July 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. 


July 2015

Director's Note

Welcome back to school for those that have kids or are attending school.  This newsletter is intended to give you a progress report on how we, the Development Services Department of the City of Palo Alto, are doing in the continuous improvement and innovation of our service delivery.

As you are acutely aware we continue to experience reinvestment in our built environment.  Although construction revitalizes our urban fabric, improves property values and makes safer more energy efficient buildings, we must face the short term construction and traffic impacts that go along with it.  The role of Development Services is to ensure that once the discretionary review is complete construction projects can be built, safely, quickly, while minimizing short term impacts to the people that come in contact with the site as well as the people that will be gaining access to the building once it is built. 

We do this a variety of ways.  With the help of our Public Work Department we issue public works and encroachment permits that ensure that all work that occurs on the public right of way is planned, tracked and complies with adopted standards.  We make it a point to ensure that impacts to commuters and neighboring residents/business owners is minimized through public notification, traffic and parking diversion, as well as pedestrian notification and re-circulation.

As projects come on line we track them during the plan check and construction phase and notify people through our monthly Newsletter (subscribe today).  We also have an active site that maps all construction permits called Buildingeye so you can search by key word or address.  Finally we offer building permit applicants and interested parties the ability to track a permit through a service we offer called CivicInsight.  Interested to research building permits?  Accela offers an online research tool to find building permit and inspection records.   If you prefer to come to the Development Services Department (285 Hamilton Avenue) you can use our microfiche machine or digital plan viewer to search for older permit records. In the event you want our permit data in it’s raw “machine readable” format you can get that from our Open Data Page.

Accountability and metrics is a big part of how we ensure we are on a continuous improvement cycle.  At the beginning of the year we developed a report called Grades, Gaps and Goals.  For a copy of that complete document click here.  Since we released that plan we have been tracking the goals we set out for ourselves and have a record of our latest progress in achieving those goals.  For a copy of that Goals Checklist click here . Recent turn over in staff resulting in staff shortages has kept us from meeting all of our goals but we are still hopeful that we can get through our list by the end of the year. 

Ensuring that our Green Building program is both effective and predictable has been a focus of our green building division.  We have recently made some significant changes to our Green Building page that will make it easier to navigate our process.  We also offer trainings, one-on-one consulting, and soon to come, instructional video that will walk you through the entire process.  Greenhalo is a relatively new technology that we have deployed that has made it even easier for customers to comply with our construction and demolition process.  We recently have integrated this web-based solution to our existing permit software (Accela) that has afforded us great savings in processing time.  Finally, don’t forget that our new Energy Reach Code comes into effect in September (see our press release for the latest information).  This new code will require new and existing construction to comply with stricter then base code energy requirements in an effort to target Zero Net Energy (ZNE) construction.  Want to get more involved in our Green Building Leadership team contact Melanie Jacobson, our Green Building Coordinator at Melanie.Jacobson@CityofPaloAlto.org.  This is all in an effort to make the customer’s experience seamless, predictable and consistent. 

Over two years ago we streamlined our Photovoltaic Permit Process (Rooftop solar permits). What used to take 120-days now is done over the counter for most residential and commercial applications.  We pride ourselves in the speed and agility we are able to issue these permits but there is more to come.  This year, in compliance with AB 2188, we hope to launch an even easier way to get a permit for your rooftop solar project.  Stay connected and be sure to sign up for our Press Release Notification for more information as to when that becomes available.

Finally, if you are looking for the Fire Prevention Division and our Development Services administration office we have moved.  We are relocated from suite 280 to suite 200 on the second floor of the Development Center. The Development Center has not moved.

Best of luck to you on your existing or upcoming construction project.  We welcome your feedback and look forward to helping you achieve success.  Cheers.

Peter signature

                                                                 Peter Pirnejad


Project Coordination

Staffing update:  One of our Project Coordinators, Michelle Gotera has accepted a position with the City of San Mateo’s Building Department.  Michelle has been with the City of Palo Alto since December, 2012 and brought valuable skills and experience which made her a key part of our team.  We are sorry to see her go and will be recruiting for her replacement in the coming months. 

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 Coordinators designed and implemented a new automated routing sheet to help expedite the permit submittal process at the front counter.  

We also implemented a process to query permits and email applicants before their building permit applications expire.

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.

To help streamline building permit issuance, we started the Development Impact Fee streamlining process and integration with Accela, our permit database system. This enhancement is anticipated to go live in the Fall.

The integration of GreenHalo, an online construction debris tracker, and the City’s building permit database, Accela, is nearing completion and will improve the tracking of construction debris and improve the building permit process. It is in the testing phase now and anticipated to go live this Fall.

A big congratulation to Victoria Hernandez who was promoted from Planning Technician to Associate Planner. Recruitment for a replacement Planning Technician will begin in September.

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

The new Green Building Ordinance has been effective on new permit applications since 6/22/15.  The language has been filed with the Buildings Standards Commission.

The Energy Reach Code Ordinance effective date has been postponed until Fall of 2015. The ordinance is currently undergoing a 60-day public comment period through the California Energy Commission.

Updates to the new Green Building website. On-Demand Green Building Trainings will be launched soon that review the green building ordinance and compliance procedures.

The Residential Green Building Special Inspector retreat will be held on August 6th at Mitchell Park Library.

Green Building Boot Camp - Trainings for plan checkers/inspectors on new Green Building regulations is nearing completion.

Enforcement of emergency drought regulations for landscaping began June 1, 2015. Additional landscape restrictions for building permit applicants will become effective on 12/1/2015.


Building Plan Check

The plan review team reported 100% success for on-time plan review services last month.  Nice job, Team!

Seismic Risk Management Program RFP Status Update.  The department has selected a potential vendor for this project and the proposal contract of services is scheduled for review and acceptance at the August 17th city council meeting.

