December 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. 

December 2015

Director's Note

As we look back at 2015 I stand in amazement at the accomplishments of the Development Services Team.  As a department dedicated to the efficient, transparent, and predictable processing of development review applications I can say that it continues to be a collective effort of multiple departments and people scattered throughout the city.  We continue to focus on customer services as we deliver quality plan review and inspections here at the Development Center at 285 Hamilton and in the field with our inspection teams.  Our customers are builders, architects, property owners and other people building the structures we live, play, work, worship, and shop in every day.

Focusing on the success of our customers like b8ta and Shinola help remind us that our job, in addition to issuing permits, is about helping land some of the most innovative business in the heart of the silicon valley.  Our job is also to help make sure the places we like to shop such as the recently opened Bloomingdales and the 100,000 square feet of new retail stores coming online at Stanford shopping center are safe and code compliant.  We help homeowner realize their dreams, like a recent homeowner on Ohlone who’s kids hand wrote (and colored) a thank you letter expressing their appreciation for helping them navigate through the process.

We take pride in reflecting the passion and innovation of the stakeholders that help us craft our building codes.  With cooperation from the community and leadership of the City Council we have been a trailblazer in green building since 2007.  This year we adopted a green building and energy reach code that has been an example of stewardship and sustainability in the areas of water and energy efficiency.  With their help we continue to strive for innovative ways to make building perform better, be healthier places to occupy, and consume fewer resources.  For more information click here.  Next year with the help of similar stakeholders we are crafting new code language that will help transition some of our most seismically vulnerable building stock.

Development Services is more than just a Class 1 ISO Certified building department.  It is made up of plan checkers in planning, public works, fire prevention, building, as well as the water, gas, wastewater, and gas utilities working hard to review plans for compliance against the volumes of codes and policies that continue to evolve and advance.  In the field we have teams of inspectors in all of these trades that work together to ensure that the structures are build according to the approved plans and the codes that ultimately govern them.  Many of these teams report to different departments throughout the City yet work in cooperation and coordination with each other.  This model that was found and championed by the hard work and dedicated efforts of the Development Center Advisory Group (DCAG), the City Council, the City Manager and the teams that have come together to ultimately work together.  These people have done more than just serve our satisfied customers.  They have created a model that has attracted the interest of other cities near and far that continue to tour our department for the “secret to streamlining a high performing the development review process.”  Thank you to all the contributors to this process and the success that we all share.

In this last year 50% of the customers that walking into the development center walked away with a permit to start their construction project. After introducing some additional process improvement protocols we were able to issue 95% of our plans on time helping ensure customers are able to stay on schedule and build their homes or business on their timeline.  This is a 16% improvement since earlier this year.  This last year we were also able to accommodate 100% of our building inspections the same day as requested helping contractors continue working and finish their projects faster.

In the first quarter of 2016 we will bring together our management team and plan out the year.  We will record all the projects and improvement we hope to implement over the next 12 months.  We will also reconvene the DCAG once again to share our progress, our plans and hear their feedback.  We look forward to sharing our plans with you.  Look forward to more updates.

Thank you for following our progress, stay tuned for more updates and enjoy the upcoming holidays. 

Best Wishes,

Peter Pirnejad

Peter signature

                                                                 Peter Pirnejad

Project Coordination

We recently implemented a new process to notify applicants via email when the last reviewing City Department has approved the project.  This provides immediate notification so there is no time delay in issuing the permit.

In a joint-effort with the Planning Department, we have launched the GreenHalo/Accela integration project which makes it much easier for contractors to sign-up and track their recycling activities and has streamlined the process for City staff as well.

We have created an additional workstation at the front counter of the Development Center which has helped to decrease customer wait times and create better customer flow at the counter.

Congratulations to Annie Rosendale and Henry Rafael who were recently promoted to Project Coordinator III’s.  Both have been with the City for a number of years and work on the largest of development projects and major subdivisions.  They are an integral part of the organization and their commitment to the work and their customers is greatly appreciated.

We recently installed a new microfiche reader at the Development Center to view the archived plans.  Our customers are happy as this new machine has a clear and bright picture with improved functionality.

We have also initiated a process and sent our first batch of microfiche to be scanned and converted to a digital format.  This is a multi-year project to convert all the old archived plans. 

We have recently entered into the final penalty phase of the Business Registry Certificate program as of October 1st, 2015, and continue to provide ongoing customer and technical support for this program.

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:

Planning Department

Hire / train one new FTE – Planning Technician

The Planning Department has

Adopted the Temporary Moratorium on the Conversion of Ground Floor Retail and Retail Like Uses;

Adopted  the Interim Annual Office Limit;

And  adopted  the Amendment to the Retail Zoning Regulations.

