Palo Alto's solar problem | May 21, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 21, 2021

Palo Alto's solar problem

As contractors opt out of working in Palo Alto, city looks to tame its unruly permitting process

by Gennady Sheyner

Barry Cinnamon is a true believer when it comes to solar power.

For the past 20 years, his Campbell-based company, Cinnamon Energy Systems, has been installing solar panels and energy storage systems all over the Peninsula — with one notable exception. About 10 years ago, he decided to stop working in Palo Alto — stifled by the high costs and city's chronic permitting delays.

"Palo Alto is so bad with solar permitting that every single reputable solar company has basically abandoned and refused to do solar and solar storage work in Palo Alto," Cinnamon told the Weekly in a recent interview. "It's so expensive, time consuming and frustrating."

He recalled the 2010 incident that made him throw in the towel. First, the city requested that he provide them with a printed installation manual for the solar inverter that his company was installing, even though it was available online. After he submitted one — and waited more than three weeks for a response — the city requested a specification for a bracket he would use to attach the inverter to the wall. He provided that and waited a few more weeks. Then he was asked to provide engineering drawings for the screws he would use to attach the bracket that affixes the inverter to the wall. Then more waiting.

By the time Cinnamon was asked for specifications for the torque tool his company was using to drill in the screws for the bracket, he had accumulated a 5-inch-thick loose-leaf notebook of engineering plans and supporting documents.

And he'd had enough.

"I called the customer and said, 'We're done.' We walked away and gave the customer's deposit back," Cinnamon said. "We saw that this is never going to end."

Cinnamon is hardly alone. Contractors and Palo Alto residents are awash with horror stories about the city's permitting process, whether for solar systems, generators or electric vehicle chargers. Some companies, like Cinnamon's, now stay away from Palo Alto altogether. Others, like Cobalt Power, add a $2,500 surcharge when installing in Palo Alto, according to emails from the company that the Utilities Advisory Commission saw last month.

"It's a shame because Palo Alto has so many residents who really care about the environment, are concerned about climate change and want to do something to help," Mark Byington, CEO of Cobalt, told the Weekly in an email.

Cobalt, he noted, has "hung in there" and continues to work in the city. There are people in Development Services who really care about what they do and try to serve the community, Byington said.

"But other times personalities get in the way, and it seems to take on a life of its own, and becomes a power play or an adversarial situation," he said.

While Palo Alto's permitting snafus are far from new, they have become more pronounced as more residents switch to electric vehicles, put up solar panels and install energy solar systems like Tesla's Powerwall — a trend that the city ostensibly encourages. The City Council's plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline, banks on widespread electrification of cars and buildings. The city's implementation plan includes the policy: "Increase energy resilience by assessing opportunities for local distributed energy resources, energy storage, microgrid installations, and home-to-grid." The goal, already viewed by many as aspirational, will be practically impossible if the cost of going electric remains prohibitively high for potential customers and area contractors.

The Utilities Advisory Commission acknowledged that at its April 7 meeting when it discussed the city's permitting process and generally agreed that it needs to be reformed.

"This issue does appear to be acute at this point," Chair Lisa Forssell said. "Taken specifically in light of the city's sustainability goals — 80x30, (with) electrification being a major component of that — it's really important to make it as streamlined as possible."

On closer inspection

Contractors and residents offer a variety of reasons for the delays: confusing rules; uniquely rigorous requirements; and inspectors who seem to go out of their way to make the process as long and as painful as possible.

Several contractors, including Cinnamon, speculate that the city has a financial incentive not to approve solar installations. Palo Alto, after all, owns its own municipal utility, which sells electricity to customers. More solar panels and energy storage systems, the thinking goes, means less reliance by local homeowners on the city's utilities.

"I have to hand it to the city. It's commendable that electric rates in Palo Alto are cheaper than electric rates in PG&E. That's great. But the city makes money by selling electricity, and that money goes to support everything going on in the city," Cinnamon said.

David Coale, a solar installer and board member in the advocacy group Carbon Free Palo Alto, thinks the issues have more do with City Hall culture. Coale has been advocating for reforms to Palo Alto's permitting process for nearly two decades. He suggested at the April 7 meeting of the utilities panel that it's time for the city to simply outsource permitting. The city, he said, has proven that it either doesn't want to — or can't — fix the problems.

"It will be difficult to fix it with the same culture and same personnel that are still there," Coale said at the hearing. "And it's an ongoing problem. It's a proven problem that's long overdue to be fixed."

In recent interviews, Coale was one of several contractors who singled out inspector Rhonda Parkhurst, a national expert in electric systems whose passion for imposing requirements that don't exist anywhere else has helped drive contractors out of the city. Some inspectors, Coale said, won't leave a job unless they find something wrong and make you fix it. Parkhurst, he said, seems to go out of her way to make things difficult for solar installers. (Several other contractors echoed that assessment.)

"The torque test that they do on mechanical and electrical systems — no other jurisdiction does that. And if you have Rhonda as an inspector, she'll point at the most difficult panel to reach 100% of the time," Coale said.

The city declined to make Parkhurst available for an interview for this article. Planning Director Jonathan Lait said he is unable to discuss personnel issues involving individual employees, though he noted that the city has recently made moves to reform and improve its inspection process. Under one recently adopted procedure, building inspectors now work in pairs — an approach that allows them to learn from each other and that aims to "reinforce a common approach to customer service."

The city has also taken steps to improve coordination between inspectors from different departments. For smaller projects, a building inspector can now perform inspections that previously required separate visits from Development Services, Fire and Utilities. For larger and more complex ones, the departments are coordinating their visits to avoid having to perform inspections at different times of the day — a move that he said will save customers time.

"We want to perform this work with a focus on customer service that is consistent, professional and respectful of our time and their time," Lait said.

Lait also rejected any insinuation that the city's status as a seller of electricity creates an incentive for its inspectors to slow down solar panel installations. Delaying installations, he said, would run completely against the city's values and its focus on sustainability, he said.

"Rolling out solar energy in the city is a council priority. It's a priority shared by Utilities and the Planning and Development Services departments, and we're committed to serving these efforts."

But environmental activists like Coale, who is working with the city to help reform its permitting process, say the city has historically made it hard to even broach the subject of easing some of the existing requirements.

"When you start, they immediately go to, 'You want us to make it more unsafe?' That's the type of conversations they hold. At one meeting I was called an arsonist — like I wanted to burn houses down," Coale said.

