Palo Alto officials forged ahead this week with a plan to streamline the city's notoriously complex permitting process when they committed $1.5 million to add staff to the Development Center.
The City Council unanimously agreed Monday (Dec. 5) to spend $1.5 million to add six positions to the city's permitting operation. These include a supervisor to coordinate the various departments involved in the permitting process, a permit-center manager who would provide day-to-day management of the center, a plan examiner and three project coordinators. The expenditure is intended to address persistent community complaints about the long waiting times and the labyrinthine nature of what has become known as the "Palo Alto Process."
The complaints have prompted City Manager James Keene to launch an effort aimed at restructuring the Development Center operation to make it simpler for companies and residents to get their applications processed.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie called the approved staff additions "a major step toward creating a management structure that is important to creating the results" that the city committed to providing when it launched the effort in July 2010.
The council unanimously approved the staff proposal to beef up staffing, with Councilwoman Gail Price calling the changes "necessary" and "overdue." The increased staffing would be funded by an increase in permit fees and thus would not require the city to tap into its General Fund.
"Several times over the course of the past decade, there's been a lot of discussion about the need to improve the service and efficiency vis-à-vis the Development Center," Price said. "I believe this proposed budget amendment does that."
Some of the reforms have already been put in effect. The city, for example, has been helping large companies get the needed permits by devoting project managers to help shepherd these applications through the process. Mayor Sid Espinosa said results have so far been encouraging.
"Our business leaders, and I think we'll hear from others, are already responding favorably to it and talking about how it changes the business climate," Espinosa said.