City takes steps to address building permit backlog

Julie Reichle

Technology updates will soon make a trip to City Hall for permits and other service requests unnecessary.

Planning and Building Department Director Kevin Jackson announced on Tuesday that his department and Public Works are changing counter service hours starting Feb. 28 in order to address a backlog of building permit applications that have stacked up during the pandemic. (“Counter service” includes unscheduled inquiries at the department counter as well as phone and email inquiries.) The departments will now take Fridays to process applications and are looking to hire two part-time staff to accelerate the process.

The pilot program will be in effect into the fall of 2022. The new hours will be:

Monday through Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Closed

The city said in a statement that the past two years have placed unprecedented strain and demands on the departments.

“Customer service is about more than just being open and available to the public. It is also a function of how quickly we can efficiently process permit applications and approval,” said Jackson. “In order to improve customer service overall while maintaining our high standard for responding to inquiries, the Planning and Building and Public Works Departments will remain open for unscheduled service during the lunch hour Monday through Thursday and devoting ourselves entirely to permit processing on Fridays. These hours are consistent with those provided by other cities in the Bay Area. We’re also seeking to hire two part-time staff to accelerate building permit review.”

This change in counter service hours is being made in conjunction with technology upgrades, available later this year, which will allow residents to submit permit and project applications, service requests, as well as pay business license taxes online. With this forthcoming system, project plans will be submitted, reviewed, and approved in digital, rather than paper format. In addition, community members will no longer have to carve out time during the workday and make a trip to City Hall to engage with staff, review documents, ask for a pothole to be fixed, or request other services.

“Once the technology upgrades are fully implemented, we will be better placed to determine if the changes to counter service hours should end or continue,” Jackson said in a statement. “The operational changes forced upon us by the COVID pandemic affected services greatly and made technological upgrades more urgent. Thankfully, the City Council has been proactive in approving technological advances in all departments, ushering our ability to serve the community even farther into the twenty-first century. In the coming months and years the interim changes and long-term improvements will merge into a greatly enhanced customer service experience.”

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