Building Permit Expediting Explained

Permit Expediting in San Jose & Surrounding Areas


Expediting Your Permits, Permit Expediting 

The ability to expedite your permits or approvals may seem like a scenario which simply involves knowing someone at the City, Town or County and seeking to circumvent the typical processes in order to expedite your permit issuance. In reality that is not the process or the effective method at all. Although knowing the person who will be processing your approvals usually cannot hurt, the real factor for expediting your approvals is first benefited by having a complete package which is “approvable”


Expediting Permits and Approvals starts by understanding the different layers of Departments, Processes and Administrations which will be involved in providing the approvals for your specific project, and how you manage those factors will determine your ability to succeed in expediting your permits.

General Steps: The steps below are the FOUNDATIONAL and BASIC components to expediting your projects Approvals and Permits

HOWEVER we should first start with the understanding of the difference between APPROVALS and PERMITS, as I will be referring to them in this explanation. Basically many of the processes required, in order to securing the ability to build or construct, FIRST involve obtaining various prerequisite APPROVALS. Theses approvals will then ultimately result in the municipality being able to provide the PERMITS. Therefore the processes for a construction project will very likely involve securing various APPROVALS first and then the actual PERMIT is issued at the completion of those approvals. 

FOR EXAMPLE: A construction project which involves some BUILDING EXPANSION work, STRUCTURAL REVISIONS work, and LAND USE CHANGES would most likely result in being required to secure PLANNING “APPROVALS” for the LAND USE CHANGES, ENGINEERING REVIEWS for their “APPROVAL”, and then Building Department project review APPROVALS along with the other APPROVALS, which should finally, and ultimately, result in the ability to obtain the project “PERMITS”.  Therefore it is important to understand that many times projects will likely involve different approvals before the permits are ready for issuance.


Now let’s talk about the foundational and basic components related to expediting your project PERMITS

1. Start with a List

The first step in expediting your permit is to understand which approvals you are required to secure. There are many kinds of permits and/or approvals, such as; Building, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (i.e. M.E.P. Permits), Roofing, Pool, Public works, Land Use, Conditional Use Permits, Encroachment Permits, Temporary Occupancy, Discharge approvals, and many, many other related approvals and Permits.


Some of these permits require you to secure prerequisite approvals from different agencies as discussed above before the primary PERMIT can be issued. For example, a restaurant may be required to secure a County Health Permit; or an Industrial facility may be required to secure a Storage Permit or Waste Generators Permit, or even a Hazardous Management plan or Hazardous Business plan, before a Building Permit can be issued.


These prerequisite approvals should accompany the initial Permit submittal package for the primary construction Permit.  So the idea of expediting a permit starts with establishing a complete understanding of which approvals or permits are required as well as any assisting documents and/or other approvals or prerequisite approvals necessary for the construction permits issuance. Start by making the list, and start that list by evaluating the project in this order: (1) Land Use (Planning Department), (2) Site Development (Planning Department), and then (3) Construction permit (Building Department) requirements.



These Land Use and Site Development approvals are regulated by the Planning  Department and are under the provisions established by that municipality’s Planning  or Zoning Ordinance.


Land Use approvals are just that, the Lands Use or Land operations or Activities which  will be  conducted at a specific property or building, i.e. retail sales, home daycare,  restaurant, factory, parking, garage, storage, warehouse, secondary residence,  hazardous waste storage etc. The Zoning Ordinances (not to be confused with a General  Plan) has a place and a standard for  every Land Use activity within their jurisdiction.  Your Land Use activities will be required to adhere to that same type of standard or  requirements which sig go planning. As example no one wants to see a Hazardous Toxic  Waste Generator locate their next operations next to elementary school. Planning  Department ordinance Land use approvals criteria regulate against this type of  possibility. The same oversight is true for differing types of residential, commercial and  Industrial land uses. Apartment uses verses Single Family Residence or duplexes, four- plexes or secondary units, manufacturing verses research and development etc. The  land use approvals will govern the actual uses for the project.


