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Committee continues to work towards making Turlock a better place to do business

POSTED February 24, 2010 12:08 a.m.
The City of Turlock has a historic reputation of being a tough place to do business, with onerous restrictions and costly permits, but times have changed — in part due to the efforts of the Development Collaborative Advisory Committee.
Now in its second year, the DCAC brings together a group of builders, lawyers and real estate professionals to examine the inner workings of the Turlock Development Services Department and make the city a better place to do business. While the first year was mostly spent getting members’ “feet wet,” according to DCAC member Axel Gomez, the committee “really started getting to the heart of the matter in 2009.”
The DCAC is in the process of compiling a survey of development fees in surrounding communities, just to ensure the City of Turlock is on par with its neighbors. The survey will contain example permits for spec projects that provide real world, comparable data to illustrate where Turlock stands.
The key, Gomez says, is to ensure that Turlock is not at a competitive disadvantage.
“If there’s a reason why we’re not competitive in one area, we need to know why,” Gomez said.
Upon completion in early 2010, the survey will allow the DCAC to bring recommended fee changes forward to the Turlock City Council. It’s possible some fees may need to be higher than in nearby communities, Gomez said, but at least the survey will allow the city to explain why they need to be higher.
The DCAC has worked on more than just the survey of fees this year, ranging from a modification to the office commercial landscaping requirements — reducing from 25 percent to 15 percent the square footage that must be covered, reducing both costs of building and maintenance — to revisions in plan checking and the local fire sprinkler ordinance.
A crown jewel of the effort so far has been a revised appeals process, in the process of being adopted, that Gomez says is, “better than anything else out there.” Turlock, and other cities, currently rely on arcane, formal processes that take far too long to be useful, he said.
“If you’re in the middle of a construction project, you need an answer fairly quickly because time is money,” Gomez said.
The new appeals process would provide an answer within 24 hours, with a more formal appeal process for those who disagree with the initial ruling.
These changes are just the beginning of the sort of thing the council had in mind when they formed the DCAC, as making Turlock a good place to do business is crucial to ensuring the city’s continued success, Councilman Ted Howze said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“Everyone at this dais knows that if we don’t bring the businesses in — and the sales tax dollars — we cannot support the services the city has,” Howze said. “… We do want everyone to come here and not Modesto.”
Despite the work done so far, DCAC members realize that the public perception issue — and memories of the bad old days — will be something they will be fighting for years to come. The council remains supportive of the DCAC, which will exist through at least Feb. 23, 2012, and believes the group can help people to rethink Turlock.
The DCAC already has future plans to change minds and ensure the City is as business-friendly as possible, including asking City Manager Roy Wasden to follow up with customers post-development. But work is ongoing to enhance the customer service philosophies at the City of Turlock, especially in regards to tenant improvement and occupancy permit policies.
As Gomez puts it, “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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