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March 14, 2000




Community Development Streamlining Small Building Permits

(Mitch Oshinsky)


RECOMMENDED COUNCIL ACTION: Direct staff to implement streamlining as outlined below.

COMMENTS: At the request of Councilmember McPoland, this item has been agendized for this Council meeting. As I understand it, his desire is to have the capability for staff to be able to issue "small" building permits "over the counter." Small permits would include:

  • patio covers
  • awnings
  • pools
  • spas
  • administrative sign permits
  • fences
  • retaining walls
  • minor exterior façade improvements

Over the counter, means that upon submittal of a complete set of plans, the appropriate application materials and fee, that a member of the public could have that application reviewed and approved by staff, and a building permit issued on the same day, at the time of their original visit. This could improve our customer service, especially for the novice applicants who come in for small permits, without realizing that it otherwise could take one or two weeks.

The review of small permits focuses on two areas, planning and building:

  • Planning – All small permits have to be reviewed to ensure compliance with the development standards contained in the City Zoning Ordinance. Relevant zoning regulations for small permits include setback requirements, height limits, size and location. A planner will review the submitted plans for accuracy, and to ensure that the proposed project complies with the Zoning development standards. Most small permits can be exempted from environmental review.
  • Building – Small permits and plans also have to be reviewed for compliance with the Uniform Building Code. Relevant building standards for small permits include structural adequacy, windload, foundation, attachment, seismic, and energy. A building staff member will check the submitted plans for accuracy and compliance with the relevant standards.

Currently, when a small permit is submitted, it is reviewed concurrently, within a week or two by planning and building staff, depending on their normally heavy workload of larger more complex subdivisions and nonresidential buildings. The number of small permits being processed at any one time is large. For instance, today we have 20 patio covers and 12 swimming pools being processed, among other small permits. Since we do not now have staff specifically dedicated to processing small permits, we have to handle those mixed in with the many large project reviews, preparation of Planning Commission Agenda packets, Council reports, special projects (General Plan Update, Agricultural Enterprise Preservation, Design Guidelines), normal public counter and public phone call work. Being the fastest growing City in the State, and processing hundreds and even thousands of permits annually, certainly makes expeditious processing a challenge. Our building inspection workload has basically doubled over the past year, as shown on the attached chart. This has caused the inspector that once concentrated on plan checking in the office, to be redirected half time to field inspections. The result has been increased dependence on a plan check consultant. In fiscal year (FY) 98-99, about $20,000 was spent on outside plan checks. At the half way point of FY 99-00, we have already exceeded $20,000. In addition, the building inspectors have assumed a new function of federally mandated storm drainage runoff (NPDES-SWPPP) monitoring. As another result of the increased workload, available time for our inspector to perform code enforcement has suffered.

One area of concern is that often we call applicants to alert them that their permits are ready to be issued, but they do not come in for a week or more to get their permits. This delay is their responsibility, but they occasionally blame it on the City. While very few valid complaints on our processing time are received, especially considering the large permit volume, adding a new over the counter capability would be beneficial. It is anticipated that many permits will be able to be issued on the same day, at the time of the original submittal.

Prior to Councilman McPoland raising this streamlining issue, the City Manager and I had already discussed other areas where we would like to add new capabilities. Most environmental review has long been done for the City by outside consultants. While a consultant is necessary for an environmental impact report (EIR), or for technical studies on traffic, noise or lighting, most of the environmental work done is Brentwood is on initial studies (ISs) and mitigated negative declarations (MNDs). While these are State mandated, long, complex tasks, in many cities, staff does them in-house. The average consultant cost of an MND today is about $2,500, and we process approximately ten per year. Bringing them in-house could save us about $25,000 a year in consultant fees, give us a little better control on content, and speed up the timeframe. I would like us to add this in-house capability.

Another area is condition compliance which usually occurs following project completion, when planning staff should do a site inspection to ensure that all conditions of approval and mitigation measures have been complied with. As a result of the recession of the late 80’s early 90’s, many cities routinely eliminated the function of condition compliance as a budget cutting measure. Brentwood has not restored it. In order to improve the overall quality of life in the City, and meet our State mandated mitigation monitoring needs, I would like us to also add this capability.

In looking to add the three new functions of streamlining small permits, bringing ISs and MNDs in-house, and doing condition and mitigation compliance, I have spent considerable time with the City Manager, Chief of Planning, Chief Building Official and line planning and building staff, analyzing how best we might do this. We looked very hard at adding these new capabilities utilizing only existing staff resources, without adding any additional positions. Having had to reduce staff in the prior recession, I do not take lightly adding staff. However, in this case with our heavy existing workload, I must reluctantly conclude that to add new functions will require new staff. The City Manager and I had previously conceded the need for one new planning position to add condition/mitigation compliance and environmental review. Over the counter permit issuance could tie into that new position.

One entry level Assistant Planner is proposed to add the ability to expedite over the counter small permits, perform in-house MNDs and ISs, and condition/mitigation compliance. Adding this position will enable us to also implement a "project planner" program, where one planner handles an entire project from start to finish, including environmental review, tentative subdivision maps, design review, final maps, and condition/mitigation compliance. This program is more efficient than having different staff work on each part of a project, because there is no learning curve, and there is greater continuity.

One Code Enforcement Officer position is also proposed to enable us to perform the building staff functions for over the counter small permits. With this position we would be able to reassign our building inspector who has long split his time between enforcement and inspection, to full time inspection. This would free up another inspector who now splits his time between inspections and in the office plan check, to be able to be in the office for full time over the counter small permit processing, plan check, and a permit issuance. This would allow us to eliminate considerable consultant charges for plan checking.

While adding these two positions will add costs of $100,800, there will be cost savings:

  • Savings of approximately $25,000 per year for environmental review.
  • Savings of approximately $20,000 to 30,000 per year for outside plan check.
  • Savings of approximately $35,802, since an already budgeted Planning Technician position would be deferred until at least January 2001, when the need for this position, and our budget resources can be reexamined.

Total estimated net new cost = $9,998 to $14,998 per year.

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