Talking to the City of Palm Springs
For a retail business leasing an existing space in the downtown, a business license from the City of Palm Springs may be all the approval that is necessary. Business licenses may be obtained from the Finance Department located in City Hall. The amount of the Business License Tax will vary by the type and size of the business.
The Finance Department will send you to the Planning Department for a sign off before issuing the business license. Planning will look at a number of factors before signing off:
- Was there a similar business in the space before?
- Is the business intensifying the land use, such as changing from a retail use to a restaurant?
- Is the business in a prohibited use category, such as a use not allowed in the downtown?
- Is the business in a category that requires a land use permit or conditional use permit, requiring more information and a longer approval period?
If your business requires a Conditional Use Permit, for example, it may take 3-4 months to get through the process and receive final approval from the Planning Commission. However, such a major approval is usually only necessary for the more intensive or potentially disruptive businesses in the city, such as bars and restaurants, businesses that engage in the sale of alcohol or other regulated products, or businesses likely to create undesirable impacts (noise, traffic) on nearby land uses.
Part of the Planning Department review would be to determine whether a business has adequate off-street parking to meet the Zoning Code. Tenants do have the responsibility for complying with the parking ordinance. However, in the downtown, the City Council recognized that properties in the City’s Central Business District have unique difficulty meeting the parking requirements of the Zoning Code because the downtown area is characterized by lot subdivisions and development which pre-date the advent of automobile travel, and adopted Section 93.06.00 of the Zoning Code to establish and In-Lieu Parking Fee. The City’s in-lieu parking fee allows tenants to comply with the parking code when they are in buildings, or spaces within buildings, where is it physically impossible for them to comply with the necessary parking counts required, through the payment of the fee. Otherwise, they would be stuck with a rigid parking requirement that forces them to find (or contract for) actual parking spaces. That’s how parking is handled in the remainder of the City, which does not have an in-lieu fee.
The current in-lieu parking fee program is only available to properties in the CBD Zone, and the 2011-12 Fee Resolution sets the in-lieu parking fees at $12,867 per space between Ramon Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way and $2,145 per space between Tahquitz Canyon Way and Alejo Road, but in October 2011 the Council has determined due to the economic conditions, a temporary change to the program through an amendment to the City Fee Resolution can spur development. They created a program whereby any project in the CBD subject to the in-lieu parking requirements that receives a building permit prior to December 31, 2012, the fee shall be established at the $2,145 per space; plus, all in-lieu fees due for any such project shall be eligible for a deferred payment program, whereby no payment shall be due at permit issuance or for the first year after issuance, with 25% of the payment due each year after the end of the first year, for the next four years. A covenant would be recorded against the property establishing the in-lieu fee obligation and the payment schedule, which would be released upon full payment of the in-lieu fees. This program shall expire on December 31, 2012.
The Downtown area is relatively unique in that the City adopted a policy a number of years ago to allow an in-lieu parking fee to be charged instead of businesses needing to literally provide parking. This was done to encourage increased density in the core, not disrupted by individual parking lots surrounding each business, as is found in other areas of the city. Still, other requirements, such as ADA compliance, could mean businesses being required to add or move handicapped spaces in a lot, or make other changes. ADA requirements are discussed below.
Signage: In larger shopping centers in the city, signage is often controlled through a sign program that was approved when the center was developed. In other areas of the city without a master developer, such as downtown, signage is controlled by the City’s Zoning Code. These regulations control the location, number and type of signs a business may have, the type of signs allowed, and the size (square footage) of the signs.
Before undertaking tenant improvements in your space, you will need to obtain a building permit from the City’s Building Department. In many cases, your contractor will be able to describe to the Building Department the work to be done and receive a permit once it is inspected. However, for more substantial projects, such as the demolition or construction of interior or exterior walls, may require plans to be submitted and “plan-checked” by the City.
The Building Department is charged with enforcing local, state, and federal building codes and look at a number of other categories of alterations, including:
- Structural Changes
- Electrical Codes
- Plumbing Codes
- Title 24 (including energy efficiency)
- Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance
If you propose making structural changes to your space, the Building Department will analyze whether the change would alter the structural integrity of the building. For example, if you open a part of the exterior wall to create a new storefront opening, was the building originally constructed with that opening? Would the new opening weaken the wall, making the building potentially unsafe? Would the building continue to meet seismic building codes, or if it doesn’t, is there a retrofit available and required? Or, if you plan to remove an interior wall, is it a load bearing wall? In other words, does it now help hold up the ceiling or upper floors? What is a proposed structural change to the building that would still allow the wall to be removed without the building collapsing?
There are other factors that get analyzed, too, when walls are added or removed, such as how it changes the occupancy of the space, which may trigger a Fire Code concern (discussed below).
