Q3 2017 Development Services Director's Update

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. 

Q3 2017 Development Services

Director's Update

Dear Development Services Stakeholders:

Welcome to the third quarter of 2017 edition of the Development Services Department (DSD) Newsletter.  The purpose of this newsletter is to keep all of our internal teams connected on the activities of the other work groups as well as inform outside stakeholders that are interested in DSD updates.  The third quarter typically signals the end of the busiest part of the construction season and the beginning of the holiday rush.  Holiday schedules introduce potential construction delays while seasonal rain is a natural incentive to button up construction to avoid rain damage and delays.  The end of the year also marks the end of the dewatering period for some basement construction projects.  The good news is that 2018 is not a tri-annual code cycle year so there will not be any anticipated changes to the building codes.

We continue to endure the construction on the sidewalk in front of the Development Center at 285 Hamilton, but the end is in site with an anticipated completion date of November 7.  We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.  We are continuing our efforts to improve our mezzanine at the Development Center but this will not impact service in any way.

The 2nd floor of the DSD move to 526 Bryant is scheduled to occur by the end of the calendar year.  Please note that the Development Services Administrative Staff along with our building inspectors will be moving.  Fire Prevention inspectors are still planning on moving to Fire Station 8 but will have a satellite office at 526 if needed.  All customer service activities related to fire plan review and permitting will continue to be offered on 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.

We continuously look for ways to improve our on-line presence.  Look forward to a new trainings page located on the Development Services website that will have convenient links to the trainings we’ve offered in the past and what is upcoming.

Our Electronic Plan Check migration process continues to make progress.  This last quarter we have started mapping our existing processes, spending time understanding all the options available for electronic plan review, talking to other jurisdictions that have launched this new innovation, and planning some field trips to other cities that have successfully launched paperless plan review.

Development Services is in the process of launching a real-time web tool that will help identify most planned and current projects in the public right-of-way. The system will be called ‘Citizen Viewer’ and will allow residents to quickly identify projects planned or currently being constructed in the street. The site will allow users to get a description of the work, identify how long the project will take, as well as see who to contact for more information.  We are targeting a BETA launch of the tool in January 2018. A press release will be forthcoming so stay tuned. Keep posted for more information.

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:

Fire Prevention Bureau (FPB):  

The annual Weed Abatement cycle begins on November 13 where the City Council is anticipated to declare weeds a nuisance.  For more information about weed abatement contact our Fire Marshal, James Henrikson at James.Henrikson@CityofPaloAlto.org.

Adding to the capabilities of our FPB team, Scott Woodfin, one of our Fire Inspectors recently completed Electrical Fire Causes Curriculum.  Along the same lines, Thomas Cook and Steve Lindsey are now official CPA & SC County Task Force Fire Investigators.

Building Plan Check and Inspection Division:

In this last quarter, the Building staff has been reviewing current processes and finding ways to streamline in an effort to be more customer friendly. The timely and complete review and processing of Conditional Meter Releases (CMR) / Construction Power procedures are critical steps in the construction workflow of a new or significantly altered building.  In this last quarter our Building Division finished streamlining the revised process and expanded field verification for all inspectors.  There are now new application forms for Residential CMR, and eliminated the Commercial CMR.  They also created new application forms for Non-Residential Construction Power and drafted new internal procedures.

Another area in need of streamlining was our field inspection cards.  Building staff reorganized the inspection card layout by discipline types (e.g., Residential, Commercial, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, etc.).  They also renumbered some inspection codes and eliminated older obsolete inspection types. If you still have an old version of a permit card, you do not need to replace it. The building inspectors will indicate any changes to you in the field.

In cooperation with our users, the building staff also revised and released an updated version of the inspection app to incorporate the new inspection card changes and opened selected final inspections for minor permits such as HVAC and Roofing permits, etc.

To stay current and maintain all their credentials Building Inspectors and Plan Checkers have to attend regular training.  Building Inspectors and Plan Reviewers attended CALBO Education Week in San Ramon from Sept 18 – 22.

