Inter-Departmental Correspondence





August 30, 2005


September 20, 2005


None required





Honorable Board of Supervisors



Marcia Raines, Director of Environmental Services


Lisa Grote, Director of Community Development



Response to Phase One of the Planning and Building Task Force Report





Accept the Report on Phase One: Internal Improvement Plan for the Planning and Building Division.



Authorize the Division to implement the recommendations including meeting and conferring with affected employee organizations.




Commitment: Responsive, effective and collaborative government.


Goal(s): (20) Government decisions are based on careful consideration of future impact, rather than temporary relief or immediate gain. (21) County employees understand, support and integrate the County vision and goals into their delivery of services. (22) County and local governments effectively communicate, collaborate and develop strategic approaches to issues affecting the entire County.




On June 21, 2005, the Planning and Building Task Force issued a report addressing concerns about the Planning and Building Division of the San Mateo County Environmental Services Agency. The Task Force included members of the community at-large as well as representatives of the Board of Supervisors and staff from the Division (see June 21st Planning and Building Task Force Report for list of full Task Force membership).


The Report addressed concerns regarding the length of time it takes for planning entitlements and building permits to be reviewed and acted upon; duplication of effort within the Division; accuracy of the information dispersed by the Division; coordination with outside agencies; workload; staffing levels and employee morale. The Task Force had nine essential conclusions about the Division including: the Division staff is talented and hardworking, but workloads are too high and the review process lacks time certainty. As a result of the workload, individual staff members are difficult to reach and information on the status of projects is difficult to obtain. This pattern leads to dissatisfaction and frustration amongst applicants, staff and others interested in the application. There are additional delays in the permit review process due to outside agencies and advisory committees that also evaluate applications. These delays are compounded by outdated rules and regulations that are difficult to understand and apply. The combination of the above factors leads to a frustrated public and demoralized staff.


The Task Force divided its recommendations into three phases with a timeline attached.


    Phase One: Internal Improvement Plan, to be presented to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) by September 30, 2005.


    Phase Two: Public Service Improvement Plan, to be presented to the BOS by December 31, 2005.


    Phase Three: Work Plan for Comprehensive Update of Regulatory Codes, to be presented to the BOS by March 30, 2006.


The focus of this report is on Phase One of the Task Force Report, Internal Improvement Plan.




The Task Force identified three recommendations that it believed must be included in Phase One: Internal Improvement Plan (page 12 of the Task Force Report). These recommendations are:



Returning to a 30-40 project workload per planner;



Provisions for administrative decision-making; and



Increased opportunity for advancement within the Division


The recommendations made by the Division in this report correspond to and are cross-referenced with the recommendations in the Task Force Report and address:



What the Division Has Done Already;



What the Division Can Do with Additional Resources



Immediate Recommendations



Longer-term Recommendations


Task Force Recommendation No. 1 – Returning to a 30-40 project workload


The Task Force identified several ways to implement this recommendation including hiring short-term contract planners, hiring additional permanent staff; temporarily using Long-Range Planners to review and process planning entitlements; and clarifying the duties of administrative staff so that planners are not responsible for support functions such as mailings, plan routing and packet compilation (see discussion on page 13 of the Task Force Report).


What the Division Has Already Done:

Hired Contract Planners

The Current Planning Section has hired three consulting firms to assist in processing the project backlog. Each firm has a $15,000 contract for a total cost of $45,000. The firms are currently processing 20 of the 100 backlogged applications. The Senior Planner in Current Planning manages the consultants and spends approximately five hours a week reviewing their work. The consultants are nearing completion of the assigned work and will be expending their budgets within the next month. The Division has money in its current budget to fund a $20,000 extension for each firm for a total extension expenditure of $60,000. This extension will fund the consultants through the end of the 2005 calendar year.

Reinstituted Internship Program

The Division has reinstituted its Internship Program and currently has a planning intern from San Francisco State University who is assisting the Design Review Officer with design reviews, field checking and administrative tasks. Interns are currently unpaid and this limits the number of students interested in the program.


What the Division Can do With Additional Resources:

Immediate Recommendations:

Continue Using Contract Planners to Process Project Backlog

Extending the consultant contracts through calendar year 2006 will allow the consultants to continue reviewing and processing the project backlog. Continuing with contract planners will result in the need for another $120,000 ($40,000 for each firm for calendar year 2006). The target date for eliminating the project backlog is December 2006.


Hire a Senior Planner in the Current Planning Section.


A conservative estimate is that there are 450 active planning applications in the Current Planning Section. With ten full-time planners in the section, each planner is responsible for at least 45 projects. The goal set by the Task Force is to reduce the project workload per planner to between 30 and 40 projects each. Adding a Senior Planner to the Current Planning Section would result in an average workload of approximately 41 projects per planner. The number of projects per planner could be brought into further conformance with the Task Force recommendations by adding additional Planning staff upon completion of a Division-wide organizational study as recommended below under Long-Term Recommendations. The cost of adding one Senior Planner is $127,000 annually including benefits.


Hire a Permit Coordinator in the Building Section.


