For those building in El Dorado County, getting through the planning process can be an expensive and frustrating experience at times. Two local engineers willing to talk about their experiences are Jim Dillingham and Mark Brehmer of D&Z Structural Engineering.
In business since 2004, the engineering firm is located in Cameron Park. However they design houses and buildings throughout the state.
Discussing the rising fees charged by the county, Dillingham said that, “starting in 2006-2007, fees started being ratched up every few months with traffic mitigation fees being the big ones,” he said. “They (the county) were grabbing for funds because things were not budgeted correctly.”
The engineers also said they had several examples of unnecessary requirements and costs attached to projects. Others are having the same problem, they said, but aren’t willing to go on the record and say so.
On one project in El Dorado Hills, the engineering firm was hired to repair and remodel a custom home with major structural deficiencies. According to Dillingham, the home should never have been permitted in the first place because of all its flaws.
After the engineers submitted their plans to the county for correcting the deficiencies, some of the responses they received back were “incomplete and incorrect” in their words. When D&Z responded by showing that the plan checkers were in error, he said the county made them go through a third plan review to “make life miserable” for them. ”The third review also included a lot of bullying comments,” claimed Dillingham.
Dillingham said that experience was not the last time plan checkers in the building department made things difficult for his firm.
On another project, he said staff failed to respond to requests for information for eight months, wouldn’t return phone calls, and continued adding to the number of requirements that had to be satisfied. According to him, when he finally did get a meeting, the staff made derogatory comments about him in front of his client. ”He made me look like I couldn’t engineer,” he said.
“We hear over and over that developers should stay out of El Dorado County,” said Dillingham. “The return on investment is too low and the fees are too high. I just want things to be fair. Even politically connected people are frustrated. Dragging their feet just kills the client.”
The engineer thought the county needed to go back to allowing third-party plan checks. “They used to allow that but stopped in 2008,” he said. “That was their way of handling their fiscal problems.”
Dillingham also suggested that the building department may not charge enough to cover the expense of reviews and inspections and so make additional comments on projects so they can charge $100 an hour for additional plan reviews. “They must have no choice but to grab for additional fees where ever possible just to make their bottom line,” he said.
“To fix the situation, other county and city agencies fee schedules should be reviewed to see how they could help El Dorado County. I’m sure most people would like to have the building department working under more favorable constraints so that they could function properly. A suggestion to get things functioning properly is to make the fees to develop properties cover the cost of the county oversight for the developments, giving them a fair wage for review and inspection. All other fees such as Traffic fees, School fees, etc. should be collected by other means similar to all other county and city agencies in California. People around here would start building again.”