If you streamline it, they will come
Our report in July on California’s government effectiveness discussed several efforts around the state aimed at improving permitting processes and encouraging business growth. As part of the Milken Institute California Center’s ongoing efforts to highlight best practices in economic development, we’d like to congratulate Kern County on its success in attracting green jobs by streamlining California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) applications and encouraging cooperation and communication between permitting agencies.
Perhaps the most effective strategy has also been one of the simplest: proximity. By housing almost all permitting agencies within the same building, county officials are able to direct applicants to a nearby room, instead of to another city block. This cuts down on delays and reduces the mistakes that could crop up due to miscommunication. Several local governments around California, including the state itself, have created “one-stop shop” websites to gather information about permitting. Kern has taken that concept a step further by reducing actual footsteps. It established an actual one-stop shop where all agency offices are located in a single structure.
CEQA remains one of the most daunting bureaucratic hurdles to opening any business in California, but entrepreneurs seeking to build renewable energy projects in Kern enjoy a more efficient process. For example, by allowing a company to combine several solar energy projects into a single environmental impact report, applicants shave months or even years off their waiting times. Most studies like this take two to three years to complete. Kern has it down to a speedy 12 months.
Kern is also home to several military installations, including Edwards Air Force Base. The large amount of government-owned land (plus the generally unknowable future federal plans for a particular spot) can be an obstacle to growth in the region, but Kern officials have developed a simple method to communicate military zoning restrictions to entrepreneurs. A geographic information system-based red/yellow/green map has been established clearly illustrating where critical military operations occur and development is restricted or banned entirely. Early communication, a method we explored in our recent report about Kern County, is a strategy local officials have taken to heart.
The enlightened practices of Kern County, such as streamlined permitting processes and enhanced communications, can serve as examples for California as it works to encourage economic growth and create jobs.