That conversation, however, is starting to evolve. Last month, city staff and the Utilities Advisory Commission acknowledged that Palo Alto's requirements for solar installations are indeed tougher than they are elsewhere and that the city needs to reform — and speed up — its permitting process.

There's little doubt, however, that the city's ownership of its utilities contributes to the permitting snags that customers often experience. Permit approvals in Palo Alto require coordination between the Development Services, Fire and Utilities departments, which until recently often entailed multiple inspections by representatives from the different departments.

In addition to the building permit application, Palo Alto customers are required to submit an interconnection agreement with detailed information about the photovoltaic system for review by the Utilities Department. This review includes confirmation by Utilities that the system meets a long list of requirements, including the ability to shut off the power in each battery or powerwall and a dedicated disconnect system for the photovoltaic system — requirements that do not exist in neighboring jurisdictions.

Don Jackson, who concluded his term on the Utilities Advisory Commission last week, compared the experience of installing a solar installation in Palo Alto and meeting all the interconnection requirements to refinancing a mortgage. At the April 7 discussion, Jackson urged the city to take a close look at these requirements and revise them so as to "optimize the cost of complexity of electrification projects."

"We're really trying to push the envelope on electrification," Jackson said. "We have aggressive goals. We're trying to be a leader to the region, to the rest of the state, to the rest of the country, and our interconnection requirements and code have to support that. ... We're really shooting ourselves and our residents in the feet here."

For Jackson, the issue hits particularly close to home. In a recent interview, he recalled his own experience in looking for a contractor to install an electric storage system at his home.

"When I went to bid, I had who I would consider to be a very qualified contractor in the area say, 'I'm not going to bid your job in Palo Alto because we don't serve Palo Alto,'" said Jackson, who was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the commission. "They don't go into a lot of reasons why, but when you put that experience with what you've heard, it's easy to see why they're saying that. There are easier places for them to do business and they prefer to do business in those areas."

To be sure, customer experiences aren't uniformly bad. Permits to install small photovoltaic systems — up to 10 kilowatts — can be obtained quickly through an over-the-counter process. Larger and more complex systems, however, have to go through the "express" or "regular" process, with the latter reserved for more complex projects, including those that contain multiple systems (such as solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and storage systems). And despite the procedural maze that contractors are often forced to run through, many residents remain committed to electrifying their homes, cars and appliances and to install solar panels.

According to a report from TRC, a firm that the city commissioned to review its permitting process, the city approved 115 permits for photovoltaic systems in 2020, up from 99 in 2019 and 100 in 2018. The report does not list the number of permits it has approved for electric storage systems, though Jackson estimated that there are about 20 such installations in Palo Alto.

Nancy Cohen, a resident of Barron Park, said she was able to get through the permitting process for solar panels at her home in just a few weeks. The process was so easy that the only problem she had encountered with her system was when one of her grandchildren hit the GFCI button, which knocked off power. Cohen, who installed her panels in 2017, said enjoys both the environmental and economical benefits of generating electricity at her own home.

"I go many months of the year with no electric bill," Cohen said.

Jackson also noted that he had no problems with the city's permitting process when undertaking other projects — namely, installations of an electric HVAC unit and an electric water heater — but things became more opaque and difficult when he began to plan out his solar project, which includes panels and a storage system.

Much of the difficulty, he said, stems from the fact that both solar panels and electric storage systems are relatively new technologies. The building code is "outmoded" and does not keep up with the latest advances, he suggested.

"Rapidly evolving space is not something that building codes are optimized around," Jackson said in an interview.

Palo Alto versus the world

The report from TRC, which surveyed 13 county jurisdictions, largely supports the prevalent view that Palo Alto's permitting process is longer, more complex and more difficult than it is elsewhere. It includes a "pre-application" phase, which other cities lack, and a host of requirements that go "above and beyond neighboring jurisdictions," the report states.

These include a dedicated AC disconnect for photovoltaic systems; separate shutoffs for photovoltaics and energy storage systems in projects that include both components; and a requirement that utility applications be submitted during the building permit process, even though key details of the new system — including size and specification — may not yet be finalized.

The TRC report notes that the city's inspection checklists are also "longer than (in) other jurisdictions" and include requirements for a placard diagramming where all the shutoffs are located. The report concluded that while Palo Alto's "over-the-counter" process is comparable to that in other jurisdictions, it's timelines for both "express" and "regular" plan reviews are generally longer by comparison.

Contractors who were interviewed by TRC "consistently reported that inspections for residential PV, EV charging, and ESS were excessively detailed and onerous compared to other jurisdictions, including requirements such as torquing all connections," the report states.

"Because of those detailed inspection procedures, contractors also reported that the electrical inspector often splits inspections for PV systems into two separate visits (not counting re-inspection for correcting errors), contrary to the state mandates requiring a single inspection for small residential PV systems," the report states, alluding to Assembly Bill 2188, a 2014 law that requires a streamlined, over-the-counter process with a single inspection for solar installations with up to 10 kilowatts. (The law still provides for longer time-frames when larger systems are involved.)

The pandemic has only worsened the city's permitting problems by forcing Development Services to close its counters and shift its services online, according to city staff and TRC. Removing face-to-face counter hours, the report noted, "inevitably slows the review process for some permit types and limits opportunities for collaboration and problem solving with customers, within the department, and with other departments such as Utilities."

Lait also suggested at the April 7 meeting that the pandemic has made the process more complicated.

"For the kind of work we would've done in office, we have to do three times as much remotely," Lait said during the April 7 discussion.

Now, in response to complaints from customers — some of whom had been trapped in the permitting system for six months or longer — and commissioners, the city is trying to avoid the pitfalls by encouraging more interactions between inspectors and contractors. Under a new procedure, the city now schedules virtual meetings with contractors whose applications require more than one submission, with the goal of resolving any snag early in the process.

Lait said the city is also reviewing the plan-check requirements from all of the departments and will be posting them online so that contractors "will not get caught off guard."

He acknowledged that better coordination between departments is key. Just recently, Lait said, he spoke to a contractor who was complaining about the fact that three different departments required him to include a disconnect on his system — which resulted in him having three disconnects. After a conversation that involved the chief building official and building inspectors, the city determined that the project actually requires just one disconnect, though another one may be needed in the future if the system is redesigned.

"These are the kinds of things we're working out," Lait said. "We're at a place where we're not out of the woods yet, but over time — and not over a long period of time — I'd expect the system to be a lot smoother than it has been, certainly over the past year, but even better than it was before. Because we expect a lot more applications to come in."

