Of bureaucracy and second-guessing

Carol Lloyd at the Chron wrote a second article about our fun with green building in San Francisco recently, which elicited a mention at SocketSite. The peanut gallery had a variety of comments, which I’ll quickly address here. Someone noticed that our planning drawings were sent back to an “earlier” desk in the review process because they differed from the original drawings we submitted. What happened was that the plans accumulated a number of small changes as they went from desk to desk in the City’s planning departments; this is almost inevitable if you’re not going by the numbers with a standard construction plan. The accumulated changes prompted one of the reviewers to send our plans back to make sure they were still conformant. It’s not a big deal, though the added delay is unwelcome. Another commenter:
I think you can demo a house pretty much to the studs under a remodel permit and essentially build a new house within the existing building envelope under a much quicker remodeling counter permit process.
You can do this, within limits, if you have a sound structure to build on. In our case, the foundations were failing, and my 5-year-old son could push a screwdriver through the wood of the studs. Not exactly a good basis for construction, that. Without exception, all of the people that we have dealt with in the City bureaucracy have been conscientious and decent to deal with. My opinion is that they are overworked and their departments are underfunded, which is a policy matter over which they have no control. Papers do indeed sit on people’s desks, in a few cases for literally months on end, but that’s because the people in question have a corresponding supply of backlogged work to deal with. It seems that a substantial component of our delay has been due to the unfamiliarity of the various planning-related departments with green construction techniques. If San Francisco had a programme in place to expedite green residential construction, as it does for commercial construction, that might make a substantial difference to the efforts of people like us.
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