August 2014 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. 


Director's Note

The month of August was a productive month which included revising our 2014 Department Action Plan, finishing recruitment efforts for our Chief Building Official, entering into formal contract for our green building coordination efforts, shared efforts in developing the City’s proposed Business Registry Certification, and continued work on integrating our Fire Permitting and Mapping Technology with our existing permit software..

Great plans that succeed live and adapt.  Our 2014 Development Services Work Plan is no different.  Since we launched the plan in January priorities, plans, and expectations have shifted and as a result we have had to revise our action plan.  Our revised direction for the remainder of this year consists of 26 specific goals organized into 7 groupings.  To date we have already accomplished 8 and working on the remainder.  Some of the goals include devising new metrics, enhancing costumer facing technology, improving how we communicate, strengthening team dynamics, tracking budget and contracts, developing new and revised ordinances, and streamlining processes.  For a copy of our executive summary that gets into more detail click [here]

Recruiting a permanent Chief Building Official has been something we have been working on for almost two years. After multiple recruitment efforts, countless interviews, and multiple failed negotiations we are done.  We are pleased to announce that George Hoyt accepted the position of Chief Building Official effective October 4th after serving as the Interim Chief Building Official since July 7th. George has been a supervising construction consultant for the City of Palo Alto since 2008 as an employee of the consulting firm 4LEAF, Inc., located in Pleasanton, California.  He has been instrumental in the completion of major projects completed in Palo Alto including the Mitchell Park Library and award-winning $350 Million Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life. George holds an associate’s degree in Building Inspection Technology from Butte College and is certified by the International Code Council (ICC) as Certified Building Official and numerous other ICC Certifications.   He also has certifications as a LEED AP BD+C and is a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) in the State of California.  Mr. Hoyt is located on the first floor of the Development Center and can be reached at George.Hoyt@CityofPaloAlto.org

Green Building continues to be an area that we are committed to.  Over the last six months we have been using a temporary and limited contract for green building services.  In that time we went through a comprehensive RFP process and reviewed applications from firms across the bay area for the most competent and responsive bid to our proposal.  We are happy to report that we selected Melanie Jacobson from Integrated Design 360 to be that representative. Over the course of this year Melanie will be developing new workflows for green building review, permitting and inspections that will reflect the work that we have completed with our Green Building Advisory Group and reflected in our new Green Building Ordinance.  Stay tuned for a newer, cleaner, more transparent customer facing program complete with a new web page, forms, videos and checklists to help our customers navigate our green building requirements.  For questions or concerns please continue to contact Melanie Jacobson

Development Services has been working in collaboration with the City’s Economic Development Manager, Thomas Fehrenbach, as well as other departments throughout the City in drafting a new Business Registry Certification program.  Under the direction of the City Council, back in February, this new program will seek to collect employee data of new and existing businesses in Palo Alto.  The proposal goes to City Council on September 22.  For a link to the staff report click [here].

One of the primary drivers for the Development Center Blueprint was to streamline and integrate processes to ensure building permitting is consistent, transparent and efficient.  In that regard, Development Services seeks processes that could benefit from integration with our established permitting process.  Recently we identified the fire permitting and mapping systems that were running on parallel but separate systems.  We developed a plan to integrate them into our permit software system and are close to final implementation of those systems by the end of the year.  August was filled with efforts in completing those integration processes.  Look forward to a press release once those initiatives are complete and live.

Continue reading to get updates from each of our divisions and departments that make up Development Services and stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

As always, we value your feedback.  Feel free to tell us what works and what we need to work on.

Peter signature

Peter Pirnejad


Project Coordination

Staffing update:  One of our Project Coordinators, Genna deVries has accepted a position with the City of Santa Clara’s Building Department.  Genna has been with the City of Palo Alto since December, 2012 and brought a wealth of knowledge 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. 

The Accela/GIS integration project is moving forward and we hope to launch soon.  Work is underway to verify the official City database of addresses as this information critical to the success of this project.  

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 out at:  https://aca.accela.com/paloalto/


Planning Department

Planning staff in Development Services continue to work on our 2014 goals.  Accomplishments to date include:

 - Expedited plan check review for all non-discretionary related building permits (approximately 30 permits/month) ;

 - Increased # of application submittals (from 10-18 apts/wk);

 - Trained Development Services Planning staff to:

  • Review all single family building permit applications
  • Review all sign permit applications
  • Assist with C&D and Green Building permits
  • Assist with application intakes
  • Assist with review of IR applications

 - The City is continuing its search for a Green Building Consultant to support the work of the Development Center and is currently reviewing proposals received in response to an RFP. Selection of finalists is anticipated for early August with City Council approval of the selected firm anticipated for early September.  

