As San Francisco meets the broad set of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco’s municipal agencies are implementing new processes to help assure that the measures that have been put in place to keep us safe during this challenging time do not hamper the progress of permitting.
Procedures at the Department of Building Inspection Electronic Plan Review (EPR)
The new online portal for permit submittals facilitates the much-anticipated introduction of Electronic Plan Review (EPR) for Building permits through Bluebeam. The entire department is working together to meet customer requests and facilitate solutions quickly. Smaller projects with limited review needs will be allowed to will resume in-person Over-the-Counter service once the Department reopens, but through EPR, they may also be submitted into a planned streamlined review in early May. With this dual process in place, timelines for processing should continue to shorten, and the public can anticipate commercial tenant improvement, interior demolition, and residential alteration permits to resume to a pre-Shelter-in-Place issuance timeline.
While the procedures for EPR have been in development for several months, the Shelter-in-Place Order necessitated its current, rapid implementation. The Permit Center team and DBI Management provided resources last week that will help applicants become acclimated to Bluebeam and the new EPR process.
DBI provides a detailed guideline for the EPR Applicant Procedure on their website: https://sfdbi.org/electronic-plan-review-applicant-procedure. Additionally, the Permit Center and DBI hosted a 2-hour video tutorial which can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-x0_OAtIYg.
As can be expected with a change in process that is this large in scale, the corresponding reference materials that outline the new processes are very detailed, and some processes are still being finalized. Throughout the transition, the DBI Management along with the Permit Center team have conducted periodic customer updates and Q&A sessions through virtual sessions. The customer update and Q&A, which primarily addressed the implementation of the online portal can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce7bGgR0C3c.
DBI is projecting that they will be able to take submissions to the online portal for all new non-essential projects by early to mid-May. For projects that are being accepted for submittal through the online portal during this time, fillable PDF’s of addenda cards as well as new construction and alteration permit paperwork are linked for easy submission with project plans, calculations, reports, and support documentation.
Another important resource that has been posted to the online portal are the guidelines (found here: https://sf.gov/information/how-create-pdfs-your-plans-or-addenda) for the naming conventions of permit documents submitted digitally as well as the required formatting for plan sets.
Following the new guidelines for the formatting of plan sets that are outlined on DBI’s online portal is necessary to more quickly allow DBI staff to set up an EPR session through Bluebeam. If an applicant wants to submit a PDF of a scanned physical set of plans not formatted in Bluebeam, staff recommends using 96 dpi resolution for optimal functionality within the session that plan reviewers will be working from. The Permit Center team has stated that they will ask applicants who submit plan sets that do not substantially
conform to these formatting guidelines to revise their submittals before staff will move it forward to intake.
The Introduction of EPR and the Bigger Picture
EPR will allow concurrent review of plan sets. For intake submittals, a building permit will no longer move from station to station as it previously did in a paper format. The development of concurrent review promises to increase the efficiency and speed of the review process for building permits. The Permit Center team also suggests that the ability for multiple disciplines to review a project concurrently will be broadly applied.
However, concurrent plan review will not be implemented where one discipline must complete their review of a permit before other disciplines. Consistent with current practices, concurrent review of permits requiring Planning review cannot begin until Planning approvals are granted.
While the City plans to eventually integrate all municipal agencies into the EPR process through Bluebeam, it is currently only being implemented on DBI building permits and by DBI satellite offices of other agencies, such as the Department of Public Works, that directly review building permits.
The Permit Center team intends to integrate permits through the Department of Public Works-Bureau of Street Use and Mapping next, but only after the DBI workflow and integration is complete. Relatedly, the Planning Department is using Bluebeam to review building permits but have not yet decided whether to use Bluebeam for review of entitlement applications.
Updates to Other DBI Processes
DBI pre-application meetings are occurring via conference call. Applicants will have to submit pre-application request letters and PDF’s of plans to Jeffrey Ma (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as PPC staff (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) via email. Applicants must include a list of the email addresses of all participants in the pre-application meeting in order to guarantee that all participants receive an invitation with the conference call code.
Upon completion of the pre-application meeting and receipt of payment, DBI will provide a digital copy of the signed pre-application letter.
During Shelter- in- Place, payments for pre-application meetings and permit issuance can be made to DBI by mailing a check made payable to CCSF-DBI with the project address information. Other payments, such as payment of issuance fees, can be made to DBI by sending funds electronically through the Federal Wire System or ACH. Funds submitted electronically should expect an expedited turnaround time. RJR is available to help your teams navigate these changes and work with DBI to effect approvals expeditiously.
Michael Verity is a Permit Analyst for Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP
The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.