October 20, 2018

Improving the Building Permit Process

One of the issues City Council tackled last year was a frustration among some community members with the building permit process. I was pretty astonished to learn that an estimated 50% of the building permits submitted to the City of Golden are rejected for insufficient information, for missing elements, or for other code deficiencies. On the one hand, the code is massive and confusing, and it can be tough to keep up with the code and code changes even if you do projects for a living. It’s understandable, then, that folks who do only the occasional project – a new deck, a remodel, whatever – may have a tough time navigating. On the other hand, a 50% error rate suggests to me that maybe there’s something else we can do at the front end to better communicate what parts of the code are relevant and how the code works.

Staff’s proposed solution came at it from another angle: add another staff person to do over-the-counter permit reviews on small projects. This approach has some real merit. It means that people with smaller projects will be able to get very quick reviews of their submissions, so they can fix the problems without having to wait a week or more while it works its way up the queue. The problem, in my view, is that we are fixing the symptoms, not the cause.

In other words, we have a process that produces a high error rate. Rather than figure out how to lower the error rate, we are just bulking up on the number of people who can catch and fix errors after they happen. It would be like hiring more people to stand at the end of the production line and fix the 50% of the widgets that are broken rather than figure out how to reduce the number of incorrectly manufactured widgets in the first place. I argued that we should focus on the front end of the process, but I wasn’t able to persuade the rest of Council on this, and in any case the proposed change really will improve the process by quite a bit even if it doesn’t get at the underlying problem. The pragmatics of “make a modest improvement today” sometimes trump the uncertainty of trying to figure out a harder, bigger solution, and that’s understandable.

This week we got some data on the building permit rejection rates around the Metro region. The good news, I suppose, is that our 50% rejection rate actually compares favorably to the rest of the region. Of the ten jurisdictions that responded, the vast majority have rejection rates that are higher than ours. Seven of them – 70% – have a rejection rate on most types of projects of 60% or higher. We run a awfully efficient, effective operation here in Golden, and we often demonstrate that government can be extremely effective and efficient, but being a high performer among other governments doesn’t always mean we’ll set the bar as high as we should.

Regardless, as quickly as the building department can hire a new person, we’ll have an over-the-counter building permit staffer to work with anyone submitting small projects, and you should usually be able to get feedback on your submission face-to-face in real-time.

Jacob's Golden Update: Golden's New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

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[Read more…]

Jacob’s Golden Update: Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

**********
[Read more…]