April/May/June 2017 Development Services Department Updates

Department Updates

The purpose of this update is to give the reader a progress report of the efforts being pursued at the Development Services Department.  The “Development Services Department Updates” Newsletter serves as an internal communication tool as well as a progress report to all of our stakeholders in and outside the City.  Each group within the umbrella of Development Services serves to provide a brief update of their activities related to the mission and vision of this Department.  These accomplishments stem from the 2017 Action Plan which can be found on our Development Services Webpage. 

April/May/June 2017

Director's Note

Dear Development Services Stakeholders:

The second quarter of 2017 has passed and we find ourselves in the middle of the busiest point in the seasonal construction cycle.  The Development Center is not immune to construction impacts as we are experiencing sidewalk reconstruction outside our offices.  Thank you for your patience as we all tolerate the construction activity.  The first phase of the project should be over by the time this newsletter makes it across your computer. Phase 2 will include the demo of the side walk facing Hamilton and the alley. Over the next several weeks the side walk will be replaced. Operating hours will not be affected other than for holidays.  Check our website for details.

You may also notice in the coming weeks that we will be doing some minor construction to the staff break room and restrooms on the mezzanine of the first floor of the Development Center.  As a result, you may notice contractors and some construction related activity going on.  Most of the work will continue outside of operating hours to minimize the impact on our customers.  

If that were not enough, in response to our lease ending on the second floor of the Development Center (where Administration, Fire Prevention Bureau, and Building Inspection call home) we will be relocating to 526 Bryant.  All customer service related to fire services will be relocated to the first floor of the Development Center at 285 Hamilton.  To reach our building or fire inspection staff please continue to use the same email and phone numbers you always have.

And of course we continue to offer our convenient building and fire app to help schedule inspections, research permits, and receive convenient reminders of upcoming inspections. Thousands of inspections and inquiries have been made using the app.  If you’re still calling and waiting on hold to speak to a live person, save your valuable time and try the app.  For more information follow this link.

In response to popular demand, we are expanding our training offerings.  Last month at Mitchell Park we featured Mr. Charles Eley, FAIA, PE, an internationally recognized leader in the area of Zero Net Energy and a veteran in the field of energy efficiency.  The training supported our current Energy Reach Code.  The training outlined Mr. Eley’s new book, the Design Professionals Guide to Zero Net Energy Buildings. An on-demand video of the half-day training will be available later this summer.  We regularly feature guest speakers, lecturers, and other unique construction and design training opportunities.  For more information about upcoming opportunities please register to receive our Development Services News Releases here.  For green building specific compliance, training, and videos follow this link.

Deconstruction requirements in Palo Alto are some of the most aggressive in the state and we continue to push the boundaries to increase our waste diversion.  Effective January 2017, in an effort to reuse building materials, we began enforcing a program that is intended to go beyond recycling to increase salvage and deconstruction.  For more information about the program follow this link.

Electronic Plan Check has been an area of interest to the Development Center Advisory Group (DCAG) and our staff for some time due to the savings in paper, money, and time.  We continue to explore opportunities and pathways to convert from paper to an electronic medium.  We have doubled our efforts this last quarter and will be actively seeking proposals from qualified vendors to help transition our plan check activities into the electronic plan check arena.  If you are interested to learn more please connect with me directly.

Development Services is in the process of launching a real-time web tool that will help identify most planned and current disruptions to the right-of-way.  This new system with online mapping and notification capabilities will provide citizens with information on events and projects of important right-of-way activities.  Keep posted for more information on when the tool goes live and when interruptions to the Right-of-Way can be readily viewed.

With the end of our second quarter comes the end of our fiscal year and a new municipal fee schedule.  To keep up with rising operating costs, development related permit and application fees will be going up 6%.  You will also notice a new 1.8% tech fee added to every permit to cover ongoing support of our permitting system records.  Finally, there will be some changes to the landscaping review fees that will affect both residential and commercial projects.  These changes will take place early this fall.  For more information on landscaping review fees please visit our Development Center.  Reaching full cost recovery in Development Services is an ongoing effort that will require continuous monitoring and fee adjustment.  Our continuous goal is to set our permitting fees to align with the cost of providing the service while operating in an environment of changing regulations and market conditions.  To keep posted on any fee changes, continue to subscribe to this newsletter and our news releases.

