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Okay design professionals – have you ever gotten a call from a developer who wanted to hire you for their project but had concerns that you had never done work in a particular city before?  Why should this matter?  We’re licensed professionals who understand the building codes and have project experience on hundreds of projects.  If we could only just focus on the end product and not on trying to figure out all the nuances each city requires to process construction permits in their city.  Builders – how would you feel if all plans and permits were standardized having the same construction notes, plan set contents, and could be pulled from your local County office that is 3 blocks from your office?  Developers – how would you like having much of the uncertainties taken out of your project?  As civil engineers we could do our work much more efficiently and be more cost-effective if we could focus more on each project’s design and less on city-specific paperwork and formats for our construction documents.

It is proposed to have Standardized, County-issued Construction Permits to better achieve the goals of our important building codes and to greatly reduce time and costs of getting a project from concept to construction.  Yes, individual cities that feel compelled to politicize the building process will lose much of their ability to do that, but we need to make the State of California more competitive by streamlining our building industry.

California is still the most populous state with 37,253,956 residents (2010 census) mostly living in 482 cities in 58 counties.  If construction permits were standardized at the county level, then we could eliminate at least 424 differing city permit processes.  Our state is geographically diverse but this diversity could be accounted for within each county.  Besides, the counties already handle property tax collection and maintenance of public records so they have the basis to develop standardized construction permits.

It is accepted that the first building code was the Code of Hammurabi the Babylonian laws dating back to 1700 BCE.  Much of these laws dealt with contract matters and builder liabilities for structures collapsing or damaged properties.  The 2009 International Building Code (IBC) has been adopted by public agencies throughout the world encouraging safeguarding public health and safety and international consistency in application of these provisions.  Construction permits are issued to ensure our projects are in compliance with building codes making buildings and their sites safer for builders and users and protecting property values.  Our building laws were enacted during great societal changes (e.g., industrial revolution) and disasters (i.e., fires, earthquakes, floods).

Getting a construction permit in most individual, California cities is like a Rube Goldberg nightmare (just think Los Angeles Department of Public Works).  Even though the IBC and Uniform Building Codes (UBC) are the basis most cities; they still insist on issuing their own permits within their multitude of departments.  On top of the city’s departments, you need to add utility companies, state agencies, and federal agencies to the permit circus.  All of this adds up to lots of frustration, confusion, wasted money, and lost time.  The same design being reformatted and repackaged just to appease a different group of plan checkers – its madness and it’s all ours.

As anything, it is easy to criticize, but how can we develop the countywide Standardized Construction Permit (SCP).  The first step would be for each county to organize enough workshops comprised of city officials (1 per city) in their county, contractors, design professionals, real estate professionals, and the public to formulate the SCP.  The SCP would be compiled and edited by the county and voted on by the county and cities with a 2/3 vote requirement.  Once the SCP is adopted and implemented, it would be revisited every four years or after a major disaster.  All revisions would still require a 2/3 vote.

With the SCP, we could now have more uniform construction products.  There would be less time formatting and more time to focus on better designs.  Developers would save time and money allowing them to better meet consumer demands and to keep more productive capitol in the system keeping more in the building industry employed.  Finally, we can go to any permit office in each county (city or county) for a project within any of the countywide cities.  We need to start thinking outside the box and getting politics out of the construction industry.

If you have any further questions or comments regarding Standardized Construction Permit, then please feel free to email or give me a call.

John M. Cruikshank, PE

310-241-6550 (x228)

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