The Portland Permitting Improvement Task Force, a committee appointed by Commissioner Dan Ryan in response to a recent audit of the permitting system, recently released a set of recommendations to cut permitting times by one-third.HBA applauds Commissioner Ryan’s leadership and direction on this issue, but the prioritization of “application quality” causes concern. Commissioner Ryan created the new Permitting Task Force to “significantly streamline the permitting process and build shared responsibility and accountability across each of the seven development review bureaus.” The task force has only prioritized 2 of the 10 adopted objectives so far, but that prioritization raises questions of the lens through which the committee views the problem. The first objective is “for city bureaus to do the work needed to better enable customers to understand what needs to be included with their permit applications, thus reducing the number of applications rejected for insufficient information and eliminating the delays that occur as a result.” Although HBA agrees this is important and will help reduce resubmissions and wasted staff resources, it is the default and easy answer in most jurisdictions when permitting timelines become unreasonable. An answer that usually doesn’t lead to the wholesale change needed to correct systemic problems within the bureaucracy, nor any significant long term improvement in project timelines. “This is akin to handing a customer one hundred pages of rules of how hamburgers are made then asking them to make sure they submit an order that aligns perfectly with the process of production rather than looking for ways to simplify how the hamburger is made,” says HBA Director of Policy and Government Affairs Ryan Makinster (email@example.com). He goes on to say “by making this the highest priority, it implies a status quo rather than customer focused approach.” HBA hopes that as this effort moves forward simplifying the process and consolidating review will take higher priority, thus minimizing the need to educate applicants. The second priority is “for the city’s permitting bureaus to improve performance management.” Although not defined in publicly distributed documents, the general concept seems to lean into the task force's mandate to “build shared responsibility and accountability,” but more information is needed to understand what the intent of the objective is. The remaining objectives outlined by the taskforce, but not yet prioritized: - Create a conflict resolution convener among the seven bureaus involved in permitting (Development Services, Environmental Services, Fire and Rescue, Housing, Transportation, Urban Forestry (part of Portland Parks and Recreation), and Water); - Reduce the number of simultaneous permitting initiatives and prioritize improvement initiatives; - Expand the BDS technology team’s capacity so that collectively there can be faster progress in modernizing services across the seven bureaus involved in permitting, and then support all of these new online services; - Create a holistic, inter-disciplinary team approach to permit review, organizing review teams around project types; - Update and expand Code Guides; - Develop separate permitting “tracks” depending on project complexity or type, and applicant experience, so that customers who need more assistance are getting that help, and other customers who know the process and requirements are doing their own quality control of their submittals and their projects are not “in line” behind projects needing more help; - Clarify roles and responsibilities to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency (for example, Portland Fire and Rescue reviewers review for some of the same requirements as life safety plans examiners in the Bureau of Development Services); - Complete “Streets 2035,” a multi-bureau project to resolve common conflicts and competing policies for improvements in the limited space in the public right-of-way. Currently, the process is linear in scope with the second objective following the first, although it remains to be seen if this will continue through all 10 objectives. The task force will convene every six weeks to receive progress reports from the bureaus and decide what to do next. Although HBA is concerned about the initial prioritization of tasks, Commissioner Ryan’s commitment to addressing the inefficiencies and redundancy in the system is cause for optimism and hopefulness for the industry. For more information on HBA’s work in Portland, contact Ryan Makinster at firstname.lastname@example.org.