In April, the Development Services Department’s Building Division took an information item to the City Council to provide advance background for an upcoming study session related to a seismic risk assessment study of vulnerable buildings.  The item is scheduled to go to the City Council in the fall for review and direction.  For a copy of the information item follow this link.

Each division within Development Services is hard at work improving their process, coordinating their efforts, and adapting to the changing demands and conditions of development review.  Here are some brief updates from these core groups:

Project Coordination-

The Project Coordination (PC) team members are the ombudsmen for the applicants that come through the Development Center.  To better understand the entire process they routinely take “ride-along” training with building inspectors.   This provides our project coordinators with a richer understanding and appreciation of the work their customers are engaged in. To ensure the safety and confidentiality of our customers the PC team also completed an audit of the cash handling activities at the Development Center, revised the procedures document, and initiated changes related to segregation of duties, safeguarding revenue, and enhanced record-keeping practices.

Alternative Dwelling Units are becoming very popular and in response to the growing demand the PC team is working with our partners in Planning to add new data fields and functionality in our permit tracking system to collect required data regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) and Certificates of Use & Occupancy (U&O).  For more information on the ADU Planning also provided training for the PC team on the newly adopted city ordinance regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) & Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADU). 

Public Works-

With the addition of a contract plan checker from Public Works we have reinstated the Tree Protection Fencing Plan Review and Inspection process.  As such we have reinstated the routing of building permit plans to Urban Forestry for the review of tree-related issues which included software adjustments, revised forms, and staff training.

The amendments to the basement dewatering requirements are currently being enforced.  Alternatives to traditional shoring and dewatering techniques are being used in the field that is proving to be very advantageous to contractors and property owners interested in adding a basement.  For more information click here and/or contact our Public Works Engineering division at the Development Center.

Fire Prevention Bureau-

The fire prevention inspectors are located on the second floor of the Development Center while our building plan check staff is on the first floor. As we come to the end of our lease on the second floor the Fire Prevention Bureau is considering alternatives locations to call home while Administration and Building Inspection is moving to 526 Bryant by the end of the calendar year.  Plans are still in flux but rest assured customers will not be affected and can continue to come to the Development Center on the first floor of 285 Hamilton for all their fire related questions and applications.

In addition to assisting with development review, the Fire Prevention Bureau group also takes steps to reduce wildland fire risk.  New wildland fire door hangers have been produced and are ready for distribution prior to the upcoming season.  They are also beginning the annual fuel reduction of Foothills Park in conjunction with the Foothills Fire Management Plan.  In an effort to stay fully trained the fire prevention staff just finished WUI fire training in sponsorship by the county.

Green Building-

Our Green Building group has continued to enforce the 2016 CALGreen and Energy Efficiency Code Updates and the Palo Alto Green Building and Energy Reach Ordinances that have been in effect as of January 1, 2017.  They have also continued enforcement of the Model Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance using the updated Landscape Ordinance Submittal Guidelines reflected in the CALGreen Code regulations based on Executive Order (EO B-29-15) required by the Department of Water Resources.  Green Building has also been active in hosting a variety of trainings and meetings to keep our green building program running smoothly and uniformly.  They held another training to review Palo Alto’s Current Green Building and Energy Reach Code Requirements on June 6th in the City Council Chambers.  Click to be directed to the Green Building On-Demand Training Videos that presents the content of the training held in June.  Also, the Green Building group has been providing monthly Green Building New Employee Orientation training for Development Services staff as well as holding monthly Green Building Staff Task Force meetings to discuss departmental logistics.

Planning Department-

Five full-time planners from the Planning Community Environment Department are stationed at the Development Center. One planning position is currently vacant and undergoing recruitment.  These committed professionals are here to answer questions, review applications, and provide direction on planning related matters.  With the recent approval of the city’s new Alternative Dwelling Unit ordinance there has been many inquiries regarding this new policy. For more information on the new regulations follow this link. Planners have been busy creating guidelines and other helpful tools to help applicants through the process.  In an effort to help guide callers more quickly, our planners created a direct phone line so customers can contact the planner on duty directly and avoid the phone tree.  To contact the planner on duty call (650) 617-3117.

