February 2016 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. 

February 2016

Director's Note

The first quarter of 2016 has been a firestorm of activity for Development Services.  We continue to operate at the intersection of where Building, Planning, Public Works, Utilities, and Fire converge to plan check, permit and inspect the buildings we live, play, shop, work, and visit in Palo Alto.  At that intersection we walk a fine line between enforcing all of our shared codes while trying to ensure our systems are automated, simplified, and clear.   To make matters more interesting we live in a highly regulated environment where new laws are adopted, new rules that enforce those laws are created, and existing rules change.  Our job in Development Services is to ensure that the enforcement of those requirements is complete as well as efficient and predictable. 

As new regulations get created, like the Business Registry Certificate, we partner with technologists like Open Counter, Accela, and TruePoint Solutions to simplify and automate the process as much as possible.  While we seek to adopt a new reach code that tries to exceed state minimum energy efficiency standards we produce training videos and compliance systems that simplify and streamline the process.  Read the updates from all our member departments and divisions below to learn more about what is changing and what we are doing to make it as predictable, simple and efficient as we can.

This January we embarked on our annual full day retreat where the first half of the day included speakers that engaged and challenged us while the second half of the day was designed to organize and focus our efforts for the 2016 calendar year.  For a copy of our 2016 Action Plan click here.  Whether you are looking to start your first construction project or you’re a seasoned developer we have everything you need on line at our home page and in person at the Development Center at 285 Hamilton to get you through the development review process and into your new home or business.  To stay on top of the changing regulations and our modernizing systems to enforce them, sign up to receive our construction updates, department updates, and press releases here

In addition to enforcing codes we are also tasked to collaborate with stakeholders throughout the community and other departments to align our building related codes with the City’s. These collaborations come in many focus areas including the Seismic Risk Management Advisory Group (SRMAG), the Development Center Advisory Group (DCAG) and other advisory groups that can be found on our Advisory Groups page.  To get more involved or read more about what they are working on we post all our agendas, minutes and attachments.

Technology continues to be a big part of what we do.  We have recently finished the beta testing of an inspection app that will allow people to schedule an inspection with a few easy clicks of their smart phone.  The app will be available in the next few weeks for download on google play and the apple store.  Look out for a press release in the coming weeks.  We have also expanded an internal analytics dashboard that allows us to track and measure our performance related to plan checks and inspections to ensure we are meeting our customer commitments.  The Business Registry Certification has been overhauled and improved as we changed the tool to learn from last year’s efforts.  These are just a few of the civic innovations we are involved in. 

Having a full year of data we are currently completing a fee study to ensure that development related activities are fully cost recoverable.  As part of that effort we are considering the formation of a separate fund to ensure we are not a burden to the general fund.  With the help of all our member departments we will be able to run development services as an enterprise fund with the intent to be cost neutral in all our permit related activity.  We will have more information about our fee study in coming months.

Thank you for following our progress and best of luck on your construction projects.


Best Wishes,

Peter signature

                                                                 Peter Pirnejad

Project Coordination

The Development Services Department would like to welcome Diana Tamale and Kyle Shea as our new Development Project Coordinators.  Diana comes to us with years of experience supporting our Planning Department and has knowledge of the development process.  Kyle has a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Santa Cruz and has experience in building maintenance.  We are excited to have them join our team. 

Work on the Business Registry Certificate program continues as we prepare for renewals which are set to launch March 1st, 2016.  Upgrades to the registration site have been completed which should improve the overall customer experience.  We continue to provide ongoing customer and technical support for this program.

We recently transitioned the Noise Exception Permit processing from the Police Department to Development Services.  These permits are issued on a case-by-case basis for construction work or other noise-producing activities done outside of the normal construction hours. 

We have been working closing with our new scanning contractor to map and test the process of converting our old microfiche blueprint plans to a digital format.  The second batch of fiche has recently been sent for scanning.  This will be a multi-year effort to convert all of the 125,000 fiche records to the new format.  This upgrade will result in improved access to the records by the public and City staff.   

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

The recruitment process is underway to fill the Planning Technician position vacated by the departure of Nandini Ramamurthi. 

We are happy to welcome a few new staff members to our department.  Two Associate Planner positions have recently been filled in Current Planning.  Please welcome Claire Hodgkins and Graham Owen to our team.  We also welcome Jarrett Mullen, from the Public Works Department, as a new team member in the Transportation Section of Planning. And last but not least we welcome James Stevens as our new Code Enforcement Lead. 

We are sad to announce the departure of Advance Planning Manager, Jeremy Dennis.  He will taking on new challenges as the City Manager of Portola Valley. 

Matt Weintraub, Historic Preservation Planner, will begin counter hours at the Development Center to provide greater accessibility to our customers. 

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 Technical Advisory Committee of the Green Building Advisory Group met regularly throughout the months of December, January, and early February to create the 2016 version of the Green Building and Energy Reach Code Ordinances.  These meetings were intended to fulfill on the goals Green Building Advisory Group Retreat held on October 30th 2015. These ordinances will be presented to the City Council for adoption over the next several months. The target effective date is January 1st 2017.

New water efficient landscape regulations (State Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance) went into place on February 1st 2016 for new and rehabilitated landscape projects.  The enforcement of this ordinance is in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order B-29-15, issued April 1, 2015, regarding California’s Drought Emergency. For additional information about the new regulations, visit this press release.

Building Inspection/Plan Check

Hired John Carr to fill the Building Inspector Specialist - Green Building position.

