Council devises new appeal fee structure
The city council has come to an agreement that will mean major fee increases for planning appeals following a wide-ranging discussion that included direction to city staff to streamline the appeals process.
The council cobbled together a plan to charge appellants $250 for appeals on residential projects plus time and materials costs up to $500 and $350 for appeals of commercial projects plus time and materials costs up to $2,500. Mayor Beverly Johnson also told planning staff they need to spend a lot less time working on the appeals.
Vice Mayor Doug deHaan cast the lone vote against the new fee plan, saying he thinks that some projects should be appealed to the council. He advocated for a flat appeal fee of $300.
“You’re not going to recover everything. That’s democracy,” deHaan said. “You just don’t want the same individuals coming up here and complaining about everything in the world.”
Council members offered a range of perspectives on how to balance covering the planning department’s staff costs with maintaining people’s right to appeal, with Councilman Frank Matarrese suggesting that the losing party in the appeal pay all the fees and Johnson suggesting the process be streamlined so it is shorter for project applicants.
Johnson specifically mentioned appeals over a home remodeling project on Fernside Boulevard, which she said took 18 months to process.
Park Street Business Association head Robb Ratto offered a tiered plan that would charge different fees for residential and commercial project appeals and for planning board and city council appeals.
The staff proposal was to charge $400 for appeals plus time and materials up to $1,500 for appeals of residential projects and up to $5,000 for commercial projects. The city charged a fee plus time and materials until 2006, when it lowered its fees to $100 per appeal.
Ani Dimusheva, who got a bill for more than $10,000 for her appeal of the movie theater and garage project (the city later waived most of the fee), said she thinks the pending fee increases will discourage people from making appeals.
“Seven hundred and fifty dollars on something that’s not a living necessity is enough to deter most would-be apellants these days. Even though it sounds like a compromise, what the council did was to in fact put a price tag on democracy,” Dimusheva said.
Christopher Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society asked the council to nix the time and materials costs, saying they would have a chilling effect on appeals.
Council member Marie Gilmore said that most appeals are lodged by groups who could split the fees the city charges.
The city council and planning board have received two dozen appeals since September 2006, when the fee was reduced to $100. The planning department, which must pay its own bills through the fees it charges, spent $38,691 to process the appeals and recouped $2,400. Its budget is around $4 million.