftly approve ADUs to help with our housing crisis. The approvals for his conversions should have been a piece of cake.

They weren’t. This guy applied to the San Francisco Planning Department for permits more than a year ago. The approval process flat-lined, leaving his ADUs still hung up today. He said, “We were even told the permit was ready to be issued for one, we paid the invoice, went to pick it up at Planning, only to hear, ‘It isn’t ready yet’. Weeks later and we have no idea why we can’t get this permit.”

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