Staff has shared the drafted ordinance and standardized checklists and applications in response to SB 2188 (State Legislation to Expedite PV and Solar Water Heating Permit Applications and Inspections) with local solar installer comment and input.

Selected staff members for the plan review team, project coordination team and Utilities department have been meeting with our Accela support consultant to start the development of an electronic submittal process for PV and EVSE applications.

Green Building training has concluded with the plan review staff and the newly adopted ordinance measures are being enforced.

Staff as drafted a master plan review checklist for residential plan review.

Over the next couple of months we will be recruiting for an Assistant Building Official.  This position will assist in management responsibilities at the Development Center in the Chief Building Official’s absence, quality control of plan review operations, conduct code research as needed, just to name a few of the role’s responsibilities.


Building Inspection

The inspection team has continued to provide next day inspections.  What an amazing accomplishment!

A new Guideline Book has been created.  This document contains the current CPA adopted ordnances that apply to Building Plan Review and Inspection activities. Take an opportunity to familiarize yourself with applicable requirements. The Guideline Book can be viewed on our website or at the Development Center. 

Disaster Preparedness training events and updating of equipment continues to be a priority.  Staff will be attending an internal ATC-20 training with our OES staff in August.  We have also acquired 2-way radios from police surplus and obtain associated training.

Green Building training has concluded with the inspection staff and the newly adopted ordinance measures are being enforced.

We continue to focus on added value inspection services and operational efficiency.

Inspection bundling is catching on as more builders become aware of the efficiency that it provides.

The TIPOFF pilot program has had good reviews and we are working to formalize the process.

The “Expired Permit Notification Project” team members have been meeting with our Accela support consultant.  We are making good progress towards implementation this measure before the end of the year.

Commercial Accessibility pre-walk inspection activities continue with positive success. Make sure to take advantage of this great opportunity to coordinate directly with staff to accomplish a common goal. 

Contract Building Inspector Todd Sylla was hired to replace Contract Building Inspector, Jeff Schultz, who moved on to other endeavors with a neighboring jurisdiction.

Over the next couple of months we will be recruiting for a Mechanical/Plumbing Specialized Inspector position.  This position will take the lead and be a valuable resource for internal staff and the contractors for Mechanical and Plumbing code and ordinance requirements.  This position will also perform daily assigned multiple trade inspections.

Inspection staff member John Carr and Matt Doughty have received new certifications in plumbing and Accessibility inspection/plans examining, respectively.


Public Works

The City’s New Aquifer Water Filling Station program has 8 sites currently in operation. These sites are located at 2230 Louis Road, 713 Southampton Drive, 3832 Grove Avenue, 1405 Harker Avenue, 1820 Bret Harte Street, 804 Fielding Drive, and 1210 Newell Road.  Developers and Contractors are encouraged to obtain dewatering groundwater at these sites for non-potable uses such as dust control and irrigation.

The Alma Street and Middlefield Road Paving Project that includes street resurfacing, reconstruction of sidewalks, curbs, gutters, ramps and driveways was awarded to O’Grady Paving Inc.  The project began on July 27, 2015 and extends through November.

The 2015 Sidewalk, Curb and Gutter Repair Project was awarded to Spencon Construction and has been underway since March.  This project is expected to continue through November.

In June the City was audited by a FEMA representative, who visited and inspected recently constructed projects located within the Special Flood Hazard Areas. The intent was to verify that the City is complying with federal requirements and City of Palo Alto Municipal Code Chapter 16.52, Flood Hazard Regulations. In addition, the Public Works Department recently received a copy of FEMA’s new Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps for the City, which include revised boundaries for the tidal floodplain, Zone AE. These maps are currently under review by Engineering Services Division staff.


Fire Prevention Bureau

Fire Prevention Bureau Promotional Process Complete:

Steve Lindsey & Shane Lopes have been promoted to rank of Fire Inspector, and Thom Cook has been assigned as Inspector for the next 3+ years. 

Scott Woodfin has been promoted to Hazmat Inspector.

Steve Lindsey- Welcomed a new addition to his family: Sofia Grace Lindsey (6/10/15)

Scott Woodfin- Completed Environmental Crimes Training

Inspectors Woodfin & Aguilar- Completed UST (Underground Storage Tank) Training


Utilities Department - CPAU

Reviewed Utilities webpage and working on correcting errors and development of a more customer friendly interface that will help educate applicants on what needs to be submitted at the Development Center for Utilities to complete their review.

Ongoing discussions with the Development Center to ensure that the Utilities Representative is consulted on any project involving utilities facilities and how to educate customers on what is required in project submittals to Utilities.

Developing plan to provide additional training to the Utilities Representative at the Development Center to aid with over the counter review.

Developing plan to provide additional training to Engineering staff who provide backup to the Utilities Representative at the Development Center.

Developing procedures for how and when to use the Utilities Deferral Form.

WGW Engineering performed a cost-of-service study of connection and service-related costs.  The Utility rate schedules for water, gas, and wastewater service connection fees were amended to recover the Utilities Department’s direct and indirect costs for development services projects.  The new fee schedules became effective on 5/1/2015.  However, Utilities honored the old fees on outstanding invoices through 7/29/15. 

Refining the WGW ‘SOGen’ application to create a better coordination tool between WGW Engineering and Operations with customer-paid installations for utility services/laterals.

(Contractor) GreenTraks is working with 12 businesses and 3 city facilities in Palo Alto (of 22 total) collecting utility usage information and benchmarking each site.

Building Carbon Zero Palo Alto – Passive House California's 2015 Conference will be held at Lucie Stern on Friday, November 13, 2015 from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Click here for details.

For details on our Commercial New Construction rebate program, click here.