May 2015 Development Services Department Update

Department Updates

The purpose of this update is to give the reader a progress report of the efforts being pursued at the newly formed Development Services Department.  We seek continuous improvement, innovation and accountability.  The following newsletter is an account of our efforts over the last month.  These accomplishments are a progress report of our Quarterly Goals that relate to our Annual Work Plan. 


May 2015

Director's Note

DS Team Photo

The summer is fast approaching and so is the peak of construction season.  Now is the time people liven up those kitchens, remodel their bathrooms, and add that bedroom for junior.  Development Services is here to partner with contractors and architects’ as they navigate through the permit process.  Recently, you may have heard that we were awarded a Class 1 rating through ISO, a rating agency that insurance companies use to determine how resilient new permitted construction is to earthquakes and other natural disasters.  The survey measured our review process, the training of our staff, our outreach efforts, and the quality of our plan check and inspection process.  We were rated as one of the top 8 agencies of the 18,000 surveyed nationally that received this distinction.  Did you know that new buildings permitted after January 2015 can benefit from lower insurance rates because of this rating?  Did you also know that buildings rated with the top ISO rating have demonstrated to be more resilient to natural hazards like earthquakes?  For more information about our ISO rating click [here]

On another note you may already know that the drought we are experience is changing a lot of things but it is also changing the way we build buildings.  The good news is that we, in Palo Alto, have always held the bar very high with respect to building performance so the new water conservation measures the Building Standards Commission just imposed on local agencies will not make a drastic difference in the way we do things.  For more information about these subtle changes click [here].  More drought related news and updates can be found by subscribing to our press release notification tool [here].  Are you currently or plan on dewatering a basement?  Look out for some new updates on how the City is finding creative ways to re-use that water to respond to the drought [here].  In light of our drought, potable water should be used sparingly and as a last resort.  Did you know we have reclaimed water that is available for non-potable uses.  For more information click [here].  Sign up to receive City press releases for more up to date information.

For those that may not know, Development Services has streamlined a lot of their permitting systems.  When you come to get a building permit you should be pleasantly surprised with how fast your will be serviced as well as how responsive we will be to your inspection requests.  Did you know that over 50% of the permits issued at the Development Centered are issued over the counter?  What used to take rooftop solar contractors an average of 120 days to get a permit is now done over the counter.  So if you are thinking about installing a solar array on your roof don’t be intimidated by the permitting process. Direct your contractor here for more information.  Need to install a car charger for your new Electric Vehicle?  No problem, we issue those over the counter too.

We make it a point to keep our customers informed about [changing regulations] like our recent green building and energy code updates, keep our residents informed about [construction projects], notify applicants of the status of their [applications] as well as status of their [inspections]. We are even piloting a text message based engagement tool that lets you get information and take a short survey about constructions sites downtown.  If you happen to be in the area see if you can find signs like the one at 135 Hamilton that point you to a text number. We have so many ways to engage with our citizens and customers we were recently featured in a white paper by Governing Institute in our innovative use of technology in the streamlining of the permitting process [here].

Below you will find updates from each of our eight supporting department/divisions on how they are continuously improving their operations. 

Here is to a restful summer and successful construction project. As always let us know how we might improve.

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us.

With Warmest Regards,

Peter signature

                                                                 Peter Pirnejad


Project Coordination

We are continuing to focus on the new Business Registry Certificate program and Businesses are encouraged to sign-up using the online tool here

The Project Coordination Team is doing some in-house training and weekly follow-up to improve the quality and consistency of data that we collect in our permit tracking system.   

In an effort to streamline the final inspection, the Project Coordination Team has created a query to track post-permit revisions.  They will use this query to assure that the changes are approved and it does not interfere with getting final occupancy. 

Did you know?  You can schedule inspections, research permit records, and track the status of your project online with no special login required.  Check it at:  https://aca.accela.com/paloalto/


Planning Department

Staff is actively developing an on-line process to streamline the Planning application submittal process. We are looking to establish an easy to use interface that allows applicants to begin the Planning application submittal process with the intent to support minor applications being submitted online. This will provide more options for customers and improve service.

For the current Planning and Transportation Issues of Interest and information on development projects, please refer to our department web pages at:

Issues of Interest:  http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/47225  

Development Projects: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/planningprojects

Projects near you, see map: https://paloalto.buildingeye.com/


Green Building

May 11, 2015 Council passed the new Green Building and Energy Reach Code Ordinance with the target effective date of 6/20/15.  Language is currently being filed with the state, BSC and CEC

Launched the new Green Building website

A video will launch at the end of June of new Green Building Trainings that will be open to the community, businesses, staff.

