Business & Real Estate

Building permits in a day: 2 cities try new tack

Business owners have long complained that city building permits are cumbersome, unwieldy and simply take far too long to obtain.

That’s about to change for some in the Sacramento region. Under a pilot program to be launched this summer by Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, business owners can secure a building permit for improvements to existing buildings – in one day.

The two cities are the first jurisdictions in California to launch a pilot program, “Permit Simplicity,” developed by Region Builders Inc., a Sacramento-based not-for-profit association.

Permit Simplicity, based on a similar program in Phoenix, enables businesses to obtain a permit for tenant improvements to an existing building, using plans prepared by a designated, pre-qualified professional architect or engineer. City staff would review the plans at the permit counter, with a goal of issuing the necessary permit within 24 hours.

Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova are planning to launch Permit Simplicity on July 1.

The one-day option could become “a powerful marketing tool to position our region as a place for businesses to locate and grow,” said Joshua Wood, executive director of Region Builders. The association, started in July 2012, is a coalition of various construction-related groups, including local chapters of the American Institute of Architects, National Electrical Contractors Association, Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange, El Dorado Builders Exchange and others.

The one-day permitting program is optional and involves no additional processing costs. For now, it is limited to improvements for existing retail, office and warehouse buildings. It does not apply to new construction or to food establishments, buildings involving health or safety components or those requiring change-in-use applications. All one-day permit recipients would be subject to conventional building inspections and meeting code standards.

Wood calls it an incentive for existing business owners to improve their buildings, and for prospective owners to quickly set up shop in vacated storefronts, offices and warehouse space.

Pat Hume, Elk Grove’s vice mayor, said the faster permitting process will send a message that the city wants to “get businesses up, operating and profitable as quickly as possible, because time is money.”

He added that Elk Grove is “uniquely positioned” to implement the one-day permitting as it already offers “Tenant Improvement Tuesdays,” a weekly program that allows applicants to meet with city staff to quickly process building permits for commercial buildings of up to 2,500 square feet.

“It’s a perception thing,” said Hume. “Businesses look at this and say, ‘Hey this community is really going the extra mile and bending over backward to make things work.’”

Rancho Cordova Mayor Robert McGarvey also touted the program’s potential, calling it “a new and effective tool to help streamline business location and expansion in Rancho Cordova.”

Wood said the program requires a building’s architects and engineers to obtain all other necessary permits required in those cities. In order to qualify for the program, architects and engineers must be registered professionals for at least five years, have an established professional track record and go through a training class conducted by each city, Wood said. Those classes are still being organized.

Depending on the success of the initial rollout, Wood said, the program could be expanded to include other kinds of building permits.

He’s also hopeful the program will be adopted by other cities in the region, including Sacramento. “We’ve been working with (Sacramento) city staff ... and we’re coming back to the (city) council, probably in the fall.”

Sacramento city spokeswoman Linda Tucker confirmed the city is looking into the program and “will come back with something sometime before the end of the year.”

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.