There were approximately 14,450 visits to the public counter in 2004. This averages about 70 visits per workday. The three existing Permit Technicians cannot manage this level of activity at the counter, especially during peak periods, and as a result the public can wait up to two hours to meet with a Technician. Staff at the counter does not have time to leave the counter area to find back up assistance from other employees nor is anyone specifically assigned to track a building permit application once it is submitted.


The Division recommends adding a new position entitled “Permit Coordinator” who would be responsible for tracking building permit applications, coordinating with internal and external reviewers to ensure that comments are received on time, producing monthly reports on the status of permit applications, being the primary point of contact for applicants and the general public on building permit applications, and overseeing the operations of the public counter including staffing levels during breaks, vacations, and illnesses. The cost of adding a Permit Coordinator position would be $85,000 annually including benefits.


Change One Office Specialist Position to a Permit Technician Position.


The Division also recommends changing an Office Specialist position to a Permit Technician so that the staff member can assist with processing faxed permits and can staff the public counter when needed. This would result in four Permit Technician positions within the Division and would cost $10,000 annually for the upgraded salary (benefits are in place currently and would not change as a result of the upgrade).


Allocate Contract Money for Civil/Structural Engineer


Building staff reviewed and issued 2,400 building permits in 2004. There are 800 building permit applications currently waiting to be reviewed. There are two staff members who review and process these permits. One is a structural engineer and the other is not. Having only one structural engineer to review all engineering details presents a time management and workload issue for the structural engineer and creates long processing timelines for building permit reviews. Hiring a second structural engineer on a contract basis will assist in eliminating the backlog. The Division also recommends that this issue be revisited as part of a Division-wide organizational study and that the need for adding more Building staff be considered as part of that study. Adding contract money for a structural engineer would cost $125,000 annually.


Redistribute/Clarify Administrative Tasks:


The Task Force recommends redistributing some of the planners’ administrative duties to administrative/support staff. The Division is committed to identifying and reassigning support tasks that can be transferred from the planners to the administrative staff. These duties/tasks will be clearly identified in writing and will be accompanied by written procedures about how to do the task. This recommendation will not add cost to the Division budget. The target date for completion is December 2005.


Implement a Paid Internship Program:


The Division recommends implementing a paid internship program, which would pay a student or recent graduate up to $15.00 an hour for 20 hours a week for three months. This would cost $3,600 a year and would increase the number of students interested in the program.


Longer-Term Recommendations:

Retain Contract Planners on an On-going Basis.

Retaining contract planners will enable the Division to assign projects to them on an as-needed basis which will further ensure that each permanent planner has a work load between 30 and 40 projects as recommended by the Task Force. This would cost $75,000 annually but would not start until 2007 and is therefore not included in the Fiscal Impacts section of this report.

Conduct Division-wide Organizational Evaluation.


The Division recommends that a full organizational evaluation be completed during the next three months and that the conclusions be presented to the Board as part of the Response to Phase Two of the Task Force Report in December 2005. The analysis may result in recommendations for adding staff to the Division over and above the recommendations in this report for two new staff positions.


The Division organization, reporting relationships and work assignments are integral to its long-term success. It is not currently organized in a manner that enables it to handle the demands placed upon it (see Attachment A for a more complete discussion of the Division organization). There are two examples that illustrate this conclusion. The first is in the Development Review Services Program of the Division. This Program includes 61% of the Division staff (28 of 46 employees) but is expected to handle approximately 95% of the workload (approximately 450 active planning entitlements with approximately 2,400 associated building permits). It is unrealistic to expect 61% of the staff to handle 95% of the Division workload. In addition to handling 95% of the workload, the manager of the Program is responsible for 27 employees. One of the supervisors in the Program has 14 direct reports and another supervisor has nine direct reports. These are unreasonably large management responsibilities. Although recommendations are made in this report to add staff to the Development Review Services Program immediately, along with contract services, the organization of the program needs further evaluation. The organization should accurately reflect the manager’s level of responsibility and equitably distribute the supervisors’ workloads.


In comparison, the Long Range Planning Services Program has 11% of the staff (5 of 46 employees) to handle 5% of the projects (28 long term studies or updates of policy documents and zoning regulations), but almost 60% of the Program staff (two and two-thirds employees of the five) are available for new planning assignments on a limited basis, for reasons discussed in Attachment A. The result is that two and one-third positions are responsible for approximately 20 of the 28 long-range planning studies and policy updates. It is unreasonable to expect two staff members to handle the majority of the long-range planning workload. In addition, the County funds one-third of the section manager’s time, while a separate agency reimburses the County for two-thirds of his time. It is unreasonable to expect one-third of a management position to supervise two full-time planners. The staffing levels and relationships with outside agencies need to be further evaluated for the Long Range Planning Services Program of the Division.


Task Force Recommendation No. 2 – Provisions for Administrative Decisions


The Task Force recommends that projects that do not require a lot of time or attention be processed at an administrative level. These projects will allow quicker turnaround times and give planners more decision-making opportunities (page 12 of the Task Force report)


What the Division Has Already Done:


Identified the Types of Permits it Currently Can Approve at Staff Level.


