LAGUNA BEACH — So many victims of last October's devastating fire in Laguna Beach are now seeking permits to rebuild their homes that City Hall has had to get help from an outside planning firm.
"We are attempting to maintain a five-day turnaround for the plan check portion of our application process," Kyle Butterwick, community development director, said Tuesday. "So, we are referring those plans to a consulting firm in San Diego."
As of Sept. 2, victims had filed 179 applications to rebuild homes, and of those, 89 are in the final plan check review stage, according to Butterwick. Already, 54 building permits have been issued and two homes have been reconstructed.
The firm, Esgil Inc. of San Diego, has done occasional consulting for the city for eight years, a company spokesman said.
In the aftermath of the fire, city officials had promised to streamline the application process so homeowners could more promptly rebuild their dwellings.
The Oct. 27, blaze roared over more than 16,000 acres and damaged or destroyed more than 400 homes in Laguna Beach, Canyon Acres, Emerald Bay and El Morro Beach Mobile Home Park.
Mayor Ann Christoph said Tuesday that the city staff is committed to helping the fire victims, even if it means working on weekends to speed the application review.
"I know they're committed to the short turnaround and trying to get everything done," Christoph said. "As a matter of fact, when I visited City Hall a few weekends ago, they were working. I saw four or five people there and I asked them why were they there. They said they were trying to complete their work within the turnaround time."
Butterwick said the city staff accepts the applications and decides any zoning issues while the outside firm reviews the actual rebuilding plans, which go back to the city for final approval.
"We have used Esgil over the years and we're using them as an added safeguard," Butterwick said. "As a result, we're issuing more and more building permits as the property owners complete the review process."
Esgil's spokesman said the corporation had been asked in May to work on the plan checks. Butterwick said the firm averages about two plan checks a week.