By DUANE W. GANG
In another sign of current economic woes, building permits in Riverside and San Bernardino counties continue to drop. In some cases, it's more like a plummet.
Permit volume in Riverside County is down by more than a third from July through September, the first quarter in the fiscal year, and major planning cases are down by more than half.
There are 30 percent fewer customers coming to the counter for services at the county's Riverside, South County and Desert permit centers, county records show.
In San Bernardino County, the number of planning applications the county accepts also is down by more than a third in the first three months of the fiscal year.
So far this year, the county has issued 509 residential permits. In 2005, the county issued more than 2,300 and last year just 1,301, said Julie Rynerson Rock, San Bernardino County's land use services director.
For departments that rely heavily, if not entirely, on fees to pay for its staff of planners, inspectors and engineers, the downturn continues to take a toll.
Riverside County already has let workers go, and has reassigned staff to reduce the effect of the economic slump, according to a first-quarter county budget report before supervisors last week.
San Bernardino County's building and planning departments simply aren't hiring, officials said.
"We are being very conservative about hiring. We have a lot of vacant positions that I am not looking to fill," Rynerson Rock said. "We are in the process of doing a workload analysis. We are just mostly being very conservative."
George Johnson, director of the Riverside County Transportation and Land Management Department, said the department has seen significant cutbacks.
In February, the county laid off more than three dozen engineers, building inspectors and supervisors because of a lack of work. Layoffs also hit the county's planning staff in July, Johnson said.
In addition, the agency has worked with the county's human resources department to place office assistants in other county departments that have a need for workers, Johnson said.
And the agency has reduced its reliance on outside consultants, he said.
"We are continuing to monitor permit activity to make sure permit revenue matches up with expenditures," Johnson said in an interview Tuesday. "We are monitoring that on a week-by-week basis and a month-by-month basis."
Johnson said he does not know when the drop might end.
"I don't have a crystal ball, either," he said. "We don't know when it is going to stabilize."
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008