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Ombudsman Services in Tahoe Help Expedite Basin-Area Projects

April 12, 2013

Placer County has recently created a new position in its Community Development Resource Agency’s Tahoe Office to provide a simple, accessible venue for customers to get help and resolve issues as they navigate a complex process. The Ombudsman will work collaboratively with staff and customers to resolve problems.

Placer County Community Development Resource Agency Ombudsman
Steve Buelna (left) assists a customer at the Agency's Tahoe office.
The Ombudsman idea arose from discussion between North Tahoe business leaders and county staff that addressed concerns on how to improve customer service and business development in the Tahoe Basin. Lake Tahoe, with its numerous overlapping layers of regulatory authority, can be a difficult path to follow for those wishing to start, expand of change a business.

Steve Buelna, a 13-year county employee and a Supervising Planner in the Tahoe office, has been named the ombudsman/facilitator for all Tahoe projects. He acts as the County’s single point of contact and communication, and has the authority to work with, and provide direction to, all Agency division staff.  In his Ombudsman role, Buelna is working directly with Agency staff to assure a consistency in the county’s application processing. 

“The Tahoe Ombudsman has already been extremely helpful to a number of small business owners moving through what can be a confusing and challenging permitting process.” said Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose Fifth District includes Placer County’s portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin. “When a similar position is filled in Auburn, Placer County will have taken a bold step to better, more responsive customer service.”

Placer County Chief Executive Officer David Boesch has identified customer service and business development as one of his key initiatives. In keeping with those sentiments, the Ombudsman position was created in the Tahoe office. A similar position will likely be created for the west side of the county.

“In this new role as Ombudsman, it is important to note that Steve will act as an advocate for the customer,” said CDRA Director Michael Johnson. “He works to understand the customer’s desired outcomes and takes appropriate actions to accomplish those outcomes within the regulatory and policy framework that governs the Agency’s work.”

In his Ombudsman role, Buelna is tasked with working with applicants for all Agency disciplines (Planning, Building and Engineering and Surveying) to identify temporary or interim solutions that can help facilitate new development opportunities.

With the oversight and assistance of the Ombudsman, staff will move projects through the review process in a timely manner so that the project can be considered by the decision-makers.