Part of City’s Permit Process Goes Online

Permitting for some building functions in San Marino just moved into the 21st century. And tradespeople are sure to be the beneficiaries of a process that has been streamlined, expedited … and moved almost entirely into the realm of cyberspace.
Last week, the Planning and Building Department instituted a new program in which contractors in some construction trades — electrical, plumbing, roofing — will be able to go online to apply for a permit, pay for a permit, request an inspection, receive corrections from an inspector and ultimately be notified that they’ve passed an inspection. They’ll never have to come to the counter at City Hall to shuffle paperwork, or leave phone messages asking for their work to be checked.
“It’s a good thing to be able to do that online,” said Louis Senteno, owner of J&D Plumbing in San Gabriel. “It’s the electronic age. Why not that?”
San Marino has had online functions for the permitting process for some time, but it was a balky operation. Building Inspector Mark Farrell still had to make handwritten notes, which then had to be input into the system back at City Hall. Contractors had to call to request inspections.
The shift into the new age began last June, when the city started using Meritage Systems for some of its permitting operations, according to Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes. It’s cloud-based, precluding the need for servers to hold all the data. And, best of all, it’s mobile. Farrell can go to a job site with an iPad, there to document actions and write notes as to what aspects of the work need to be corrected.
Then, beginning last week, San Marino instituted a Meritage program called ContractorConnect. It allows some contractors to register and set up a profile. Thereafter, they can apply for permits, be issued permits, submit documentation, schedule inspections and receive approvals, all from the keypad of a device.
Construction has been a controversial subject in San Marino over the past couple of years, with vintage homes scraped to the ground to make way for massive edifices. Cervantes hastened to point out that the new online permitting system will apply only to some limited aspects of construction: electrical, plumbing and roofing.
“We don’t want to allow someone to apply for a permit for an addition or a new house online,” he said. “Any permit that doesn’t require us to look at a set of drawings we’ve opened up to this online system. It allows for contractors to be up to date, live, as far as the status of permits. Owners are also allowed to get that live information when they want to find out what’s going on with their permit and whether things got signed off.”
Cervantes also stressed that contractors in these trades will not be “pulling permits” online. They’ll be applying for them. Staffers in Planning and Building will still be reviewing the requests, and giving the green light to a permit if everything is in order.
“It’s great that San Marino is doing that,” said Mike Delaney of Current Electric in Glendale, a company that does work in this city. “You’ve been able to do it forever in Los Angeles. Glendale is just getting started. Pasadena is trying. Most cities will let you ask for inspections online, but it’s the only thing you can do. You can’t get corrections — you have to call for those. This is huge. I love it.”
The program figures to be popular on both ends of the operation. Cervantes said that before, the building inspector came into the office and picked up phone messages requesting inspections. Then he’d swing around to a file cabinet and pull out the packet for each project, reviewing its history and what was needed currently. Then he’d schedule his inspections and plot out his route for the day.
Under the new program, the computer does all of that for him, right to his tablet, even to the point of mapping out the most expeditious route for the day. The city hopes that this might increase the number of inspections it can make in a given day, and perhaps free up the inspector for more office time in the afternoon to address contractors’ questions.
Sentendo, of J&B Plumbing, was cautiously optimistic about the new service. He said he wanted to test-drive it before passing judgment.
“It’s great when the system is easy to do,” he said. “With some cities, I have had headaches: How do I get from this part to that part? Can I schedule an inspection for morning or afternoon?”
But if it proves to work smoothly, “that’s great as far as not having to do the leg work,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily save time, but it is more of a convenience.”

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