While COVID-19 exacerbated the city's permitting problems, numerous contractors have maintained that many of the issues — namely, the city's onerous requirements and rigid City Hall culture — precede the pandemic and will likely outlive it. The TRC report concluded that Development Services staff "lack clean guidance on plan review for new electrification technologies" and that Palo Alto's excessive inspection practices fail to comply with the state's inspection mandates for photovoltaic systems.

TRC recommended that the city "comply with state-mandated single inspection for PV systems and reduce the burden of electrical inspection by limiting the scope of the inspection to what is accessible at the time of inspection." It also urged the city to "eliminate requirements that exceed code or ordinance requirements" and that the city "improve communications with customers and contractors by consolidating information documents in a more accessible location."

Lait assured the commission that he is taking the report's recommendations and the contractors' comments "very seriously." He said he is working with the Utilities and Fire departments to eliminate the delays that continue to plague the process. He also pledged to talk to managers in the various departments about "what their responsibilities and authorities are" and suggested that recently hired inspectors will help address the cultural issues cited by Coale and others.

"While I acknowledge we still have a lot of familiar faces that are part of our program for a number of years — we also have some new people who are engaged in this and are motivated to make some changes," Lait said. "I'm a little bit more optimistic, but I understand why others might not be, about our ability to make some changes in this regard."

The Utilities Advisory Commission overwhelmingly agreed that the Palo Alto permitting process needs an overhaul, with numerous commissioners recommending that the city bring its requirements for photovoltaic systems into alignment with other cities'. Jackson suggested that the TRC report may have underplayed the city's permitting problems.

"It's not in the best interest of contractors to criticize the Palo Alto planning department on the record," Jackson said. "The report, as decent and good as it is — it's pretty seriously underestimating the size of the issue here."

Michael Danaher, who like Jackson concluded his commission tenure last week, recommended that the city "immediately suspend any requirements that aren't enforced by neighboring jurisdictions." The city, he said, should have "a high bar" for reinstating those requirements, or any new ones that aren't in place anywhere else.

"We need a procedural way to counterbalance institutional tendencies to be extra cautious," Danaher said.

Commissioner A.C. Johnston concurred and said the city should have a procedure for requiring the Utilities Department to "justify" any requirements that are not imposed by other jurisdictions. Commissioner Lauren Smith made a similar point.

"If it's OK in nearby jurisdictions, it should be OK in Palo Alto," Smith said. "That mostly makes sense to me. There's no reason to think that safety is no more of a priority in other local communities."

Lait committed to returning to the commission in about four months with a report about the progress the city has made in streamlining its permitting process. He also assured the commission that the city will address the "truly outrageous" turnaround times of four to five months that some customers have reportedly experienced over the past year.

"If we're asking for requirements that go above and beyond state law, clearly there's an area there that we need to take a look at and see why we're doing that," Lait said.

The need for speed

While Palo Alto is working to speed up its internal process, state legislators are also exploring ways to speed up permitting for solar installations across the Golden State — a key component in California's ambitious goal to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline. Senate Bill 617, which is authored by State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require cities and counties to establish online systems that instantaneously issue permits for solar energy systems no larger than 38.4 kilowatts. Under the proposed legislation, cities with populations of 50,000 and higher would need to adopt such platforms by Sept. 30, 2022. Wiener noted in a statement that numerous Bay Area cities, including Pleasant Hill and San Jose, already use online permitting for solar installations. According to Wiener's office, San Jose has seen a 600% increase in approvals since it upgraded its permitting system in 2016.

During an April 26 hearing of the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, Wiener argued that SB 617 is above all "a climate bill" and suggested that automated permitting systems are needed to help California achieve its climate goals

"Currently only 10% of ratepayers have solar energy. That number needs to triple in the next decade if we expect to meet our clean energy goals," Wiener said before the committee voted 12-2 to support the legislation and forward it to the Appropriation Committee.

Lait said that regardless of whether the bill passes or not, he is interested in having the city explore technology that speeds up the process. Conceptually, he said, doing online permitting for small projects is a good idea, provided that the system can address the city's safety concerns

"I think the idea of leveraging our permitting system in that manner is positive," Lait said.

While the utilities commission lauded staff's ongoing push to speed up the process, neither Cinnamon nor Coale are entirely convinced that these efforts will bear fruit any time soon. Last summer, Cinnamon returned to Palo Alto to perform a solar installation after a nearly decade-long hiatus to see if anything had changed. To his chagrin, the application was still making its way through city permitting as of last week.

He compared the process to San Jose, where his company has completed entire installations within a week. Both San Jose and Saratoga, he said, take between two and three hours to approve a solar battery permit. All Palo Alto has to do if it wants to improve the situation is copy what those cities are doing.

"I have very little confidence that this admirable (reform) effort will be successful," Cinnamon said. "Simplifying the process is something every surrounding community has done. All they have to do is adopt best practices."

Lait said the city is doing exactly that. Staff is now surveying other utilities to see what kinds of requirements they have for things like AC disconnects. Energy storage, he noted, "is a rapidly changing field," and the city wants to make sure that any new systems have proper safeguards to ensure that they can be switched off when employees are checking meters or performing maintenance on its electric system.

"We're doing our best to keep up with technology to make sure we have safe energy systems," Lait said.

Some problems, he noted, had already been fixed. The TRC report cited Palo Alto's peculiar practice of requiring contractors to follow stringent formatting requirements when submitting documents, which includes bookmarking and indexing. Lait said that the city has already scuttled these requirements.

Building officials are also looking at easing some zoning rules to encourage electrification, which may include relaxing setback requirements from property lines to allow electric storage systems and heat pump water heaters in side yards, Lait said.

The city is also committing to getting things done faster, he said. Its newly adopted timelines call for completing small projects within two weeks and to get larger ones approved within 30 days. He encouraged contractors who face complications to email him ([email protected]). He also suggested that contractors who tried to apply during the pandemic and experienced massive delays try again. They will see that "it's a different story" now.

"If it's not, then I've got a bigger problem," Lait added.

Coale, for his part, believes that the city must improve the culture within the Development Services department as part of the reform process. Even if the city follows the commission's direction to require staff to "justify" Palo Alto-only requirements, expert inspectors will always find ways to justify even the most useless requirements. To do otherwise, Coale said, would be to imply that employees had been wrong to impose those requirements. That, he suggested, is unlikely to happen at City Hall.

"The city stands by their people no matter what, to the end," Coale said. "There's no downside to the city if they make it more difficult for contractors, no downside if a contractor charges extra $2,500 for permitting. They don't get dinged in any way.