 - Working with Urban Forestry to implement comprehensive review plan for all commercial and multi-family tree removal applications.  Goal is to have DS Plan staff manage review of these applications.

 - For all Planning and Transportation “areas of interest” please be sure to check out the Planning and Community Environment’s new E-Newsletter.  The newsletter is available to all subscribers via email and also available online at:  http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/42950


Building Plan Check

Good News!  We successively completed our initial review on the increased plan review applications that we received in July in anticipation of the adoption of 2013 Energy and Green Building codes.  Thank you for your patience.

Currently we are diligently working with the building inspection team and green building consultant on creating customer guidelines for the new Energy and Green Building Code.


Building Inspection

Green Building Task Group is working on adoption of Local Green Building Ordinance

Interviews for Building Inspector “Green Building” Specialist and “ Building Official”  have been scheduled ; we hope to fill these positions in the near future.

Work Load has continued to be very heavy but inspection response times continue to provide next day  inspection services

Disaster Preparedness in high on our list of priorities. Inspectors are renewing their ATC 20 certifications and  CPA Office of Emergency Services has stepped up training schedule

Development Services recently applied for  ISO reclassification and we are hoping to upgrade CPA’s ranking , we currently hold a 2 ranking , 3 years ago we were upgraded from a 4 ranking to our current 2

We continued to receive positive feedback regarding customer service improvements through this period


Green Building

The Green Building Advisory Group held a very successful retreat at the Palo Alto Art Center on July 31st.  Using the results gathered from the retreat, the Green Building Technical Advisory group is currently working to develop the next iteration of the green building ordinance.  The ordinance criteria related to energy savings will be studied for cost-effectiveness as required by the California Energy Commission.

The EVSE Task Force convened for a meeting on August 25th to discuss the recently adopted electric vehicle ordinances.  The Task Force is developing a survey to distribute to users of the ordinance to assess the impact to date.   The Task Force will reconvene in January to review results of the survey. The group will also revise the ordinance to address existing buildings and include language for design criteria related to disconnecting devices.

Green Building personnel are working to gather and analyze the 2014 fiscal year data to prepare the annual Performance Report.  This effort aims to collect and report on all green building metrics related to building design and construction.


Public Works

Public Works Engineering Services created the first water filling station in an effort to save potable water by salvaging dewatering water which would normally be discharged to the storm drain.  The good quality but non-potable water is pumped from a settling tank at a construction site into City vehicles such as street sweepers and tree watering trucks for use around the City (these vehicles usually fill up using potable, hydrant water).  The non-profit environmental group Acterra has even used the filling station for their watering purposes.  With the successful launch of the first station, Public Works Engineering Services is now requiring all construction dewatering sites to install filling stations as part of the dewatering process and the next potential sites are being identified.  The idea has generated a lot of buzz and positive enthusiasm:  the City issued a press release which can be found here:  http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=2748&TargetID=268, and KPIX News heard of the program and ran a story on it, the video can be viewed here:  New Palo Alto Program Salvages Water From Construction Projects.

We’re looking forward to further promote the program to more City departments, residents, and other organizations needing water.

Public Works Engineering Services has completed development of an automated street work permit program in Accela.  Once all permit and applicant data is entered into Accela as it is now, the program will auto-generate a permit and all associated permit documents, already filled out, along with all the appropriate conditions, advisories, City specifications, and City details all tailored to the specific work being permitted.  The documents are generated as a pdf for printing and/or for electronic distribution in a paperless permitting process.  The program also has the ability to auto-email the permit to the applicant once the permit is issued.  Public Works Inspectors will be able to view the permit through mobile devices as well as sign off on the permit in the field once the work is completed.  Robust testing of the program is underway and an “official” launch is expected in the 2nd or 3rd week of September.

Public Works finished collecting C.3 project data and is finalizing the FY13-14 Annual Report.


Fire Prevention Bureau

Updating sprinkler ordinance 

Fire is working with True Point Solutions/Accela on implementing cash handling procedures and an electronic payment system. The new system should be on online within a couple of weeks.

Working on Earthquake Preparedness Plan

Working on ATC-20 certification for Fire Inspectors and Company Officers. This would certify Fire Inspectors and Company Officers to do damage assessments on city buildings after an earthquake or other disaster.

Fire Inspector Shane Lopes has assumed Residential Fire Plan Checking.