Development Services recently completed Phase two of their fee study that included revisiting valuation based fees and incorporating a Reserve Fund.  The new fees will be based on the ICC Building Valuation Data (BVD) Tables rather than a given valuation. This method provides a more equitable way to calculate fees by eliminating the variation that finishes might have on the valuation of buildings and their associated building permit fees.  The new DSD Reserve will be established over at least a five year period, and will allow for DSD activities related to plan review and inspection to continue undisrupted in the event of a market downturn.  The proposal was approved by the City’s Finance Committee on September 18th and was approved by the City Council on October 2nd.  A second reading is scheduled in the next month.  The new fees are proposed to go into effect sometime at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019.

Our anticipated Seismic Risk Assessment study session will go before Council as an action item on October 16th.  Please note that at this time we are only advising the City Council of their options and seeking general guidance that will direct our next steps.  Following the Council meeting, staff anticipates working with stakeholders and the Policy and Services Committee to prepare an ordinance that will go back to the City Council for adoption.  For more information click here or to get involved contact George Hoyt at George.Hoyt@CityofPaloAlto.org.

The building division is currently updating all plan submittal and inspection guidelines for the 2016 Building Code and reformatting all handouts for accessibility.  This work was done in collaboration with a targeted task force group focused on inspection guideline books.

In an effort to increase the staff’s collective ability to use our permitting system of record, Accela, we administered three series of trainings spaced out over several months. This included end-user training, administrator training, and report writing.  A copy of the trainings will be made available on our training page which is currently under construction.

In cooperation with members of our Emergency Operation Center, our Building Division worked on the Damage Assessment and Emergency Response Plan.

Finally, in July, the Building Plan Check group is fully staffed again with the addition of a new contract Plan Check Engineer, Sam Zaki.

Project Coordination:

All adopted fee changes effective August 28th were successfully input into Accela and incorporated into our process. Staff received training and all forms/handouts were revised for the public. Although more changes are forthcoming, the Project Coordination team has been in tight coordination during the process. 

DSD took another step in tightening accounting practices last quarter by completing calculations and providing back-up documentation for deferred revenue projections.  This practice will allow us to carry revenues received from one fiscal year to the next for services that have yet to be rendered.  For example, a permit issued in FY2017 may still have an associated inspection in FY2018.  This practice allows the revenue to follow the expense for more accurate accounting. 

The Project Coordination team took additional measures to troubleshoot and automate the Certificate of Use & Occupancy process through Accela.

All Project Coordinators attended CALBO education week and received valuable training in areas such as tenant improvement plan check, building code changes, over-the-counter reviews, and updated information on ADUs and tiny homes.

The Project Coordination along with the Fire Prevention teams have been making preparations for consolidating Fire Department’s receipting functions with the 1st floor of Development Center which includes Accela changes and revising cash handling procedures.

Green Building (GB):

The GB team plays a large part in enforcing the 2016 CALGreen and Energy Efficiency Code Updates and the Palo Alto Green Building and Energy Reach Ordinances as of January 1, 2017. They also enforce of the Model Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance.

The GB team is continuing the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) Roadmap and Baseline Study to index Palo Alto’s existing buildings and develop a direction for the next Energy Reach Code. This work is looking for potential ways to mandate greater energy efficiency of our residential and commercial remodel projects.  The goal is to discuss these new mandates at the Green Building Advisory Retreat to be held in February 2018.

The GB team successfully hosted the Intro to Zero Net Energy & Beyond: Design Tools & Strategies for Residential Buildings with Passive House California on September 12. The turnout was great at the Mitchell Park Library. The video will be posted shortly, along with the resource list that Barry Bronwyn put together for all participants.

The GB team performs quarterly meetings for the outside Green Building Special Inspectors and also performs quality control support for our in house Green Building Inspectors. Also, the Call for Applications for the City Approved list of Green Building Special Inspectors reopened in September.  Also, the GB team developed a new bulletin system for updates to the program material.

