Orange County Business Council Awards Cities for Enterprising Efforts

December 7, 2020 Updated: December 7, 2020

The Orange County Business Council (OCBC) recently honored the City of Irvine with an innovation award for shifting the city’s permitting application process entirely online, creating $1 billion in economic growth.

OCBC annually honors a select group of Orange County cities and local leaders for policies and programs that cut through bureaucracy and red tape, spurring local business.

This year, Irvine joined Fullerton, Santa Ana, and other county winners of the OCBC “Turning Red Tape Into Red Carpet” awards. The awards honor cities and policies that eliminate barriers to economic growth and create private sector jobs.

“All too often we hear about ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ in government. OCBC strives to honor and highlight the good work many government agencies are doing to grow the economy. In a time of pandemic, this work is as important as ever,” OCBC President and CEO Lucy Dunn told The Epoch Times via email.

“We need to reward cities and agencies who are going above and beyond in supporting businesses and their community. The Awards are crucial for spreading the good word about exceptional projects, programs and private sector partnerships that might be slipping under the radar.”

Dunn said that OCBC business leaders and officials looked at the “replicability” of each project in determining the winners, which she called “the best of the best.”

The IrvineREADY! program, a web-based platform that allows residents to submit building and zoning plans, receive permit issuance, and pay fees, all through the city’s website, was cited by the OCBC for its exemplary success.

The completely digital program has allowed the city to facilitate $1.1 billion in investment for the region, and has provided an economic lifeline for individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Irvine is the only city in the greater Southern California region to transition to programming and entitlement that is entirely digital, according to the OCBC. Since the program began, close to 8,000 projects and 3,000 businesses have benefited from it.

Sam Floyd, Irvine’s permit services supervisor, told The Epoch Times in an email that “the entire process can be completed without a visit to City Hall,” and helped the city maintain established plan-review turnaround times.

He said the program “provided an economic lifeline to our businesses; keeping City Hall and permitting operations to open in the face of COVID-related shutdowns. … Irvine is the only City in Orange County to avoid permitting delays and closures due to COVID-19.”

Companies and individuals are able to use the IrvineREADY! Program for new commercial construction, new residential construction, engineering, planning & entitlement, commercial agricultural sales, parking lot modifications, residential additions/remodels, signs, office/industrial/retail tenant improvements, and solar master plan project submittals.

Floyd said due to the program’s success, Irvine has fielded numerous inquiries from other cities which are now seeking similar solutions.

The OCBC also honored the City of Fullerton for its response to the pandemic. Fullerton won in the “Business Retention and Expansion” category.

Because restaurant capacity was limited due to COVID guidelines, the Fullerton City Council decided to offer quick access to outdoor permits for businesses—at no cost to the company.

The council also gave out emergency grants to small businesses struggling to make ends meet, and supported property owners by setting aside $300,000 of funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to give direct payments to Fullerton landlords if they had tenants that were not able to pay rent.

To help get the economy back on track, Fullerton developed its own business outreach team that aims to connect businesses with the different types of programs and resources they might need.

The city has also provided low-income households with meals through their “Feed Fullerton” program.

Through this combined effort, the city has given out approximately 60 outdoor permits for restaurants and other businesses, donated 1,274 meals to 219 food-insecure households, and distributed $1,116,000 in small business grants.

The City of Santa Ana was honored by the OCBC in the category of “Real Estate Reuse and Revitalization,” for building the largest housing development in Orange County specifically for veterans.

The city took an old parking lot and created Heroes Landing, which OCBC calls “a sanctuary of stability” for homeless veterans in the county.

The building has 75 units and includes on-site mental health counseling. It boasts a 4,500-square-foot community center, and 10,000 square feet of open space. Other common features include a fitness center, nearby transportation, wireless internet, and a pet-friendly nature.

Because permanent supportive housing is seen as a cost-effective solution to the ongoing housing crisis in the county, the development will save approximately $2.5 million in annual emergency services.

Construction of the building created 119 jobs, with $11.2 million in income for those involved.

Other winners of this year’s awards, which were announced Nov. 19, included Placentia, Huntington Beach, and Orange County CEO Frank Kim, for “Leadership in Public Service.”

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis