Sonoma County supervisors to consider $23M to open fire rebuilds permitting center

The Tubbs fire razed Pacific Heights Drive in Larkfield, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Santa Rosa. At top right, is the John B. Riebli Elementary School athletic fields. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2017

GARY QUACKENBUSH,

The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD or Permit Sonoma) plans to seek approval Monday for more than $23 million to launch a center intended to speed processing of rebuild permits for the thousands of homes burned by the October wildfires in the unincorporated areas.

On the special-session agenda for the Board of Supervisors is a five-part resolution to establish, budget and staff a resiliency processing center to handle and expedite fire-related permits, based on recommendations from the board’s Recovery Ad Hoc Housing Committee.

“We’re changing the way we do business to meet the challenge of coping with rebuilding approximately 3,000 residential structures in the county’s unincorporated area alone with an estimated value of $1.9 billion destroyed by the most destructive wildfire in California history,” said Permit Sonoma Director Tennis Wick.

The resolution would authorize Wick to execute an agreement with West Coast Code Consultants, Inc., for fire reconstruction permitting and inspection services, with billings not to exceed $20 million over three years.

To support recovery efforts, Permit Sonoma issued a request for proposals on Nov. 27. Seven vendors responded by the Dec. 11 due date, and a review panel selected West Coast Code Consultants. The San Ramon-based company also has offices in South San Francisco, Sacramento, Utah and Washington.

This request going before the board also includes a resolution to increase the fiscal 2018 budget appropriations by $3 million, as well as authorizing reduced permitting fees, effective Jan. 30, to recover the reasonable cost of providing streamlined permitting services in response to Sonoma County’s complex fire disaster.

Also part of the resolution are refunds of existing permit application fees for fire recovery permitting services submitted after Oct. 9, to reduce rebuild costs for those impacted by the fire.

In addition, the board is being asked to amend PRMD’s staffing allocation list to reflect the conversion to permanent state three full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions: planner III, senior environmental specialist and geographic information technician II. Term-limited status would be deleted for these positions, effective July 1.

Wick said his department had plans to convert these positions during the budget process for the current fiscal year because “work related to cannabis required these positions, and also because full staffing is vital to continuing and improving this service as the county confronts the fire impact on our economy,”

The new center’s opening date is contingent upon signing a contract with West Coast Code Consultants. The company would provide supplemental personnel and services required to handle the rising volume of requests for permitting services, according to the agenda report.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors and then the agreement is signed, services would commence immediately, and the Resiliency Permit Center would opening within two calendar weeks.

Chief among the inquiries being heard from the public are questions about rebuild-project fees, which ones will be waived or retained. Wick said affected homeowners are still educating themselves about rebuilds and reviewing their options as they go through the permitting process.

Here’s more on what the rebuild permit center is designed to accomplish.