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:

Development Projects:

Projects near you, see map:

Green Building

The Green Building Advisory Group met for their annual retreat on October 30th at the Palo Alto Art Center. All notes and presentations from the retreat can be found on the Green Building Advisory Group webpage. Within the Green Building Advisory Group retreat, the Green Building Technical Advisory Committee (GBTAC) was formed to develop the details and vision created at the retreat.  The GBTAC held their first meeting on December 9th. The GBTAC will convene for several meetings during the first quarter of 2016 to identify the Green Building and Energy requirements for the 2016 code cycle. 

 Staff will be presenting an updated Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance to the City Council in January.  The Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance is the result of Executive Order EO B-29-15 related to emergency drought regulations.  Staff will be proposing a new landscape permit as part of the new ordinance. This landscape permit will allow building permit holders to receive a final building inspection without the landscaping scope being complete.

Building Plan Check

The enforcement of the new Green Building and Energy ordinances has seen continued success. Additional video and practical training is being scheduled for the plan reviewers to go over some of the more complex items that were included in the ordinances.

The latest approved special inspection list has been distributed, and many expired agencies have been in contact to re-apply. The current list is comprised of agencies that are fully qualified and actively working in Palo Alto.

The Seismic Risk Management Program has started the process of documenting potential seismic risks in Palo Alto. An advisory group has been formed with local stakeholders and a kickoff meeting was held on 12/16/15.

The Staff Report regarding SB 2188 (State Legislation to Expedite PV and Solar Water Heating Permit Applications and Inspections) has been approved by the City Council.

The development process to allow for Residential PV Systems to be submitted online via Accela Citizen Access is in the testing phase and anticipated to go live in early 2016.

The Assistant Building Official recruitment process has resulted in multiple seemingly fit candidates, and the interview process will begin as soon as possible.

We have achieved a goal of completed 100% of our plan review activities within the established timelines.

Building Inspection

Our new Green Building and Energy Guidelines have been completed and published.

Please welcome our new Contract Building Inspector Robert Mantia.

Building Inspector Specialists - Plumbing/Mechanical and Green Building recruitment has been successful and multiple qualified candidates have expressed interest. Interviews will be conducted as soon as possible to ensure we have our specialists in place to help our team continue to succeed in 2016.

Staff has been working with our permitting software consultant to create a tracking and notification process for expired permits.  The process is its final development and testing phases will go live in early 2016.

Staff has been working with an independent App creator to create an integral app that will allow applicants to reschedule inspection via any Apple and Google supported mobile device.  This app is being tested by staff and will be available for use in early 2016.

Projects subject to the new Green Building Ordinance have started to mix into the inspection pool. Staff has done a great job in learning the new regulations to accurately enforce them as well as the existing projects under Build it Green regulations. We are discussing additional training to reiterate the technical portions of the new Green Building and Energy ordinances.

Staff has working with the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) to create an Emergency Preparation Plan for the Development Center.  This plan will be reviewed and updated annually.

We continue to offer next day inspections during a very busy construction period.

Public Works

Public Works began working on new dewatering policy and recommendations to address drought and other concerns.

Successfully closed out the 2015 dewatering season on October 31; the first season with required water filling station at each dewatering site.

Welcomed new staff member, Gabriel Aczon as Engineering Technician III replacing retired, Larry Jackson.

Began recruitment for the position of Engineering Technician III to replace Guiselle Perez who left Palo Alto for the City of Lathrop.

Fire Prevention Bureau

"Go Live": Santa Clara County CUPA Portal (online Hazmat reporting)- City has gone as far as we can go,  waiting for the County to do their part.

 Fee Study Update: Implemented new Balanced Fee Schedule Achieving Cost Recovery 

Completed Annual CUPA report   

Utilities Department - CPAU

Started working with the IT department in developing 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. Implemented a process  for utilities inspectors to conduct a second inspection (ready tag) before final inspection and meter release.   Corrected errors in the “How to Apply for Utility service” Utilities webpage.

Completed 5 week training program for the Utilities Representative at the Development Center for over-the-counter review of Electric and WGW applications. Continuing to develop a training program for Utilities engineering staff who provide coverage during the absence of Utilities Representative at the Development Center.

With the purchase and installation of Bluebeam Revu software for WGW Engineering staff and Electric Engineering staff continuing to use Adobe, it allows for a complete electronic review process.  These software’s allow staff to create/edit/markup/ make redline comments that can now be transmitted to applicants via e-mail.  Using these programs staff will be able to improve communications to any project partner in real time.

Water, Gas, & Wastewater started a program coordinating the installation of services by the same operational  crew to avoid long street interruptions. This program should also streamline the time it takes for restoration of street paving.