Staff level administrative approvals include:


    Bayside Tree Removal Permits

    Coastside Tree Removal Permits

    Coastal Development Permits (some)

    Resource Management Permits

    Home Exception Permits

    Architectural Review Exemptions

    Lot Line Adjustments

    Confined Animal Permits

    Fence Height Exceptions

    Grading permits and Exemptions

    Timber Protection Permits


Although the initial decision for the permits listed above is at staff level, all have an appeal period so that anyone in disagreement with the decision can appeal it and have it reevaluated by a hearing body.


What the Division Can Do:


Evaluate further planning applications that can be issued at a staff level and building permit applications that can be issued “over the counter”. Target date for presenting these to the Board is December 2005.


Task Force Recommendation No. 3 – Increase Opportunity for Advancement Within the Division


Staff retention and increasing opportunity for advancement within the Division is the third area the Task Force believes must be addressed in the Internal Improvement Plan (page 12 of the Report). The Task Force identifies turnover within the Division as one of the primary problems it faces (pages 8, 14 and 15 of the Report) and outlines recommendations for helping retain staff (pages 12 and 14 of the Report).


What the Division Has Already Done:




The Division has reinstituted an upgraded training program for new hires. In addition, Division staff will be augmenting the program with in-house training sessions and discussions on internal processing requirements, Board and Committee support, permit streamlining requirements, General Plan and Local Coastal Plan policies and objectives and zoning requirements. Goals for attending outside training classes will be included in staff professional development plans for topics pertinent to their jobs including: CEQA, Subdivision Map Act, Code Enforcement techniques and procedures; and the Uniform Building Code (UBC).


What the Division Can Do With Additional Resources:

Implement a Cross-training Program

The Division will develop a cross-training program that enables Long Range Planning and other interested Division employees to staff the public counter. Having Long Range Planners at the public counter would reduce the number of hours Current Planners spend there and increase the time available to work on current planning projects. This cross-training will not add cost to the Division budget. Target date for implementation is December 2005.


The Division will also cross-train Building Permit Technicians and future Planning Technicians so that the waiting time at the counter is reduced for the general public. This cross-training will not add cost to the Division budget. The target date for implementation is March 2006.


Increased Intradepartmental Communication:


The Division will be holding regular meetings so that the different sections within the Division can update each other about major projects or issues and can discuss the implications of these with each other. The Current Planning staff and Building Inspection staff will be meeting together monthly and the entire Division will be meeting together quarterly. Some sections within the Division already meet regularly and that practice will continue.


Modify titles in Planning and Building to Represent Progress Through the Division and Develop Benchmarks for Achieving the Next Level.


The Division will be exploring this opportunity as part of a Division-wide organizational study and report back to the Board in December 2005.


Employee Incentives and Recognition Program.


The Division staff will be meeting with the Employee Relations staff to develop an employee recognition plan. That plan will be presented to the Board in March along with Phase Three of the Division’s response to the Task Force Report. There will be minimal cost associated with this program. An estimate will be presented in March 2006.


Improved Work Environment and Floor Remodel


Although the Task Force did not specifically comment on the physical work environment in its Report, it is an important part of conducting business. The Division recommends obtaining estimates for remodeling the second floor and coordinating with the County Manager about funding the remodel. An estimate will be presented in March 2006.


The Planning and Building Division is located on the second floor of the building at 455 County Center. In addition to the 46 employees in the Division, approximately 14,450 people visit the second floor every year. The lobby area is small and cannot seat many people at one time. The design of the public counter is inhospitable with a height that requires members of the public and staff to stand for prolonged periods of time. Some staff stand all day assisting people at the counter. The receptionist’s area is awkward and extends unnecessarily into area that could be used for the public. Meeting rooms are scarce and those that exist are small and only semi-private.


The carpeting throughout the Division is threadbare and permanently discolored from years of heavy use. The walls have not been painted for close to 15 years. In general, the atmosphere on the floor is outdated. It is not a physical setting conducive to attracting or keeping new and existing talent. Nor is the floor a pleasant place for the public to conduct business. The Division recommends remodeling and updating the entire floor.




The fiscal impact on the General Fund of implementing Phase One responses is $470,600 annually. The Division anticipates that the Development Review Services Program will be self-sufficient in three years and the annual General Fund allocation will no longer be required. The amount needed from the General Fund is allocated as follows:


The cost of hiring one Senior Planner = $ 127,000 annually, including benefits


The cost of hiring one Permit Coordinator = $85,000 annually, including benefits


The cost of changing one Office Specialist to a Permit Technician = $10,000 annually


The cost of retaining contract planners = $120,000 for calendar year January-December 2006


The cost of hiring a contract structural civil engineering firm = $125,000 annually


The cost of implementing a three-month paid internship program = $3,600 annually


The Division will return to the Board in December 2005 with the Appropriation Transfer Requests, Salary Ordinance Amendments and required contracts for the above positions and consultant contracts.


The cost of remodeling the second floor is unknown at this time but will be presented to the County Manager and Board in December 2005


The cost of additional staff requests as a result of the Division-wide organizational study is unknown at this time but will be presented to the County Manager and Board in December 2005.





Organization of the Planning and Building Division