Look out for another Green Building and Energy Reach public training sponsored by Development Services for early November.

This past summer, the GB team finished tracking and finalizing the annual Green Building Metrics for the Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report (SEA) with the City Auditor’s office and Earth Day Reports with the Office of Sustainability.

The GB team continued the monthly Green Building New Employee Orientation (GB NEO) and Staff Task Force Roundtable. The GB NEO supports Development Services and Planning staff in their understanding of Green Building Requirements at each phase. So far 13 participants have been successfully trained. The Staff Task Force meeting enables departments to openly communicate and collaborate.


The DSD Planning team recently witnessed the promotion of another member of its team, up the planning ranks leaving yet another vacancy.  They are currently completing the hiring process to replace the one vacant Planning Technician position.

In cooperation with the Public Works Department and Green Building team, they are looking at potential alterations to the Construction Debris and Demolition process to reduce the amount of construction related waste coming from construction projects.

In response to some customer feedback, the DSD Planning team is revising their DSD website page to improve communication about the entitlement application intake process. Checklists, instructions, and downloadable applications for various planning entitlements will soon be found on line along with instructions on how to make an appointment to submit.

Public Works Engineering (PWE):

PWE created new documentation and processes to comply with the updated 2017 dewatering regulations and code.  Also, new processes were created and fine-tuned to streamline the new secant wall type of basement construction, which dramatically reduces the volume of water pumped from the ground and allows for basement construction any time of the year. These materials and instructions will be made available on the DSD webpage under PWE.

Despite reduced staffing levels due to vacancies and vacation schedules last quarter, PWE staff was able to maintain counter coverage and review duties the majority of the time.

In line with the paperless work order and payment process, every one of the hundreds of soils reports PW had stored in the DC storage room have been scanned and archived in the city’s GIS based document retrieval system, which is readily available through an online portal.  For more information contact Mike Nafziger at Mike.Nafziger@CityofPaloAlto.org.

Finally, and most importantly, PWE has hired a new Engineering Technician who will begin work on October 17th in October’s New Employee Orientation.  With this new hire, the PW group will finally be complete and the training will start.


If you are involved in the construction of any multifamily or mixed-use buildings, please be aware that the City’s Utilities Department offers a rebate program that can help pay for the installation of EV Chargers above and beyond what is required by code. For more information go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/electricvehicle  or call the Utilities Department at (650) 329-2241.

In an effort to improve coordination with Utilities and other inspection teams, Utilities staff provided training for Planning and DSD staff to go over electric, water, gas, and wastewater design requirements and processes to facilitate the plan review process.

To improve field operations, Utilities staff and the Building Inspectors met to discuss the process to follow for customer service project review, inspection, approval, and connection to the utility electric system.

Utilities continues to review  its webpages including engineering, operations, major Utilities projects overview, renewable energy programs/projects, landscape water efficiency requirements, general home and business energy and water efficiency measures. In addition to HTML content, files were updated as necessary per the Subject Matter Experts’ review for accuracy.

In the area of sustainability, Utilities is in coordination with DSD. Most recently they are working with DSD staff to identify and claim energy savings from the Green Building Ordinance.

Furthermore, they are beginning to re-evaluate the PV process as rebates end, as well as evaluate the implications and policies for the interconnection of battery storage. Also, the PV Net Energy Metering (NEM) 2.0 goes-live.

Utilities is currently reviewing the parameters under development for a future study of Utilities Connection Fees.  Stay tuned for more information if you’re interested.

Utilities has come to agreement with Development Services that any photovoltaic system greater than 10 kW will be routed to Utilities for review prior to issuing permits.  Permits for PV systems 10kW or less can be approved over the counter and will be sent to Utilities for tracking purposes.

That completes our updates for this quarter.  We’ll come back with another update for Q4 in January.  In the meanwhile, we wish you happy holidays and a festive New Year.

Warm Regards,

Peter signature

Dr. Peter Pirnejad

Development Services Director