If the business is moving into a space and not making any changes, the business owner will probably not be required by the City to make any additional changes to the building to bring it up to code. But if electrical or plumbing changes are proposed, all of the new improvements will be required to meet current codes. The same applies to Title 24 issues. Title 24 is part of the State Building Code that governs a number of issues, most notably the energy efficiency of buildings; these rules mainly apply to new buildings or those undergoing major remodeling.
Finally, there is the issue of ADA and how it applies to building remodels: When an owner submits a permit application (at the estimated construction cost as determined by the contractor at the time of application), the City is required under the Federal ADA to require the owner to also spend 20% of that amount on ADA improvements to the business. A Building Department inspector will go out to the site to create a checklist of potential ADA improvements to the business. They may include such things as lowering a sink in the restroom to be at the proper height, to improving wheelchair access to the store from the parking lot. Note that even for a tenant, eligible improvements could be in the parking lot, out of the tenant’s direct control. Obviously, the tenant would need the approval and cooperation of the landlord. Such “parking” improvements would be related to making it easier to get from the handicapped space into the shop. This could include installing parking wheel stops (bumpers) to keep the fronts of the cars parked in the lot from encroaching onto the sidewalk in order to ensure a full 48″ path of travel in a wheelchair.
Note also that a business owner is only required to spend the 20% of permit value on ADA, which in some cases is less than $1,000. The business owner can apply for a waiver of the amount above the 20% figure, but still have to spend the 20%, however. The City would revisit the list of “waived” improvements if the owner comes in with another building permit application in the same calendar year. And, the waiver is only available for projects of $125,000 or less: if the permit is for more than that, the owner has to fully comply with ADA regardless of the cost. These are State laws that are based on the State’s interpretation of the Federal ADA. There is no “grandfathering” in ADA, once there is a new permit application on the table.
For most retail businesses, the Fire Code requirements are fairly straightforward: exit signs and fire exiting, storage of flammable materials. However, for public assembly uses such as restaurants, nightclubs and theaters, an “A” fire rating is necessary for any space with occupancy over 49 persons. “A” rated spaces typically have fire sprinklers and meet all the codes related to fire exiting in the space.
If you plan on opening a restaurant or nightclub, you should first check on the occupancy rating of your new space. Do not assume it is “A” rated no matter what tenant previously occupied the space.
Changes to a building can also change the rating of a space: if you want to remove an interior wall to enlarge a room in a restaurant, the new larger space may now hold more than 49 seats, triggering the requirement for “A” rated space. Your space may have a “B” rating, which may lack one or more of the requirements necessary for the higher occupancy, even if the space is large enough to hold many more than 49 people.
If you want to consider adding fire sprinklers, understand that sprinklers require a dedicated water service and cannot be shared with a domestic water meter. The installation of a new water line and meter is handled through the Desert Water Agency.
Other fire issues arise when different land uses share the same building, such as in mixed use developments. Of particular concern are buildings where “sleeping” uses, such as residential and hotel uses, share walls or floors with other commercial uses. Often sprinklers, or additional fire, heat, and smoke detection alarms will be required on both sides of the wall.
In most cases where a business is leasing an existing building space, no approval from the Public Works Department would be necessary. However, if you plan to construct or pave a parking lot, locate or relocate a driveway, or change the on-street parking configuration around your business, you may also need to get approval from the Public Works Department of the City.
If your business is located along Highway 111 (Palm Canyon Drive north of Vista Chino, Vista Chino, or Gene Autry Trail) you may also need to obtain approval by Caltrans for anything that encroaches in the Caltrans right-of-way, such as a new driveway or turn lane.
Riverside County Department of Environmental Health
Businesses such as restaurants and other food sellers also require approval by the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health. This is not a City department. The business owner or contractor would be required to submit an application and set of plans to both the County and the City for plan check. Please note that if you make changes to the plans during plan check based on corrections from either the City or County, you must submit the corrected plan to the other agency for their review as well. At the end of the review the plans will be reconciled and a building permit will be issued by the City. You will not receive a building permit from the City for a project requiring Health Department approval without their sign-off first.
California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)
The mission of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is to administer the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act in a manner that fosters and protects the health, safety, welfare, and economic well being of the people of the State. The Department’s workload is divided into three elements: administration, licensing, and compliance. Investigators and/or Licensing Representatives investigate applications for licenses to sell alcoholic beverages and report on the moral character and fitness of applicants and the suitability of premises where sales are to be conducted. Less complex license applications are reviewed and processed by non-sworn Licensing Representatives. These reports are reviewed at the District Office and are forwarded to Headquarters in Sacramento for further review and processing. If the license is denied, or if its issuance is protested, the applicant is entitled to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. After hearing the evidence, the Administrative Law Judge makes a proposed decision which is reviewed by the Legal Section of the Department and acted upon by the Director. You can download alcoholic beverage application forms at http://www.abc.ca.gov/forms/PDFlist.html.