"The ding comes to contractors or installers and homeowners. They have to pay the price — in time and money."

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Ev charger
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2021 at 9:18 am

Ev charger is a registered user.

Thx for this article. My contractor called twice for a final inspection for EV charger and never got one. Frustrating for people trying to follow rules.


Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 21, 2021 at 9:30 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Good story. Based on my experience installing two PV systems with backup in Palo Alto, it's quite thorough and accurate. Here's hoping it helps motivate improvement in City personnel and processes.


Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2021 at 9:36 am

Neal is a registered user.

The permitting process is totally broken. It's not just about solar installations. I recently remodeled my kitchen and bathroom and had a unconditioned storage shed built in my back yard. Time and time again inspectors made unreasonable requests. The electrician had to deal with Rhonda Parkhurst and I totally agree with following comments made about inspector Rhonda Parkhurst.

>In recent interviews, Coale was one of several contractors who singled out inspector Rhonda Parkhurst, a national expert in electric systems whose passion for imposing requirements that don't exist anywhere else has helped drive contractors out of the city. Some inspectors, Coale said, won't leave a job unless they find something wrong and make you fix it. Parkhurst, he said, seems to go out of her way to make things difficult for solar installers. (Several other contractors echoed that assessment.)

Other inspectors are also over zealous and relish the power they have over the contractors and homeowners. When I protested a unreasonable $2,700.00 requirement to the head of the building department I was told he wasn't going to question the inspectors judgement. I whole heartedly agree with the following statement.

>"The city stands by their people no matter what, to the end," Coale said. "There's no downside to the city if they make it more difficult for contractors, no downside if a contractor charges extra $2,500 for permitting. They don't get dinged in any way.

I hope I never have to deal with the building department again.




Posted by Rhodoreae
a resident of Ventura
on May 21, 2021 at 9:53 am

Rhodoreae is a registered user.

I concur with the statements expressed in this article.
The solar permitting and especially inspection issues have been going on for many many years.

Council needs require that Palo Alto's Development Center's performance should be modeled after the best jurisdictions in the Bay Area!


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 21, 2021 at 9:57 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Love how Mr. Lait blames the problems on working remotely due to the pandemic for problems that pre-date the pandemic and go back years and often decades because systems apparently aren't tested before going live and the city doesn't communicate with its highly paid contractors like those administering the RPP program.

Examples abound but a few include hundreds of people complaining about the parking permit renewal process, my old plumber trying for hours to file for the rebate for a new water heater -- does the city have a clue what plumbers cost with hourly rates WAY more than the promised rebate?? -- the password reset on city surveys, the roadwork/ construction alert app to help drivers avoid traffic backups in the obviously pre-pandemic era ...


Posted by Weifeng Pan
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2021 at 10:29 am

Weifeng Pan is a registered user.

My permitting process went smoothly and quickly earlier this year without me aware of anything because LA Solar handled it.


Posted by jguislin
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 21, 2021 at 10:52 am

jguislin is a registered user.

Great article that really just lays out the tip of the problem. We have multiple neighbors who are dealing with extensive delays because of Palo Alto's permitting office. It has discouraged us from installing solar at our home.
Jonathan Lait says, "Rolling out solar energy in the city is a council priority," implying that our Council has coherent policies to achieve priority goals; that is a mischaracterization of what really occurs. Council should be suffering severe cognitive dissonance since much of what they say is contrary to the actions they take - reduce car traffic / build a new parking garage, discourage SOV commuting / reduce parking permit costs, etc. Leadership falters and we all pay the price.


Posted by Solar Renegade
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2021 at 11:07 am

Solar Renegade is a registered user.

We purchased our solar panels privately and had them installed ourselves with no building permits or inept municipal bureaucracies to deal with.

My brother is a building contractor in the Central Valley and along with his crew of undocumented workers, our panels were completely mounted and aligned with the grid within two days.

We don't waste our time with City Hall and the City of PA has absolutely no knowledge or whereabouts of our doings.

Just go rogue and thumb your nose at these useless paper pushers.


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2021 at 11:10 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

Gennady, great reporting and article! My electrical contractor (who is great) also reported having problems specifically with Palo Alto Building Permitting & Inspection and specifically cited Rhonda Parkhurst and her torque test. No other department on the peninsula does that. Please stop imposing requirements on contractors that none of the other jurisdictions around us have. Also, please dramatically improve the response times.


Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on May 21, 2021 at 11:36 am

commonsense is a registered user.

The building and planning departments have talked every few years about fixing their problems. It now takes almost two years to get a building permit for a new house. Planning is so unpredictable that it may add another year before you can even submit for the building permit. So far nobody has been willing to take this project on, fixing planning and building, and unless someone does, and has the full support of staff and the city council, the problems will persist and continue to worsen.


Posted by Annie B
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2021 at 11:42 am

Annie B is a registered user.

This is so spot on. We have had three different solar systems over the past 20 years, first panels, then battery backed up panels, then more efficient panels. We had to go through many contractors to find someone who would do it. Luckily Cobalt took us on. The requirements are completely over the top, and especially for a city that prides itself on being green. There is no reason it should be so onerous. The Building department is supposed to make sure that houses are safe so the insurance companies can count on our houses being up to code and not burning down and giving us better rates as a result. Instead, it's some weird power process where we are charged the maximum we can be, for poor service. Rhonda P did not provide ANY extra expertise, but instead cost us an extra twenty thousand dollars and 100 extra hours of labor by us and our contractors. For what benefit? She didn't understand basic electrical processes, and it in no way made our system any better then what we submitted. If you re going to be so onerous, at least you could add benefit. The documentation requirements were laughable if they weren't so time consuming. We also had to submit documentation on screws, tools, manuals... it's all over the counter stuff used all across the country. Twice she lost what she had and we had to resubmit. Ugh!!!! It made us completely lose faith in the building department. I miss Bud Starmer, former lead of the department. At least he had reasons for his careful rules and could articulate them.


Posted by Bert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Bert is a registered user.

Yep, this article seems to reflect the experiences of a lot of residents who have gone through the PV and/or energy storage process. My PV system was installed several years ago, and there must have been at least 3 rounds of inspections, with the "failures" being largely trivial things, like fixing the orientation of the "map" showing the house and location of various pieces, adding more labeling (the count is now 15+ separate bright red "caution" and description labels on the various pieces of equipment), etc. Three disconnect switches for PV and storage (not including the main breaker). Not to mention how long the inspection / re-inspection process takes. As a customer, it just takes a lot longer, and there are more visits by the contractors and for inspections - but in speaking with the contractors, they consistently talk about our "unique" requirements.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 12:26 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

We did a remodel about 10 years ago. Our contractors estimated 10 months to do the work. The remodel was completed in almost 2 years due to waiting for inspections and various other permitting problems.