Green Building Boot Camp - trainings for plan checkers/inspectors on new Green Building regulations is currently underway.

Enforcement of emergency drought regulations begin June 1, 2015


Building Plan Check

Building Safety Month was a great success!  We jointly participated in the “Americans with Disability Act” Compliance for your Small Business with Assemblyman Rich Gordon with Mountain View. We also conducted our first public training session on the new Green Building and Energy ordinances.   During the month of May we also attended three public outreach events throughout the city to bring awareness to Building Safety.

Staff continues to meet regularly with OES and Fire Department to develop disaster response measures.  Currently, staff is focusing on finalizing an emergency response plan including an evacuation plan for the Development Center.

Selected staff members participated in the “Able Response” Event on Thursday, April 23, 2015 in conjunction with OES and other participating departments.  It was a success and areas for improvement were discovered.

Seismic Risk Management Program RFP Status Update: The department received five proposals in response to the RFP.  A diverse team of city staff reviewed and evaluated the proposals and three firms were selected to be interviewed.

Staff has drafted an ordinance and standardized checklists and applications in response to SB 2188 (State Legislation to Expedite PV and Solar Water Heating Permit Applications and Inspections).

Staff continues to develop a master plan review checklist for residential plan review.


Building Inspection

Building Safety Month

May Safety month events (4) were successfully provided by Building Department Staff members.  

Disaster Preparedness training events and updating of equipment continues to be a priority.

Green Building Staff and community training are underway.

Several meetings were attended by “Expired Permit Noticing Project” team members. We are making good progress towards implementation before the end of the year.

2 New Contract Building Inspectors were hired , Jeff Schultz and Jay Cheney to help us maintain next day inspections through the Summer Months


Public Works

The Mitchell Park Library and Community Center was a Site Design Award winner in the Public Project – Public Facility category of Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program’s 2015 Site Design Awards competition!

Restarted the City’s New Aquifer Water Filling Station program which uses water pumped from dewatering sites to benefit City trees and facilities as well as the residents of Palo Alto and anyone else who has non-potable water needs.  Currently, there are four operational water stations across Palo Alto with more coming soon.

The California Avenue streetscape project was finished and officially “opened” to the public.

After years of hard work, the Public Works Urban Forestry Master Plan was adopted by Council; year one implementation begins in FY15-16.

Public Works – Environmental Compliance division completed the “mid-year” C.3 (storm water treatment) reporting.

Public Works Storm Drain division is nearing completion of the 5-year audit of the City’s flood zone regulation compliance performance.  Public Works Storm Drain divisions’ hard work in upholding FEMA regulations and flood zone outreach pays off in reduced insurance rates for all residents of Palo Alto who are required to purchase flood insurance.

Public Works Engineering Services division opened the state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, and innovative Magical Bridge playground in Mitchel Park.  This fully-accessible playground held its grand opening in April to hundreds and hundreds of waiting children!


Fire Prevention Bureau

Duke Henrikson

Preparing For a Fire Inspector Hazmat Inspector Promotional Process (Early June)

Completed Weed Abatement Program& Assessment for 2014-15

PAFD 40th Anniversary Celebration a big Success (Thanks to our very own Steve Lindsey & Adam Poarch)

Welcomed “Duke Aloha Henrikson” (pictured left) into the world on 3/16, and Jen has final Chemo on 5/28

Shane Lopes joins the Fire Investigation Team

Ed Aguilar & Scott Woodfin become certified APSA Inspectors


Utilities Department - CPAU

To reduce application errors/omissions, CPAU provided power point slides to DC, developed new guidelines, and drafted process changes for submittals.

(Contractor) GreenTraks is working with 9 businesses and 2 city facilities in Palo Alto (of 22 total) collecting energy usage information for each site.

Utilities has evaluated and proposed reforms for the inspection process that will be implemented throughout 2015.

Utilities, Development Services and the Green Building Advisory Committee will use the Green Building Ordinance process to reach out to architects and builders about SOTA green design and construction techniques.

Utilities will modify business processes to support the DC as first point of permit contact, increase/improve answering of questions at the DC, and ensure engineer availability at Elwell, when needed, for applicants.

Utilities created new outlines of application processes, corrected web pages, clarified Conditions of Approval, and created computerized applications to ensure completeness and legibility.

Started the Utilities-DS meeting to discuss various issues to improve the submittal process. This has become the monthly meeting for the time being.

On-going progress to train additional staff to relief Kelly for vacation and potentially on a periodically basis.