CITYWIDE — Fire inspections for commercial businesses got an overhaul Tuesday night when the City Council approved a tiered system meant to reflect the actual amount of resources it takes to inspect a property.

The result: higher fees for large commercial properties and lower ones for the small stores that take relatively little time to inspect.

It replaces the $131 flat fee that had been imposed on all commercial properties, no matter the square footage.

The new fees, which take effect immediately, are broken down into four tiers based on the number of square feet in each building.

Individual suites or units 2,000 square feet and below will be charged $73, $146 for those up to 5,000 square feet, $219 for up to 10,000 square feet and $365 for anything above that.

Inspections for common areas tack on another $36.50 to the first tier, $73 for the second, $109.50 for the third and $146 for the last.

The update completes a process begun in 2010, when City Hall hired Revenue and Cost Specialists, LLC, as part of a citywide fee study, which included fire inspections and plan review fees.

At the time, the Santa Monica Fire Department was losing money on inspections, and the company advised City Hall to raise the fees.

The City Council approved new fees for residential inspections based on the number of units, but didn’t move on commercial buildings.

Fire Marshal Nancy Johnson was assigned the task of putting the new fee schedule together. Johnson looked at the salaries of the employees doing the work, and then got an idea of how much time it took them to conduct an inspection on a 2,000-square-foot building.

Then, she tacked on the amount — in staff costs — that it takes to input the information gathered at the site, which tends to be the same for all buildings.

Inspectors have a 35-item checklist which includes things like how often the fire extinguishers get checked, if exit routes are clear and if items are being illegally stored and present a fire hazard.

For buildings with multiple floors and large floor areas, that can be a time consuming process.

For a store like Fastframe, on the 2300 block of Wilshire Boulevard, it’s not so arduous a process.

“They’re here for a minute at most,” said owner Lynn McVeigh. “They can walk through pretty quickly.”

And yet, weeks after the annual check, McVeigh would receive the $131 invoice, just the same as a store twice the size of hers, which she estimated at 1,400 square feet.

Now, it should be around $73.

“Oh that’s wonderful!” McVeigh said.

According to a staff report, 50 percent of businesses can expect to get a pleasant surprise when their fire inspection invoice comes to their mailbox.

The remainder will be paying the actual cost of the inspection.

Revenues aren’t expected to grow or diminish as a result of the change, but the charges will be more equitable, Johnson said.

“We’re just trying to be fair,” she said.

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