Board overhauls permit process

At a special meeting Friday, the county Board of Supervisors decided to perform administrative surgery. The patient? A building permit process that has been the bane of Butte County builders and developers for decades.

Dissecting the three county agencies that are now involved in issuing building permits, the board voted to bring elements of the Public Works and Public Health departments under control of the Department of Development Services (DDS).

Though there has been some slight grumbling recently from anti-development types over what they perceive as fast-tracking permits, county-commissioned studies dating back as far as 1991 have recommended that the process be streamlined. The department has long been the subject of complaints from builders and developers who say the permit process is slow, cumbersome and sometimes unfair.

“We’ve all heard the horror stories,” said board Chairman Curt Josiassen, after listening to a speaker tell the board about a situation in which a seemingly simple building permit took more than six months to get approval.

Out of six options, ranging from leaving the DDS as it is to creating a one-stop permit shop under a single director, the board chose what staffers have called a “fully integrated model.” The move takes the building and planning services that are already run by DDS and joins them with the land development component of the Public Works Department, along with the well and septic tank division of the Public Health Department’s Environmental Health Unit.

Not everyone agrees that reorganizing the department will solve its woes. Some who spoke at the meeting suggested that the problems with the department were due to low morale, high turnover and a lack of direction for department staff, suggesting that those problems could potentially be dealt with without recreating the whole department.