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The city has closed a bidding period for suppliers to bid to install a new automated system, which is expected to shorten the permit approval process for the Department of Planning and Permitting by nearly three months.
The tender was released in September. 8. DPP spokesman Curtis Lum said in an email that the department won’t know how many suppliers are bidding on the project until after Friday, when the period ends. Only paper bids will be accepted.
The city hopes to install the new system by October. Put into use before 15th 10th. 31 employees were trained.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the move was to address the department’s long wait times for permits. It also comes at a time when the DPP is undergoing a leadership change following the resignation in early September of former director Dean Uchida over disagreements with Branjadi over how to improve the challenged department.
“The pre-screening process basically takes just over five months… We think once we catch up on the backlog, we can do it in a day,” Blangiardi said. “We think the backlog could be a week to 10 days at most. Time will erase it.”
More than half of the permit applications reviewed by DPP staff during the pre-screening process were rejected and sent back to the applicant for additional information or corrections. It is hoped that the automated process will allow DPP staff to focus on more complex applications and applications ready for processing.
Pre-screening primarily checks the format of the permit application for easy review in the next step, during which DPP staff checks compliance with city codes and ordinances.
DPP officials will not comment on how the new pre-screening system will work until the procurement process is over. However, as required by the municipality, the system should be able to automatically check applications to ensure they meet DPP guidelines for report page size, adequate space for DPP stamps, correct file names, drawing numbers and other parameters.
The tender also requires suppliers to train DPP employees to implement the new system.
On average, it takes about 246 days (or more than eight months) from submitting a permit application to approving and issuing a permit, according to a presentation by DPP staff at a city council zoning and planning committee meeting on Thursday.
Currently, when a permit application is submitted, it waits an average of 110 days in the pre-screening queue before being reviewed by DPP staff, which can take up to 10 days, the department said. After that, applications wait an average of 81 days in another queue before being reviewed by staff for codes and regulations, which can take about 34 days.
The permit can then take up to 10 days to be approved and issued, which includes charging the applicant.
The DPP said the new automated system should reduce the pre-screening queue and review time to two days. However, faster pre-screening means permit applications can pile up for code and regulation review, with the cohort increasing from 81 days to 129 days.
The code review process stays on average for 34 days, but approval and release should only take one day, not as long as 10 days.
All told, the DPP said the new automated system would cut the entire permitting process by 79 days.
DPP Acting Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna explained that normally during the 34-day code review phase, applications are returned to applicants for further work, not DPP staff.
“Eighty-three percent of the time, because when those plans go through and the examiners look at them, they comment on what needs to be fixed or changed, and it goes back to the applicant,” she said at a committee meeting on Thursday.
“So this time, even if it’s being counted, it’s about the applicant, they’re making a change, or maybe they’re sticking with it. That way you can get a better idea of the timeline,” Takeuchi Apuna said. “It’s not just stuck in the DPP … applicants are constantly making changes, and it’s going back and forth.”
Clayton Shimazu, head of DPP customer service, added that while the new pre-qualification system is expected to shorten the entire permit application process to 167 days, it can still be streamlined. With more staff, the 129-day code and regulations review queue could be reduced, he said.
The DPP is filling 80 vacancies and creating new ones.
Ideally, Shimadzu hopes to see permit processing times further reduced to 100 to 120 days next year, but he said it will take time to train new employees.
“I have a challenge in front of me, but I can’t do it myself. I need these people, we need to understand that this is not instant pudding, (it) is six months of training,” he said.
BLANGIARDI praised Takeuchi Apuna for her performance as acting director and her understanding of the issues facing the DPP.
“We have a lot of really good people in the DPP who really understand their business and are able to engage them, get them involved in the process, and also work externally, because for the stakeholders there, not just Business accounts but overall, there is a lot at stake in this department. That’s the kind of collaborative leader I want,” he said.
The mayor said he believed the DPP issues could be “internally through the existing staff and leadership within the department … the feeling before was that we could do this with all the external advisors, and in the philosophy There are just different opinions.”
Assemblyman Esther Kiaaina urged Takeuchi Apuna to fill two vacant deputy director positions, one created when Takeuchi Apuna was named acting director and the other when Eugene Takashi left the department earlier this year.
The DPP also lost chief innovation strategist Dennett Maruyama, who left with Uchida.
Katia Balassiano, the department’s chief of land use licensing, is also expected to leave soon. She has been at the center of controversial bills related to shoreline management, such as Bill 41, which would add setbacks to newly developed shorelines.
Another measure, Act No. 42, will adjust the law in special areas of management.
The department also introduced major reforms to urban land use regulations through Bill 10 and began implementing a new short-term rental law passed in April.
Kiaaina questioned the DPP’s ability to push through Bills 10, 41 and 42 next year because of what she called the “chaos” happening within the department.
Takeuchi Apuna assured her that the DPP was capable of continuing the measures.
“I think if people outside the DPP are concerned that there isn’t enough outreach or community engagement with these legislation, I understand that, but again I think the department itself and our ability to move forward with these legislation, it continues. All three are full of confidence,” she said.
At a forum with the American Institute of Architects in Honolulu on Thursday, Blangiardi said more conversations are needed on Bills 41 and 42, and asked Brandon Elefante, chair of the Commission’s Zoning and Planning Committee, to suspend both measures, which he said Elefante agreed.
“We think it absolutely needs more evaluation. I think we’re trying to respond to a topic that we think is very real,” Blangiardi said, adding that while the proposals are well-intentioned, they could lead to “ Some really unintended consequences.”
“Every time we turn around, there’s something that makes us take climate change more seriously, but we don’t want to have legislation that doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The Special Committee Zoning and Planning Committee will meet on Monday to consider Bill 10, Comprehensive Land Use Reform.