Mission Viejo

Improve, Don’t Move!

By Larry Gilbert

In Part One of the Trust But Verify series, the focus was on Mission Viejo's "Improve, Don't Move" (IDM) permit fee waiver program that was in effect for six months in early 2012. The title of the program implies that homeowners were going to leave our city yet decided to stay and renovate because we were waiving their permit fees. Really. You don’t just pick up and move unless you already have plans to do so. You surely don't make a decision based on, of all things, a discount from the city.

Both the city staff and councilman Ury have engaged in generating "spin" about the nearly $500,000 in taxpayer funds that were given away unnecessarily with this program. Let's not overlook our payment to a third party for administering the Permits, where they received 58% of the actual Permit value.

Without full support from the City, conducting an audit of approximately 1,700 residential and commercial permits is a tedious job but I am up to the task. Although the Public Records Request I submitted to find out about this program included asking the city to provide the data which supports their claim, researching this report has been a struggle. They have yet to produce a complete list of the permits and publicized valuations as requested. Let me share some of my latest facts and figures on the residential permits.

§               Twelve percent, or 160 of the residential program participants’ activity, was for hot water heater replacements. These property owners surely were not thinking of moving when they decided to replace hot water heaters that if functioning correctly, would save only $85.41 each.

§               Ten percent of the (residential) permits issued during the program were for re-pipe of homes. I I find it hard to believe that those 126 homeowners delayed pipe leak repairs to save $109.57 each when they discovered slab or internal pinhole leaks. Based on my interfacing with south county homeowners the vast number of pinhole leaks in our copper lines is at epidemic proportions.

§               The highest permit fee in the IDM program was for a lakefront home. As one of my golf partners lived next door to that home before and during the change of ownership and later modifications, I witnessed major renovations as the new owner gutted the house. It is worth pointing out that this family lived in the Pacific Hills area of Mission Viejo prior to buying the lakefront home in June of 2011. They were not moving out of the city. They purchased the lakefront home for $2.5 million and spent close to a million dollars in major renovations. My golf partner said the new owners had never moved in while the house was being renovated. So it was not occupied until the project was completed. I seriously doubt that having eventually spent around $3.5 million, they planned to time this work during the IDM program in order to save $7,211 in fees.

In fact I just spoke to the owner of the lakefront home referenced above. In discussing his renovation experience he stated that he really didn't know about the IDM program and even after being informed when reviewing his plans in city hall, he said "it did not affect my decision."

I encourage every taxpayer to hold staff and council members accountable whenever they engage in deceptive sharing of data. Mission Viejo produces a 20 page Annual Report that contains Facts and Figures relating to various departments. Under Community Services in the 2012 booklet they report 3,103 Building Permits being issued. The following year, without any IDM incentive, we issued 3,400 Building Permits; this represents a 10% increase over the prior year.

In the 2012 booklet's Community Development Facts & Figures they report 1,343 residential and 375 commercial participants in the IDM program with permit fees waived at $468,048 combined.  Yet in the text on the same page it exaggerates the success in stating that "the City rolled out residential and commercial programs that saved homeowners and businesses millions through building permit fee waivers."

Let me restate; the City alleges "millions" in savings when their own data reports less than $500,000 given away without justification. They never expect their data to be challenged. However, because I adhere to President Reagan's words "Trust, But Verify" when seeking the truth, I learned that the IDM program was not  the success as hyped by council member Ury and City staff.

Larry Gilbert, a retired electronics industry executive, has lived in Mission Viejo since 1977. He is an elected board member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. Larry is also a former Board Member of South Coast Christian Assembly church and leader of their Senior Ministry.

Questions? Comments? The CCS wants to hear from you! Contact Mission Viejo Contributing Editor Steve Magdziak at: (949) 441-0499.

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