Letter to Customers
September 3, 2020
Dear DBI customers:
I’m writing today to give you an update on DBI’s permitting services during the continuing health crisis. As more city services reopen gradually and construction activity picks up, we understand how important it is for you to know what to expect when you apply for the building permits you need to perform work.
First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for the delays many of you have experienced in getting your permits and for the confusion around the permitting process. We understand this has been a frustrating experience as you seek to obtain the permits needed to perform construction work in the city and that we need to do better. We recognize that your work is an important part of San Francisco’s economic recovery from this pandemic and vital to you and your families.
The public health crisis has affected many industries and unfortunately, our building safety services are not immune from its impact. We continue to balance the safety of our employees and customers with the need to continue delivering the important building safety services you rely on. Because of the Stay Home order, we moved our largely manual in-person permit issuance process to an electronic process. Unfortunately, the new process didn’t work as intended and increased the workload exponentially on our remote and reduced staff. We now have a significant backlog as a result.
Once we fully understood that the newly implemented electronic plan review system wasn’t working as needed, we shut it down for most new projects until we can significantly improve it. The in-house review applications already in the electronic system will stay in the electronic system, but most new projects will be taken in by paper submissions. Shutting it down was like ripping off the band-aid—it was suddenly painfully obvious that we’re experiencing delays of several weeks. I assure you that fixing this problem is both my top priority and a top priority for everyone at DBI.
We continue to be partially closed to the public, but we are offering limited in-person services as we’ve found that the paper process (which we heavily relied on pre-COVID 19) works better for the majority of permits. You can get more information about the changes we’ve made to how we accept permit applications here: https://sfdbi.org/permitsubmissions.
I assure you that I am laser-focused on fixing permit services and increasing the number of permits we issue per day. We are making progress: pre-COVID, we issued approximately 2,300 permits a month (not including trades permits). In April and May combined, we issued 536. In June, we brought that number up to 1,176, and in July, it was 1,485. I believe that the number of permits we issue per month will continue to go up thanks to the changes we have already made.
Over the last several months, we’ve implemented out-of-the-box strategies, improvements and efficiencies in our process. The key is to increase the number of administrative staff for permit intake and issuance, as the COVID-caused partial office closure has greatly increased the administrative workload. We are hiring more permit technicians who will be starting later this month to help us increase the number of permits we can issue per day. Many of our staff are working overtime, and we’ve reassigned staff from other divisions. We also are hiring an executive-level manager to oversee this effort, and we brought in two more engineers for plan review.
Once our new staff is in place and trained, we plan to work with partner permitting departments to explore how we can increase the number of appointments for Over-the-Counter with plans projects to reduce wait times. We are also working on a number of technology improvements and other process improvements to streamline permit intake and issuance. All of these improvements are well underway, and we expect to see good results in the next few weeks.
We ask for your continued patience as we address the issues causing the permit delays. I was once a contractor waiting for permits, so I understand personally the pain this is causing you and the impact it may have on your livelihood. My commitment to you is that I am doing everything I can to fix these problems as quickly as possible and get you the permits you need to complete your projects.
Department of Building Inspection