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Online Permitting Pilot Underway in San Jose

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Online Permitting Pilot Underway in San Jose

Late last month the city of San Jose, the largest municipality in the fast-growing Silicon Valley began offering builders and contractors a way to apply for permits and to track their applications through various approval stages.

By Patrick L. O’Toole, Senior Editor March 31, 2000
This article first appeared in the PB April 2000 issue of Pro Builder.
The e-permit web site operated by the city of Sunnyvale, California as part of an intergovernmental pilot project in the Silicon Valley.

The idea makes so much sense that it is universally met with enthusiasm. Making the idea a reality, however, is a lot more complicated and has taken years of cooperative effort to launch.

That said, late last month the city of San Jose, the largest municipality in the fast-growing Silicon Valley began offering builders and contractors a way to apply for permits and to track their applications through various approval stages.

Called "Smart Permits," the program employs Internet technology to streamline and reduce costs in the building permitting process. When fully implemented, the program will allow computer-aided graphic design (CAD) files and specifications to be submitted electronically to the city, and for corrections or modifications to be submitted within hours, without requiring new printed plans. Anyone who has ever rushed blue prints to city hall sees the benefit. A key focus of the pilot is to implement complete online systems that handle everything form submission review, fee payment and inspection scheduling.

At first simple permits -- reroof a building or replacing a furnace or water heater--will be available online. Gradually, by April of next year, San Jose will consolidate all development review activities into one comprehensive system accounting for 50,000 permits of all types per year, a release from the public/private partnership called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network said.

The City of San Jose is the biggest jurisdiction to get on board a three-year-old program stewarded by Joint Venture, but not the first. Pilot permitting projects are also underway in the Silicon Valley communities of Fremont, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Carlos, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. With the San Jose launch, the program is close to its goal of solidifying a core group of community-users in the region, says Randy Tsuda, the Smart Permit project manager.

"When online permitting in Silicon Valley reaches a critical mass, further incubation by Joint Venture will not be required," says Tsuda. Eventually, builders, developers and contractors will be able to fill out a universal online form for submittal to any of 10 Silicon Valley communities.

The hard part was getting to this point. There were numerous committee meetings among government planners and information technology officials with each jurisdiction. The structure of existing permitting systems varied greatly from town to town and many ended up streamlining their permit processes to get with the Smart Permit program, says Tsuda. Then there were long committee meetings before agreement could be reached on issues like technical formats, and what requisite amount of information is needed for each type of permit application.

In the end the intergovernmental online permitting system among Silicon Valley communities may serve as model for simplifying the approval process around the country. Ultimately it can remove many of the approval-related inefficiencies that have traditionally existed in the construction business -- a goal that is hoped for by San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. "Smart Permit systems will help businesses meet their critical schedules and let cities become more efficient."

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