Meeting of Minds

Back Article Feb 20, 2018 By Russell Nichols

In 2014, the City of Sacramento’s construction valuation (which tracks the dollar amount of issued permits) was $390 million, but by June 2018, that valuation will be about $1.5 billion (adjusted for inflation), according to Ryan DeVore, Sacramento’s community development director.

“The activity has taken such a large jump, we’re trying to respond in a responsible and strategic way and, at the same time, not overdo it by hiring too many people,” he says.

With all that activity, the city’s permitting process needed a makeover. Last fall, the City launched a series of workshops to figure out strategies to help applicants, asking questions such as: Could permits be issued faster? Did existing policies need to be updated? Would automation streamline the process?

Related: When it comes to crafting stronger permitting processes, communication is key

In October, it hired Roy Hernandez, president of ThirdWave, an L.A.-based systems integration consulting firm, to moderate the workshops attended by both City staff and representatives from the building industry. At the City’s community development offices at 300 Richards Blvd., he worked with staff to analyze existing permitting models: processes, staffing, practices and data. By bringing the two groups together, both sides could identify challenges and determine solutions from a holistic perspective, he says. Out of these workshops came 108 different potential solutions. One of them is as simple as updating decades-old policies that require applicants to fill out the same information over and over.

In his 30 years of working with local governments across 350 cities in the U.S. and Canada, Hernandez has never seen a collaboration quite like this. “In my experience, it was the first time city employees got to hear how the policies impacted the private sector directly and the broader community,” he says, adding that about a dozen of Sacramento’s largest homebuilders attended.

John Griffin, president of Del Paso Homes, was there. He says the talks helped him better understand public sector problems, such as outdated policies, lack of technology and lack of training for new employees. These things create hiccups in the process and communication breakdowns. But will efforts like these workshops amount to real change?

“There’s a misunderstanding between the development community and the bureaucracy on how jobs get done,” he says. “We understand 30 percent of what they do. They understand 30 percent of what we do. We’ve taken the first step, but if we don’t follow up with three or four more, we won’t see any improvement.”