Hired Robert Gray to fill the Building Inspector Specialist – Plumbing and Mechanical position.

Completed the interview process for the Assistant Building Official and are anticipating our selected candidate to start in March.

Staff worked with ADA Today, LLC to arrange two day training and education opportunity titled “Prepare to be a CASp” in February.  We had attendance from both Public Works and Development Services - Building Division along with neighboring jurisdictional staff and local architectural professionals.

Look forward to up-coming Accessibility training opportunities presented by the California DSA Academy that will be available in Palo Alto in March.   You can find out more information regarding the courses and register at https://www.dsaacademy.dgs.ca.gov/default.asp

Class: Access Compliance – 2013 and 2016 CA Building Code - March 9, 2016 from 9am to 4pm at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Located at 3700 Middlefield Road Palo Alto, CA 94303

Class: Plan Review – Accessibility (2013 CBC) – March 10, 2016 from 9am to 4pm at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Located at 3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Staff has been working with our Green Building consultant and advisory committee to develop a new Green Building ordinance for the 2016 California Building Standards. These recommendations are being drafted into an ordinance that is anticipated to go to City Council for adoption along with the other 2016 code adoptions in the third quarter.

Staff has been working with our Green Building consultant and advisory committee to develop a new Energy Reach ordinance for the 2016 California Energy Code. These recommendations are being drafted into an ordinance that is anticipated to go to City Council for adoption along with the other 2016 code adoptions in the third quarter.

Management staff and the Green Building consultant continue to establish inspection guidelines and protocols related to the Green Building and Energy Reach Code for all Development Services staff.

The Seismic Risk Management Program consultant has been working the established advisory group on this project.  You can stay informed on current activities via the project Seismic Risk Management Advisory Group website at the following link http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/ds/srmag.asp.

Staff continues to support Public Works in the ADA Transition Plan review and update project lead by Public Works.  The Building Division has completed the ADA Tool Kit regarding to the ADA Coordinators requirements and activities.

Staff continues to develop and implement time accounting for inspectors and plan review activities to provide consistent and reliable time management.

The implementation of expired permit applications and issued permit notification to applicants/owners is currently in internal testing.

Presented and distributed the Development Center Emergency Plan to all Development Services staff.

Continued to maintain Disaster Preparedness ATC-20 (Earthquake) Rapid Evaluation Safety Assessment training and certification for all inspection and plan review staff.

Attended an initial kick off meeting with other departments and divisions to integrate the BRC and U&O processes.

Launched the Palo Alto inspection Request App created by CityGovApp in conjunction with Palo Alto Development Services – Building Division and Palo Alto Fire Prevention.  Permit holders will be able to schedule both Building and Fire Inspections on this inactive App.  This App is available on Google Play and will be available on Apple’s App Store within the next few weeks.

Public Works

Public Works has finished the recruitment for two Engineering Technicians.  Two candidates have been selected and the hiring process is underway.

Extensive analysis of Public Works time tracking has provided a further refinement in the Public Works/Development Center staff allocation which will be reflected in this year’s budget process.

Public Works staff have been working with a storm water consultant to revise the current C.3 (storm water treatment) process for easier annual reporting, more timely design submittals, and compliance with new Regional Permit regulations.

Public Works staff is in the process of updating Public Works fees as part of the City’s current budget process.

New requirements relative to dewatering are currently in effect.  For more information please read the new Construction Dewatering Plan Design Guidelines

Fire Prevention Bureau

Continued Fee Study Review

Beta Testing of Long anticipated SCCDEH Hazmat Portal

Roll Out of Fire Inspection & Investigation Class for PAFD Line Personnel

CUPA Conference for Hazmat Inspectors

Fire Inspection & Investigation App Developed with City Gov Apps

Utilities Department - CPAU

For the first two months of 2016, all permit submittals requiring review by Utilities WGW and Electric Engineering have been completed within the 30 day timeframe.

Training is on-going for WGW Engineering and Development Services staff.

A draft of the process for using the Deferral Form has been completed and is undergoing review by Electric Engineering.

After meeting with DS in February on Net Energy Metering (NEM), Utilities Resource Management has taken the lead role to review, update and improve internal Utilities procedures for: a) photovoltaic (PV) system electric interconnection with the distribution grid, and b) ensuring that new PV customers are assigned to the correct NEM rate schedule.

WGW Engineering, Operations Inspection, and Building Inspection meet monthly to discuss projects and issues to facilitate process improvements.  Electric Engineering regularly meets with the Underground Inspectors to discuss projects and issues, and meets as needed with Building Inspectors.  WGW Engineering has also created reports of all gas meter releases to analyze issues.

Utilities Communications staff has established a dialogue with the new DS web person. Utilities Engineering has met with Utilities Communication staff and IT to assess the capabilities of the City’s website and how best to use it to meet the needs of our customers as it relates to new construction projects.  Staff has completed mock ups of sample webpages to simulate what customer’s would see to help us determine the best way to educate and step them through the process.

Utilities Resource Management and DS met  in February to discuss the pending changes to the Utilities Net Energy Metering Program as the state-mandated local photovoltaic (PV) generation cap for the City of Palo Alto Utilities is about to be reached. Agreement was reached on the automated and manual data transfers between the two groups for PV sizing, locations, approved building permits, changes to building permits, and final inspections. This has allowed for the comparison of customers on Net Energy Metering rates in SAP to PV systems with approved inspections from Accela.

All Utilities Engineering and Operations staff are now using Accela version 8.0.