It was so bad that I doubt we will ever want to do any more home improvements. The City wants people to upgrade but makes it very difficult to do so. I have been told that some contractors are refusing to work in Palo Alto.

This needs to be taken up with Council, although they will probably make it worse!


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 21, 2021 at 1:22 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

A friend who used to build one nice spec house a year for the last few decades refused to build again in PA after a horrible and costly experience with the PA Planning Dept and then concentrated on building in Los Altos, Menlo Park and Los Altos Hills instead.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 1:30 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

City Manager Shikada, everyone I know with a project is complaining about permitting and inspection difficulties. It got worse under Hillary Gitelman, and has since devolved into a management problem that needs your attention.

My family tried to get an estimate for solar installation and some electrical upgrades for energy efficiency. The estimates were all were crazy high compared to what friends got in nearby towns because contractors said that they were planning for delays caused by Palo Alto Planning. We decided we couldn't afford the project at the "Palo Alto premium." Not everyone in our town is rich. In fact, many people are struggling to make ends meet.

Mr. Shikada, good managers connect with the people who work for them at every level and they actively connect with customers to understand their perspective. Customer outreach and skilled staff management is needed here. The system is broken. Mr. Lait either does not prioritize or does not know how to fix these fundamental problems in the Planning Department. Some supervisory investigation and guidance appears to be required to fully understand the problems and find a path to fixing them. Please come down for your ivory tower and work the problem. Talk with some customers and contractors who have had problems. Talk with counter staff and inspectors to understand their perspective. Talk with Mr. Lait to understand his perspective and work out a solution. This really cannot continue. The present situation is awful for everyone.


Posted by Garry Wyndham
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Garry Wyndham is a registered user.

My wife and I had been very keen to add an ADU to our property in midtown Palo Alto. She had been one of the last teachers able to live in our neighborhood. We imagined our ADU enabling a young teacher to live nearby. Then we recalled our prior experiences with the Palo Alto planning authorities. We concluded that life is too short for foolish and unnecessary bureaucratic grief. No ADU for us.


Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Left of Boom is a registered user.

It took SIX MONTHS to get permission to connect to the grid from Rhonda after our 3.3kwh system was complete. Palo Alto is one of the least green cities in the area because of this ridiculous process.


Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2021 at 2:35 pm

Andrew Boone is a registered user.

It would be interesting to see just how far behind Palo Alto is falling on solar power compared to neighboring cities. 115 installations per year sounds like a very low number for a city the size and wealth of Palo Alto. Bring some data on installations in other cities to the City Council and perhaps they’ll change their anti-solar policies. Thank you David Coale for your long-term efforts advocating for sensible reforms. This type of work is super frustrating when the city is so unreasonable and so uncommitted to its own stated environmental goals.


Posted by Bearded Solar User
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2021 at 3:00 pm

Bearded Solar User is a registered user.

Beard - I got so frustrated with the Palo Alto inspection situation that I decided to let my beard grow while waiting for inspection delays. I had a smallish system (14 panels) installed by a great contractor starting in late 2018. When the system was not finished by the estimated date (due to exactly what is described in the article - multiple City inspection issues), I decided to let my beard grow as a way of marking time (and my frustration). Several months of delay (and several thousand dollars of increased cost for me) resulted in a vigorous beard growth. (With pictures to document it!). I even remember personally calling some of the City of PA managers named in the article to see what the delays were being caused by. Luckily, my excellent contractor persisted and the job was eventually completed (in a new tax year…) and continues to do well (and charge my car) today.
I heartily endorse the recommendations to change the ‘culture’ of that office - I remember concluding that they were seemed capricious and rather inept at the time but my system was complete and I moved on to other things.
And, I finally shaved my beard when my solar system was done in 2019. (Pictures available on request.)


Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 21, 2021 at 3:03 pm

Carol Scott is a registered user.

Something must be wrong with the culture among City Staff. One would think that a City of this kind would create strong morale among the City staff based on a culture of excellence. It is fun to work around smart colleagues who get things done and are proud of being good at what they do. I wish we had that in our City. The sad part is that a lot of City staff I talk to would like to do a better job, but they are stymied by those above them in the hierarchy. Many would like to treat residents better, but the 'tone at the top' is that the City is controlled by a few large property owners and developers. All else is unimportant. So, the willing Staff are demoralized instead of energized to do their best work. As in any organization, the direction is set at the top -- from Council to City Manager to Senior Staff on down.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 21, 2021 at 4:25 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Carol Scott, absolutely!

It would be special for the highly paid City Manager to respond substantively on the city's their inability to manage programs like this and/or the RPP program that's generating so many posts on Next Door.

It's especially timely now before they rush to "streamline" the now $98,000,000 Fiber-to-the-Home project AND/or embark on a new initiative for the community to talk to each other!! (as per #9 lon Monday's City Council agenda). Web Link

While communicating with each other is ducky and something many of us have already mastered individually ans via neighborhood assns etc. -- it would be preferable to get Mr. Shikada and his direct reports to communicate WITH US in a forum where they actually responded to our questions.

Thoughts? Too radical? Too soon? Too late?


Posted by Mark
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2021 at 4:55 pm

Mark is a registered user.

This article accurately reflects my experience. Palo Alto was responsive, reasonable and timely in permitting and inspections overall, except for the solar panel. It was very hard to convince the installer to agree to work in Palo Alto, and we did run into long response times for permits and inspections, as were required to undertake additional work. For example, we were required to have a structural engineer conduct and document wind shear calculations to confirm that the stand-downs, frame and panels would not fly off in a windstorm. Electrical panels are supposed to be torque set, so that is not in and of itself unreasonable. But, in speaking to several in the electrical trades, they felt that the mentioned inspector treats them on a demeaning way -- i.e., a hostile work environment -- so they don't want to work in Palo Alto and don't need to.

Separately, I would urge the Palo Alto utility department to offer electrical usage meters that display clearly whether the solar panels on the roof are operating or not. (Sometime the inverters go offline.) It was easy to see which way the meter was spinning on the old meters. It is almost impossible to see via the digital ones Palo Alto spec'd. I would have thought that Palo Alto Utility would have specified meters that are designed specifically to display both street power and solar power clearly. (And, our billing should as well.)


