Community Commentary: Better government includes changes for building department

February 24, 2011|By Leslie Daigle

Most people object to a long, tedious journey to get what they need done from government. Excessive regulation increases the costs of government and prolongs the review period. Effective, "Good to Great" restructuring going on at City Hall — endorsed by the council and carried out by our able senior management — includes eliminating unnecessary regulation and helping citizens achieve their goals within the context of appropriate regulation.

The city of Newport Beach is not immune from administering obsolete or excessive regulations and is taking corrective action stemming from its initial review of planning and building regulation.

Regulation has an appropriate place. City planning referees the use of space for orderly development. Building is a bulwark for safety to ensure walls and roofs are strong enough for this region. To some extent, the city is bound by state regulations not of our own making.


Numerous changes to procedures in the Building and Planning Department were implemented during the past several months to improve customer service. Examples include:

•Acceptance of electronic signatures on plans for permit issuance: Previously, drawings were not approved if plans did not have "wet signatures." This change in procedure results in greater convenience for our customers as well as time savings for some projects.

•Checklist requirements for submitting plans and plan check correction lists have been substantially reduced and simplified.

•Roof ridge height certification was eliminated for unnecessary applications. In the past, all new construction and second-story additions throughout the city were required to have roof height certifications by a licensed surveyor.

Even flat-roofed homes substantially below maximum zoning heights were required to obtain these certifications. In some portions of the city, where one-story, 14-foot height limits were part of the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, a surveyor was required to certify the roof was less than 24 feet from grade.

The policy has been changed to require certifications only when they are needed, such as homes proposed at the maximum permitted zoning height.

More changes are in the works. A new customer-friendly website, to modernize activities, will be launched in a couple of weeks. We will accelerate the use of technology — like electronic plan submittals — to take our organization from good to great.

The new City Hall has a "one-stop shop" to focus almost all permit activity at one counter (a permit at the old City Hall could require a visit to four counters).

The interpretation of regulation can be reasonable or unreasonable. The interface of public employees administering regulations is where friction takes place.

We are aware that eliminating obsolete regulations is not enough.

In the end, it's how employees interact with the public that leads to how the public views their government. Can you say Department of Motor Vehicles, Amtrak, United States Post Office?

As embodied in "Good to Great," the restructuring of our city government means getting the right people on the bus, in the right seats, and getting the wrong people off the bus. It's serving the public with grace and civility.

The city's Quarterly Business Report — an update of city business — will report on-going refinements to regulations.

LESLIE DAIGLE is a Newport Beach city councilwoman.

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