Getting Down To The Business Of Doing Business

City Streamlines Permitting And Inspection Process For New Businesses

By Joshua H. Silavent
Staff Writer

November 20th, 2012 – Long Beach officials recently announced a streamlining of the city’s fire and health plan checks, permitting and licensing, and inspection services with the aim of reducing fees, wait times and redundancies for new businesses.

“What we’re trying to do here is create a one-stop shop for one of the most important functions of the city,” Mayor Bob Foster said during a press conference at city hall on November 13.

The city’s development services department, which oversees planning and building functions and permitting and code enforcement, among other things, has been reorganized to better serve customers following years of complaints about inefficiencies, which became more pronounced as the nation’s economic fortunes nosedived in recent years.

Confusing, time-consuming, unresponsive, misinformation and excessive fees are among the typical criticisms lodged by business owners trying to navigate the bureaucratic red tape at city hall. “We’ve heard all of those things, over and over and over again,” Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, told the Business Journal following the press conference. He added that he was excited to see the city finally addressing these concerns.

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Foster said that the city needed to become more proactive in its relations with the business community, acting as facilitators rather than an obstacle. Doing so, he said, “means revenue to the customer and it means revenue to the city. So it’s a win-win.”

Another complaint in the business community was the all-too-common occurrence of receiving contradictory information from inspectors and the resulting lack of coordination.

“Because we now have development inspection services consolidated in the building bureau (excluding the water department and business license), we do have several supervisors overseeing inspections,” Angela Reynolds, deputy director of development services, told the Business Journal in an e-mail.

“They coordinate inspections each morning amongst the disciplines and, also, inspectors are assigned geographic areas in an attempt to keep the message consistent. In the past, because fire and health inspections were in other departments, the message may have not have been consistent. Going forward, we are working with our land management technology to provide daily project management reports, helping to greatly reduce inconsistencies.”

The streamlining and consolidation effort was on display at the development services department, which now includes signage for customers directing them to the appropriate service counter and new brochures detailing the process and checklist of opening a restaurant or retail business in the city. Moreover, this helps eliminate overlapping reviews and separate approvals across multiple departments, city officials said. The result is a 15 percent reduction in fees. Finally, customers needing approval of small construction projects can likely obtain a plan review on the same day as their visit to the permitting department.

“We are trying to make sure you get through the city process as quickly as possible because we understand that is money to you,” said Amy Bodek, director of Long Beach Development Services. “The sooner you get your building permit, or the sooner you get your business license, or the sooner you get to occupy your house, you get to save money and you get to actually produce money, which benefits the city.”

Tracy Ames, owner of the Red Leprechaun restaurant and pub, spoke at the press conference to detail her satisfaction with the recent changes. “The counter experience was great,” she said. “Having the right people in this department helped me to understand the process, and saved me time and effort.”

Officials acknowledge that there is still work to be done to make Long Beach a more business-friendly city and that they intend to continue looking for better ways to improve efficiencies.

“It’s going to take a while to change the big perception,” Cohn said. “But I think this is a very good place to start.”

The Development Permit Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when it opens at 8:30 a.m. Appointments are encouraged. E-mail lbds@longbeach.gov or call 562/570-6194. For more information, visit www.lbds.info.