Building Plan Check/ Building Inspection-

The Building Plan Check and Building Inspection teams are committed to the review, inspection, and enforcement of the building code.  To provide these services, we have a team of contract plan checkers in the office on the first floor, and a team of contractors and city inspectors that are based out of the second floor (soon to move to 526 Bryant).  We issue thousands of building permits a year and inevitably many of those permits expire before they are finaled.  On May 1st the division launched an automated process for notifying applicants about expired permits and permits that about to expire within 30 days.  Letters are emailed to the applicant and the applicant can send their correspondence and payment through email to have their permits reactivated and/ or extended for up to 180 days.  Once the permit reactivations and extensions have been approved the applicant is able to schedule their next inspection by email through the expired permit administrator.

In response to AB 1236, on June 12th the Building Division proposed to council the EVCS Expedited Permitting Process; an ordinance for the Electric Vehicle Charging Station.  This ordinance was passed by council at the 2nd hearing on June 27th and took effect in July.

The Development Services Building Division hosted with the ICC Tri-Chapters at the Mitchell Park Community Center the following classes:

  1. April 12th, Enforcing Building Codes for Dangerous Buildings with Lance Baird (In response to the Oakland Ghost Ship tragedy)
  2. May 23rd, “Zero Net Training for Design Professionals” with Charles Eley (Sponsored by the Green Building group under the Building Division)
  3. June 9th, in-house training for the local ordinance on the Accessory Dwelling Units, ADU was provided by Planning to the Development Services staff from the Building Plan Check, Building Inspection, Public Works , Utilities, and the Fire Prevention Bureau divisions
  4. June 13th, California Building Code, CBC Chapters 11A & 11B Accessibility Essentials with Allyson Watts 

Even with the loss of one plan checker the Building Plan Check staff continues to meet on-time review deadlines and provide daily over-the-counter plan reviews.  Meanwhile the Building Inspection group strives to offer next day inspections. 

Updating our inspection guidebooks is an ongoing effort and essential as we bring on inspectors and educate new contractors in the field.  Having the rules and code references organized into common project types continues to be invaluable in the field.  A task force within the Building Inspection group was formed to review and update all the inspection guideline books for the 2016 building code and reformat all the handouts for accessibility.  This task force meets on a biweekly basis. 

Finally, a few parting thoughts from the Building Division.  The Chief Building Official, the Building Inspection Supervisor and key staff members are working with the Emergency Operation Center on the Damage Assessment Plan and Emergency Response Plan.  The Temporary Tent Structures permit for special events will be issued by the Fire Prevention Bureau with support by the Building Division.  Be advised that the Building Division will review structural plans for tents over 2,000 s.f. and / or a height of over 20 ft, and will provide accessibility and anchorage inspections in the field as needed.


For the 2nd quarter, the Water Gas Wastewater (WGW) Division of Utilities completed the review of all residential and small commercial Over the Counter (OTC) projects within 30-days of submittal to the Development Center (DC). The process was improved by implementing the use of customized tools to review plans electronically. Applicants are now receiving plan review redlines comments via e-mail which improves the performance and efficiency in plan check turnaround.

As part of the City permit application review process for Development Services projects exceeding set upgrade value, WGW Utilities Operations implemented a program to perform video inspection and full evaluation of the existing lower sewer lateral (City lateral) to determine the pipe condition. The lower lateral will only need to be replaced if the condition meets the replacement criteria. This inspection is only offered when a City sewer clean-out is present and access is granted.

Utilities Engineering, Utilities Operations, and Building Inspection groups meet monthly to discuss projects and issues to facilitate process improvements. The operations divisions of Utilities continues to coordinate and completed most of the installation of new services within 2 weeks from the start date and install meters within 10-days from receipt of the meter release.


Peter signature

Dr. Peter Pirnejad

Development Services Director