Posted by Anna
a resident of Green Acres
on May 21, 2021 at 5:45 pm

Anna is a registered user.

This echoes an experience I had with a solar installation. 1000% agree that the city should outsource the entire permitting department. That my tax dollars fund such smug, inept, bureaucrats who's own agendas and power issues are legitimately impeding people trying to do the right thing and do some good for the planet is absolutely maddening.

Would the council just take a straight vote on this? Do we need a ballot initiative? The latter sure sounds like a lot of work just to get out of a hole we shouldn't be standing in in the first place.

>> Lait assured the commission that he is taking the report's recommendations and the contractors' comments "very seriously."

Why am I not reassured by Mr. Lait's platitudes? In the private sector he'd be long fired before t. but to be fair he may be unable to purge his department of toxic actors so even if he wants results he cannot get them.

Thanks for the article and please keep this in the public eye.


Posted by Seer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 22, 2021 at 1:15 am

Seer is a registered user.

The entire planning department and approval is a mess in Palo Alto. It's slow, they lost our plans, want everything in paper. Paper.

But solar is the worst. We had to work with Cobalt because they're one of the few games in town and so they can charge lots for it. I mean substantially more expensive above and beyond the $2500 extra fee.

Outsource of the department already It will be cheaper for both the city and the residence.


Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2021 at 7:42 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Correcting this approval process would do more toward the goals of our Sustainability / Climate Action Plan than scheming new goals and programs. We might have lofty goals, but if we have a broken process, we can never achieve to good work our community desires to achieve on climate.

Bravo to David Coale for taking the risk to call this to our attention, and to the Weekly for investing the time to help the City move forward on climate.

(An equivalent climate obstacle is the process of shifting from gas water heaters to heat-pump electric based water heaters. The "switch" to these heaters occurs when the old one breaks, yet the City can require up to 8 weeks to permit and inspect a replacement heat pump water heater - not a viable option when the heater is broken. The City needs to partner with their contractors to enable a switch that can occur in a manageable timeframe, otherwise we will never get off gas. Imagine the climate impact if 1,000 water heaters a year upon failure are replaced in Palo Alto by heat pump water heaters. A huge opportunity on climate progress we miss by precluding the switch due to our careful Palo Alto "process".)


Posted by Chris C.
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2021 at 9:24 am

Chris C. is a registered user.

I wish this was fixed. I want to upgrade the solar system on my house (add more panels), but I can't even get a contractor to quote me on it, let alone get to permitting. I can only assume this is because of a lack of contractors willing to work in our city (and the huge runaround our original contractor got when they installed the system I have...).


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 22, 2021 at 10:56 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

Rhonda Parkhurst wrote a manual called: Photovoltaic Power Systems for Inspectors & Plan Reviewers.

When you literally write the book on how to do inspections, you probably hold yourself to a higher standard.

People would do well to buy the book and follow it exactly. Then at least you can quote Rhonda back to Rhonda when she argues with you.


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2021 at 11:48 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

@Anonymous "Rhonda Parkhurst wrote a manual called: Photovoltaic Power Systems for Inspectors & Plan Reviewers."

Actually that manual was written by John Wiles. Search Google or Amazon. A simple search shows she did not write a publication with that title or if she did then it is obscure.


Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help. "


Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm

Steve Dabrowski is a registered user.

Part of the issue stems from inspector's fears of being held responsible for anything going wrong after the work is approved. Many inspectors are called on to sign off on things that are beyond their expertise and to compensate resort to over the top requirements in order to feel safe.

I recall an instance when my company was installing a microwave radio link in another city and an inspection was required on an antenna placed on an existing radio tower. This was a small dish antenna and a pipe mount attached to one of the tower legs using commercial components long common in the industry. I had scheduled the inspection and had driven about halfway to the site for the appointment when I got a call from the city inspector who informed me that I would have to get an engineering firm to certify the installation was done properly because he was not an expert. I replied that I had paid his city for the inspection and that I expected it to be done. He showed up and admitted he had gotten stuck with a job for which he had no knowledge. I showed him how it all went together and he checked the grounding and signed it off-but it just shows that permitting is little more than a cash cow for cities-it adds little value.

In years past inspectors were willing to help by just pointing out issues that might go unnoticed, but power has gone to their heads. The city manager and the managers in the building department should be severely taken to task for this, but don't hold your breath.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2021 at 7:08 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The city declined to make Parkhurst available for an interview for this article. Planning Director Jonathan Lait said he is unable to discuss personnel issues involving individual employees, though he noted that the city has recently made moves to reform and improve its inspection process. Under one recently adopted procedure, building inspectors now work in pairs — an approach that allows them to learn from each other and that aims to "reinforce a common approach to customer service.""

1) Why is Parkhurst still employed there? 2) What else could Mr. Lait possibly need to "manage" his employees? 3) How much does /will this double-teaming of staff cost applicants? 4) What does it take to make the city improve and hold them accountable -- lawsuits for the extra incurred costs? 5) Does Mr. Lait's boss Mr. Shikada have any comments? 6) What's City Council doing about this?


Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on May 24, 2021 at 6:40 am

Neal is a registered user.

The question is......will the building department fire RP or will they circle the wagons?


Posted by Banes
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 24, 2021 at 11:24 am

Banes is a registered user.

Alert! Warning Signs! Does anyone know where these over zealous inspectors came from? I will tell you first hand that there are some county’s & city inspectors where their entire departments are corrupted and takes bribes or you get no permit sign off. Little ever gets done because the Permit Resource management inspectors expect major bribes from the local contractors and homeowners. Sonoma County for well known for this practice.

Don’t waste your time going to their Supervisors, they are probably getting their share also. Go to the elected County or City Supervisors. Collect stories through Social media, Nextdoor, FB or begin a searchable FB page for communicating these crimes of the permit inspectors.

Once it gets out of control, there is no going back. Sonoma County is the most corrupt I have ever seen as their Supervisors and the county sheriff department are all part of it. They issue liens if you have not paid them off (But how do you ask what’s your bribe number right up front) after you have done everything possible to comply jumping through their hoops, getting expensive, unnecessary surveys they still harass you. They probably issued several thousand abatement liens during 2020, a worldwide no work year, rendering as many homes uninsured, un replaceable in wake of the next fire season (or floods) — For which they have no problem calling the federal government for financial assistance, Fema and the national guard routinely every year.

Don’t let pristine Palo Alto turn into “Deliverance” Sonoma County.

