Region Builder

Acuity with Joshua Wood

Back Q&A Oct 1, 2013 By Douglas Curley

Joshua Wood, 31, is the executive director of Region Builders, a commercial-building trade association and coalition. Region Builders is comprised of 13 industry and professional associations representing architects, engineers, contractors, developers and allied firms from the Sacramento area. Previously, Wood was the executive director for the Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange, a construction association.

“The downtown arena is a once-in-a-lifetime project. It’s going to immediately create 4,000 jobs and $7 billion in economic development activity. It is the project that will not only change downtown, it will have a positive impact on the entire region. According to my membership, there are ancillary deals being put in place right now because of that project. It is not ethereal. This is something that will create jobs immediately.”

“Those behind the petition drive to put the arena funding plan to a public vote are simply wrong. They say there is a tax increase. There is not. This is not a traditional subsidy. This is a public/private partnership. There’s a difference. A subsidy is when you just give money away. The city is going to own this asset. This is an investment.”

“Everyone always says we want city government to act more like a business. In this case, it is. The city is making an investment that creates new jobs and new tax revenues, and yet people are complaining about the risk. Either you want the city to act like a business and be smart with its money, or you don’t. This is the city investing in its ability to create new revenue streams to fund services such as fire, police and parks.”

“Region Builders is an organization that plays to win. When we stand up for something, we are going to push for it hard because we believe it is right. That’s what we have done with permit streamlining, council calling, the big box ordinance and the arena. All four of these will create new tax revenues for the city, and ultimately the entire region.”

“To compete with other regions around the state, Sacramento as a region just had to become more business friendly. At the height of the economy, every local jurisdiction wanted to charge Bay Area-level fees. That was completely unrealistic given what land was worth in our region.”

“There have been a lot of fee reductions in the past three years. Others are at least holding the line on fees. I realize this is not easy for a jurisdiction to do, especially when you’re looking at staffing reductions. Some very difficult decisions have been made that I have actually been proud to see.”

“I would say there has been a massive shift in Sacramento’s planning department. For a couple years, we have worked closely with staff and City Council on streamlining the permitting and building process. Together, we have created a consistent application preparation program. Today, if you know what you’re doing, you can get your project through without waiting in line behind people that are learning. For professionals in the industry, time really is money.”

“On the zoning code front, there was a lot of stuff that simply seemed unneeded. We pushed for standards that would help make the process simpler. Before, there were many conflicting codes that created roadblocks and delays. The prior code was involved in about 90 percent of the issues I had to deal with on behalf of my members.”

“Flexibility is a huge component of the business-friendly streamlining effort. Also, allowing for staff-level decisions for projects that aren’t that big. If you’re doing a simple tenant improvement or a very simple ground-up project, there is no reason this shouldn’t be a staff-level decision. Before this streamlining effort was agreed to, you could get something completely ridiculous called up to the Council for review.”

“Right now, I would say El Dorado is the least business friendly jurisdiction in the region. I still can’t figure out why. They have a ton of opportunity, but they shoot themselves in the foot with fees. Their traffic impact fee is a huge deterrent. It is a self-help county, which means the developers pay for a lot of the improvements instead of how you usually work within the state transportation infrastructure system. They give away the store when they could really be using that money for economic development.”

“Sacramento and Placer counties have really become business friendly. Placer County is always going to be the most business friendly just because of their electorate. Even in Lincoln, it’s a pretty easy place to work. They’re really getting aggressive there.”

“For the past six years, Sacramento basically had a complete ban on big-box stores. Even before the ban, the threat of the ban basically shut off that type of development from taking place within city limits. So instead, they built them all around the edge of the city. It was great for all the other cities and the county, but it was bad for Sacramento. Each of these stores annually generate between $500,000 to $1 million in tax revenue for the jurisdiction they are located within.”

“With the new ordinance, which we adamantly supported, every big box project will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Which is how it should be. The big thing was getting rid of the mandatory wage and benefit analysis. That was meant to be a ball and chain around the neck of the project and then have it thrown into the ocean. It required prospective stores to provide proprietary information on what their pay scale was going to be. Basically, you were giving information to people that were looking for a reason to kill your project.”

“The new ordinance also addresses the ‘food deserts’ within the city. Again, these proposals will be individually analyzed. It hasn’t simply opened the door for approval in all cases. However, these proposed big-box projects may be able to bring a grocery element to areas of the city that have not been able to attract a traditional grocery store. The perfect example is Councilman Allen Warren’s district (north Sacramento). The economies of scale have simply not worked there for the traditional chain grocer. Perhaps it will with the big-box business plan.”


 

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