News & Press

Time May Be Up on Staggered Permit Deadlines

Developers in Los Angeles could get a break from a proposed city ordinance that would extend and streamline entitlement and permit approvals.

The ordinance, set to go before the Los Angeles City Council next month, is part of a broader effort to make the city more friendly to developers.

A main provision of the ordinance would synchronize expiration dates of permits. Currently, different permits are valid for different time durations. This forces developers to spend time and money renewing permits and can jeopardize financing if permits have expired.

Developers welcomed the proposal, saying it would save them time and money, and remove one of the barriers to building projects in Los Angeles.

“For us, the current system is a big nuisance because we have to spend time and pay legal fees to renew entitlements that are already in place,” said Ken Kahan, principal with California Landmark Development in Los Angeles.

The other main provision would extend recent permit approvals, allowing developers to restart projects that were stalled by the recession without having to spend months going back through the entitlement process.

“This is going to allow a significant number of projects throughout the city to come back to life now,” said Edgar Khalatian, a land-use attorney at Paul Hastings LLP in downtown Los Angeles who represents developers of major projects and consulted with city administrators during the crafting of the proposal.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that restarting some of these projects would help put people back to work.

Developers have long complained about the city’s permit process, saying it’s too complex and overly stringent. During Villaraigosa’s first term, the city launched an ambitious effort to reduce the number of agencies needed to approve project permits from as many as 12 to only two. That plan collapsed amid bureaucratic turf battles. Instead, Austin Beutner – then Villaraigosa’s jobs czar and now a mayoral candidate – brought in consultants who proposed a sweeping overhaul, including updating the city’s zoning codes, redoing community plans and investing in new technology. The Mayor’s Office also began assigning a case manager to each big project.

The proposed ordinance was prompted by complaints from developers and their attorneys about the staggered expiration dates for project entitlements and permits. Currently, a zoning variance entitlement for a project might last for six years, but a site plan permit for the same project might only be good for three years and a permit for a site adjustment – such as moving a fence two feet further away from a structure – might be good for two years. With major and even some midsize projects requiring several permits, this hodgepodge of expiration dates for the permits means developers often have to spend months or years just renewing permits.

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