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County Planning and Development Department Streamlines Permits

Transformation Project Improves Services and Customer Satisfaction
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – This week, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors considered a strategic plan and commended the Department of Planning and Development for its Transformation and Modernization Project. The Project, an initiative of the County’s Center for Leadership and Transformation, has already yielded a number of improvements, and is expected to significantly reduce overall permit processing times and improve customer satisfaction.
“In addition to revamping our organization, so that it is customer-focused, we’re making a number of major changes in the way we operate and have already put in place several process and culture changes that make it easier for people doing business with us,” said Planning and Development Director Nash Gonzalez.
At the outset of the project, the Planning and Development Department contacted over ninety permit customers and asked them to describe in their own words both the strengths and weaknesses of the Department. These one-on-one customer interviews were followed by exercises with focus groups representing agents and consultants, developers and builders, agriculturalists and Stanford University. More than seventy customers participated in the focus group exercises.
Customers asked for more understanding of their needs; unified teamwork with consistent guidance; reducing  the time it takes to process permits; thorough information about the permitting and regulatory requirements at the outset; clear process, policies and codes that make sense for their projects; and timely information about project status.
After assessing the feedback from permit customers and conducting an internal assessment, the Department made it a priority to implement changes in customer relationships, permit processes, information technology and leadership. The Strategic Plan describes improvements underway and those coming in the months ahead.
The goals of the Transformation and Modernization Project include the following:
         Increase customer satisfaction scores by 20 percent
         Decrease building permit application processing time for 80 percent of Stanford projects to 13 week in 2015 (represents 50 percent decrease)
         Decrease average elapsed permit processing time for all other permits by 40 percent in 2015
The department has created “X-Teams” that have a staff member who serves as a single point of contact for each permit applicant.  That project manager works with other parts of the organization and is knowledgeable about every aspect of a particular permit application.  The department also is using online plan check technology to streamline aspects of plan checking and permitting.
“The number one priority of the Transformation and Modernization Project is to cut down the application process time and I am glad that the Department of Planning and Development is on the right track,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, President of the Board of Supervisors. “We owe it to our customers to have a streamlined and efficient process.”                 
The Department of Planning and Development processes over 4,000 permit applications annually. The Project will benefit the community by providing cost savings - reducing the average building permit processing time from seven months to three months for Stanford University applications alone is estimated to save as much as $5 million per year in project capital costs. 
“It’s great to see this project move forward quickly,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee. “Subdivision developers have expressed support for returning to a Central Permitting Office.  It is a more effective way to manage a project.”            
One of the big changes is the preliminary staff review of applications prior to submittal to get projects on the right track and to develop a processing plan and schedule with the applicant. ”This approach, combined with diligent management of applications throughout the process, helped us process a threefold spike in plan checking workload on schedule,” said Senior Plan Check Engineer Scott Johnson.
The Project also will help provide increased convenience and predictability in the permitting process. Using existing resources, the Project has already fundamentally changed the permit process by assigning Permit Managers to monitor many major applications. Permit Managers assess the customers’ needs and help customers understand and navigate the process successfully. They coordinate a team-based approach to the review of the permit application and keep the customer informed of progress. The Permit Managers also continuously survey customer satisfaction and track progress on permit process performance measures. The goal of the Project is to assign Permit Manager to each application eventually.
The Transformation and Modernization Project also includes creating an online platform to manage permitting data and automate workflow. A modern, customer-centric system will be created and is expected to include online application submittal and tracking, electronic plan checking and document management, and presentation of context specific standards, codes and policies.
“These are the types of improvements envisioned when we created the Center for Leadership and Transformation,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith.  “The Planning and Development Department took advantage of the rapid transformation approach and engaged the entire staff in the creating values that produce culture change and a new direction for their operation.” 
The Department of Planning and Development will continue to provide status reports to the Board of Supervisors and receive feedback from the Board through 2015 to meet the goals of the Project.
About the Department of Planning and Development
The Mission of the Department of Planning and Development is to protect Santa Clara County's natural resources; to ensure quality and sustainable community development and to protect the public health, safety and welfare of our constituents through the application and enforcement of County of Santa Clara's Ordinance Code and land use policies.  The Development Services Office ensures buildings are safe and code compliant through professional plan checking, building inspection and investigation of substandard structures.
A Central Permitting Office was in place in Santa Clara County from 1979 to 1988 but was eliminated due to budget cutbacks. The Department of Planning and Development has received recommendations from long-time customers to return to the Central Permitting Office model because of its effectiveness and focus on the customer. The Department has researched the practices of neighboring jurisdictions that operate a Central permitting Office including Sunnyvale, Milpitas and Palo Alto and decided that this model has the greatest chances of achieving the objectives of the Transformation and Modernization Project.
About Center for Leadership and Transformation (CLT)
The Center for Leadership and Transformation is founded on the principles that lasting, organizational transformation can be achieved when Santa Clara County: encourages employees and equips them with methods and processes to lead change from any part of the organization; empowers employees to suggest and participate in innovative, actionable solutions and breakthrough ideas; cultivates the power and expertise of cross-functional collaboration; develops metrics that establish the findings and best practices from change efforts; and fosters an environment that honors the relentless energy, creativity, and commitment necessary to transform business policies and practices.
The Board of Supervisors approved the CLT concept in March 2010. Since then, more than 50 teams have been formed and more than 14 classes have been held. As a result of the Countywide CLT effort, many new programs were created, including the Transformation and Modernization Project.
Media Contact:  Gwendolyn Mitchell/Lingxia Meng, Office of Public Affairs
(408) 299-5119; Kirk Girard, Department of Planning and Development (408) 299-5772
Posted: March 14, 2014