Don’t take this, start searchable social media pages. Ask Them right up front what their bribe cost is and make sure you have a recorder on you ha ha.

It is very easy for them to turn corrupt when they are given God like unquestionable powers. Law suits are expensive and so are “experts” but communicating this before it goes entirely south is essential!
DUI in Sonoma County? The sheriffs park in wait for visitors at wine events,


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Over the weekend I heard of one place that has been waiting for inspection/permit to be granted to upgrade and make more safe a children's play area.

It is completely mind boggling that upgrading safety and outdated children's play areas are being prevented by red tape. Palo Alto, get your planning department sorted out!


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

How wonderful that Palo Alto can afford to double-team inspectors to cover up for a poorly performing staffer when we can't "afford" to open our libraries with a full schedule.(I just checked Rinconada hours and found it's totally closed THREE full days a week and only partially open the rest of the time and only open ONE evening a week and ONE weekend day. So much for working families!)

I'd love to see a salary comparison of the librarians and the "Planning" Dept and the solar permitting team that have cost so many people so much time and money!

I also wonder if they're slow-walking those permits to keep the CPAU's coffers full by delaying the transition to solar.


Posted by The Facts
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2021 at 1:11 pm

The Facts is a registered user.

"Power Play. Adversarial. Extraordinary demands not in the Code. Etc."

The neighboring City of Los Altos recently saw the following City agents dismissed the past couple+ years: City Manager Chris Jordan, Asst City Manager Jon Biggs, Building Official Kirk Ballard, Planning Directors David Kornfield and Zach Dahl, City Attorney Chris Diaz. That's just a start as there are several more that were fired. On Council former Mayor Jean Mordo was booted out as was Bruins, Prochnow, etc.

Why?
City agents engaged in power play tinged with racism, bigotry and such against a homeowner.
The homeowner was prohibited from what was permitted in the Code, required to comply with extraordinary demands NOT in the Code and penalized for failure to comply immediately, etc. Meanwhile the City granted permits to (white) homeowners that were prohibited by the Code, approved fraudulent project plans misrepresenting setbacks, overlooked failures to comply with the Fire Code, and retaliated against those who filed complaints concerning those violations. All this was endorsed and approved by four (white) Council members and given legal cover by the City Attorney and his law firm, evidence of which is available via the City's own records and thus irrefutable. Add to that fraud on the Court committed by the City's officials abetted by the City's attorneys (all now former, having been terminated) to which the Building Official admitted: perjury, false testimony, fraudulent evidence, etc.

A Federal Judge stripped the City Manager and Building Official of immunity. i.e., those two are now personally liable. At trial we can expect Mayor Mordo and former Council members and the former City Attorneys, including white homeowners that were part of this conspiracy, to be questioned and held to answer, under penalty of perjury.

All it takes is for one person to stand up and hold the bad actors to account. And that is happening in Los Altos. When would it happen in Palo Alto? Or other cities? And as long as we don't do something these City officials and those we entrust to oversee them (i.e., Council members) would continue to operate with complete disregard for us and our rights.


Posted by Craig
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2021 at 6:32 pm

Craig is a registered user.

The department was a nightmare, inventing requirements in 1992 when I did an addition. Two years ago when I put in an EV charger, permitting took hours of my time an weeks of delay. And, yes, there was the infamous torque requirement that’s unique to Palo Alto! I’m quite confident the electrician charged me more for the hassle.


Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2021 at 3:15 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

I have to agree with the commenter from Embarcadero Oaks/Leland who was commenting about the absurdity of having two inspectors do inspections together when the issue is that inspections take too long. I'm not a genius, but cutting capacity in half is rarely the answer for increasing throughput.


Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2021 at 8:13 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Sounds like we need to change the Planning Department staff and management compensation to minimum wage plus a hefty bonus for each completed project. That will change their culture overnight, guaranteed.


Posted by David
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2021 at 7:05 am

David is a registered user.

I am trying to reduce my energy consumption from the grid and decarbonize my house and cars. I feel like CPAU's renewable electricity program is not good enough since it ties into PG&E's grid which is supplied with mixed energy sources. While the city contributes clean energy and tries to do its part, this still feels like greenwashing to me. Accordingly, I was really excited to install solar panels to offset almost all of my electricity needs and Powerwall units to buffer my usage during peak hours. I was even willing to pay an energy premium even after taking the Federal solar tax credit into account. However, after waiting an entire year from when I signed with my solar installer and being stalled in the permitting process for 6+ months, I gave up and cancelled the project (and forfeited my deposit). Despite my desire to significantly reduce my emissions, I don't know if I have the stomach to try again here in Palo Alto. I would love to see statistics on how many solar permits are requested but end up being cancelled, rather than how many were approved. That would show how badly our permitting process is hurting the City Council's goal for an 80% reduction by 2030.


Posted by The man
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2021 at 12:31 pm

The man is a registered user.

Speaking from Extensive Experience with the Building Dept
There’s 2 basic kinds of Inspectors

The inspectors that want to help and to try really hard to assure a great job is done and are not looking for excuses to fail or insist on work not legally required

The inspectors that is always trying to prove that they are knowledgeable about being able to read the code book but have little or no actual real work experience on the work itself and want to fail so they can return again and again

Unfortunately the inspectors are NOT liable for any inconvenience and or mistakes they make costing the contractor/homeowners more money when they do make mistakes and they do make mistakes requiring extra materials and labor not legally required by code
It’s NOT their money
they only make the following
most inspectors make between $140,000
&
$200,000


Posted by The man
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2021 at 10:42 pm

The man is a registered user.

Costing
Taxpayers over $196,000
Last year RP
Rhonda Parkhurst is just one example of
How insane the Building Dept has become while the city is cutting our children Theater & library hours
Wow I’m sure $200,000 could certainly provide better services to our children
& replace her with outside contract inspectors several individuals have already expressed doubts about her in particular
Why is she still on the payroll
Just curious


Posted by Seer
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Seer is a registered user.

I think I said before. The planning department lost our plans. Their attitude is "FU, your problem", so we replaced the plans and added a couple weeks while they trundled them through + more than a hundred dollars for new paper. Who cares right?

Citizens have no power to complain because they'll stick it to you and we talked to the then-mayor -- he wouldn't touch the issue.

During the pandemic, the city planner came up with the brilliant idea of cutting inspectors. Not only do we pay for inspectors by fees, pay extra via delays ... but the delays cause tax revenues to be lost. Brilliant!

