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Richmond Design Review Board Slams Planning Staff for Processing Incomplete Applications

In an unprecedented action, all members of the Richmond Design Review Board (DRB) jointly signed a memo dated October 25, 2007, addressed to Director of Planning and Building, Richard Mitchell, complaining that Planning staff often passes to the DRB applications that are incomplete. Click here for a copy of the memo.


The practice, according to DRB members, “can cause an application log-jam resulting in angry applicants.”


It is believed that Planning staff, feeling political pressure from the Viramontes Five to hustle up Design Review application processing, has engaged in a practice that has exactly the opposite effect while transferring criticism away from applicants and staff to the DRB. When staff agendizes an incomplete application, it then falls on the DRB to tell the applicant to come back with more information. Then the DRB is the bad guy.


For more background on the war waged by the Viramontes five against Design Review, see:



The fact is that the DRB has an excellent record of working with applicants and providing valuable advice that typically adds value to projects. Instead of appreciation, they are caught in the middle between a City Council faction on an ill-conceived mission and a City staff that is frozen by indecision.


Another disturbing trend that I am seeing is that the Planning and Building Regulations staff are ignoring pleas from neighbors of projects that builders are violating their DRB and permit approval conditions – or often building without any permits or approvals at all. These concerned residents are simply stonewalled by staff despite providing time and time again, in writing, compelling evidence of violations. I have had to intervene in several recent episodes simply to get staff to perform their basic function. This should not have to happen. I don’t take any pleasure in this, and I don’t have time for it.


I know that we have some really good people in both Planning and Building Regulations, including the respective directors of these functions. But I believe that the political debate over alleged but undemonstrated unfairness to applicants and delays of applications has staff so scared that they have simply abandoned best practices and taken to the lifeboats to save themselves.


This has got to change. It is not fair to anyone and adversely impacts all. Badly needed reforms are supposed to be ongoing, implementing recommendations of the Zucker Systems Report, but there is little visible evidence that anything is happening.