Solar is a whole other issue, but our over-regulated minded, slow and sloppy department increases the cost by thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. The department and city planner could give a rats arse. The city council is responsible for this. FIX IT!


Posted by SKGFM
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 27, 2021 at 6:48 pm

SKGFM is a registered user.

100% agree with this article. I recently had Tesla Solar out and the guy told me the city has basically made it impossible to find a suitable location to put a Tesla Powerwall - has to be so many inches from a window, door, electric panel etc. Tesla told me they will not take on the project. The city is forcing us to burn more fossil fuels with these burdensome regulations. At least we have low electricity rates so let's just keep consuming those non renewable resources.


Posted by Common Sense Speaks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2021 at 7:20 pm

Common Sense Speaks is a registered user.


My Experience with inspectors is that they face pressure from industry and the "The Facts from Crescent" is a bully.

As someone who has dealt with unscrupulous 1 to 10 level of 10 contractors, they all buck at following the minimal rules required to keep our county safe and homeowners safe. Just think of the homeowners who would have bought home unknowingly and/or trustingly over a wetland drained swamp with unstable soil and sea level rise.

The rules are the minimum for safety: fire, earthquake....

Firing these people I hope was done hesitantly.

Pursuing individual inspectors for liability is abusing the judicial system 90% of the time.

Knowing how people in the penninsula can throw their money bag weight around - this is all shenanigans trying to get away with lower quality and safety in building.

Other advanced countries have more rules. Which road the high road or the low road.

GB all those who stand up to bullies esp the city inspectors, and elected officials.


Posted by Common Sense Speaks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2021 at 7:23 pm

Common Sense Speaks is a registered user.


My Experience with inspectors is that they face pressure from industry and the "The Facts from Crescent" is a bully.

As someone who has dealt with unscrupulous 1 to 10 level of 10 contractors, they all buck at following the minimal rules required to keep our county safe and homeowners safe. Just think of the homeowners who would have bought home unknowingly and/or trustingly over a wetland drained swamp with unstable soil and sea level rise.

The rules are the minimum for safety: fire, earthquake.... They are doable. Loss of documents in underfunded departments happens. Guess what paying fair progressive equitable taxes means a better working government administration. They need to be held accountable but also be given the resources they need.

Firing these people I hope was done hesitantly.

Pursuing individual inspectors for liability is abusing the judicial system 90% of the time.

Knowing how people in the penninsula can throw their money bag weight around - this is all shenanigans trying to get away with lower quality and safety in building.

Other advanced countries have more rules. Which road the high road or the low road.

GB all those who stand up to bullies esp the city inspectors, and elected officials.


Posted by Common Sense Speaks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2021 at 7:24 pm

Common Sense Speaks is a registered user.

My Experience with inspectors is that they face pressure from industry and the "The Facts from Crescent" is a bully.

As someone who has dealt with unscrupulous 1 to 10 level of 10 contractors, they all buck at following the minimal rules required to keep our county safe and homeowners safe. Just think of the homeowners who would have bought home unknowingly and/or trustingly over a wetland drained swamp with unstable soil and sea level rise.

The rules are the minimum for safety: fire, earthquake.... They are doable. Loss of documents in underfunded departments happens. Guess what paying fair progressive equitable taxes means a better working government administration. They need to be held accountable but also be given the resources they need.

Firing these people I hope was done hesitantly.

Pursuing individual inspectors for liability is abusing the judicial system 90% of the time.

Knowing how people in the penninsula can throw their money bag weight around - this is all shenanigans trying to get away with lower quality and safety in building.

Other advanced countries have more rules. Which road the high road or the low road.

GB all those who stand up to bullies esp the city inspectors, and elected officials.


Posted by Chris brown
a resident of Community Center
on May 29, 2021 at 7:39 am

Chris brown is a registered user.

I agree 100% with these comments. We had a furnace/AC unit installed and many contractors we contacted refused to bid in Palo Alto due to the city reputation for being difficult to work with. The citys poor reputation probably adds 10-20% to the cost of any construction project due to lesser amount of contractors willing to bid the project.

The city was difficult on our project too. A garden variety furnace/AC installation, the wanted special fuses to be installed that were not required by the California building code. Resulted in a delay in the project which was a pain as it was cold in the winter and we had no heat for additional 5 days.

The head of the inspection department should be fired for his poor customer service attitude. So should the City Councel.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 29, 2021 at 10:42 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"The head of the inspection department should be fired for his poor customer service attitude. So should the City Councel."

So should the City Manager and head of Planning. As for the City Council, it was the previous Council under former Mayor Liz Kniss who insisted that the present City Manager be the ONLY candidate interviewed AND that he be granted an extra year's salary, benefits and pension vesting if he were to be fired for cause or forced to resign under pressure. (Look it up!)

With that kind of money on the table, he's got absolutely no incentive to perform well.


Posted by gherm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2021 at 2:28 pm

gherm is a registered user.

I would agree with most of the comments here about the permitting process but I don't agree about the inspection process. I have done two recent major projects in Palo Alto. Between the both of them I think I've done every type of inspection. When the inspector found something wrong, he/she would explain why it was important or needed. I concurred. There are complete inspection guidelines that lay out what needs to be done to pass every inspection. I find all the inspection requirements to be the same requirements I want for the safety of my residence. There are some additional inspections that other cities do not have. Torque is just one of them. Here's article about importance of torque. It might change your mind about whether or not it's worthless.... Web Link

If a contractor complains about the inspection process, I'd find a different contractor.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2021 at 10:42 am

Bystander is a registered user.

From experience, the problem with inspections is how long it takes. Call for an inspection and it can take up to a month to get someone to come and sign off on a certain stage of a project. If the inspector decides that something very small needs to be done (and it may well be a necessary something), putting it right may be something that takes an hour's work. Then calling for a repeat inspection and another appointment for up to a month. As has happened with us, the second inspector then sees something the first inspector missed and once again it takes a very short time to change, but again a repeat inspection can take a month for the appointment. So 3 months' work time has occurred because of the inspection process.

Inefficient inspection processes are the problem, not the need for inspections.


Posted by funky
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2021 at 8:29 pm

funky is a registered user.

That is not what my experience has been with the inspections at all. Just today I expect work to be done on Thursday and I scheduled for the inspection to be done Friday morning. The longest I've had to wait for inspections is 4 days. As I've said, I've been a owner-builder for two major projects and I've had nothing but great luck with the inspectors. It's the permitting process that I've always had problems with. I've had enough problems with the last project that I could write a book!


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