Site Development approvals govern the development of the site, i.e. buildings, parking, roof screens, landscaping, handicap parking, walks, ramps, garage area, trash enclosures, porches and/or entries, secondary units, gazebos, some decks, pool and pool houses or cabanas etc. for a given land use. We only need to see a stark or strange structure to understand the benefit of good Site Development and land planning approvals. This site development approval will govern the projects scale, structure coverage, overall character of the construction elements and other items but not the construction methods. The site development process might approve an all glass house but the Building Permit process will decide if it can be possible to construct an all glass house. Therefore be careful what is agreed to be built in the site development process. The criterion which is accepted through the Site Development approval process may not be able to be achieved in the Building Permit requirements process. The site Development approval does not care whether the Building permit process can secure compliance to the building codes or not.


Talk to a Planner: If you are unsure of how this topic impacts your project, most Cities, Towns or Counties make available a Planner for this type of discussion. That contact information and available Planner times are usually identified on the jurisdictions municipal website under Community Development or Planning Department. Calling on them is okay. Discuss this with your Planner, most of the time you can get a reasonably close understanding of the potential Land Use compliance and or requirements and/or Site Development impacts or concerns for your project. The Planning Department approvals and/or Permits which your project might need can be estimated at the start of the process. Sometimes the answers which you receive can be off, since this process is not perfect. But, you can always read the ordinance yourself. If you have time you can probably get close on your own and by asking questions. Just focus on the written zoning ordinance criteria.


Another example: If you are just installing a water heater, the Departments and processes for a permit is quite elementary, just Building is necessary (or actually a plumbing permit from the Building Department). But, again if you are seeking to construct a restaurant, many more Departments and processes will typically apply. As an illustration, a restaurant may be required to secure a Land Use Approval for those operations or hours of operations at a given site and/or also a Site Development Approval if there are exterior changes to the building for your project. The location of the facility, the hours of operation, its specific uses, and proposed revisions to the appearance of the building are all examples of separate elements which may result in additional approval processes from the prerequisite departments and then the Building permits process to finish. The topic of Land Use and Site Development permits and other such approvals are regulated and provided under the city, town or county’s ordinances under the specific property’s Zoning Designation criteria.


So what comes first? If you need a Land Use Approval, such as a Conditional Use Permit, or a Site Development Approval, in most circumstances, you will need to establish these Planning approvals prior to expediting a Building Construction Permit Approval.


Many people begin with the focus on the proposed construction initially, only to later understand - after much time has been lost - that the construction process cannot proceed until the Land Use Approval or Site Development approval is completed. The idea of expediting a permit cannot succeed without the prerequisite approvals being issued or started first.


Exception: Some City’s processes are established to address both topics of Land Use and Site Development changes along with the Construction review process as one process. This type of review system can be beneficial to some since the process can be unknown and therefore the integration as single or one application process can be helpful but it can also can be very disappointing as related to expediting because that type of single application process is much more rigid and usually time can be lost if your package is incomplete or if other required elements are not incorporated into the project designs initially.



A Building Permit is required for most construction work.


Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing work (also known as MEP permits) is permitted individually but is usually required to be permitted collectively with the Building Permit if building related work is being performed. The industry understands that some permits such as a Grading Permit and some other related pre-construction permits and site work permits can typically be separated from the main Building Permit work on occasions, but the review for all of those permits are usually combined when a Building permit is involved in the process.


2. Generate Accurate and Complete Plans

Be sure to GENERATE ACCURATE and COMPLETE plans for the project. The Permitting Process involves a Municipal Plan Review Process or Plan Check process for your proposed construction approval. This process is established by using your project plans and your project specifications for the municipal review. The Plan Check Process and resulting municipal Inspections processes is intended to ensure that the completed structure or facility is SAFE, SANITARY, and FIT for OCCUPANCY and USE. Additionally, future buyers will benefit by the knowledge that a level of accountability for the construction has been applied to your building or site and as such reasonable confidence exists in the structure or facility’s compliance because the permits were issued, inspected and then a FINAL inspection affirmed that all works were completed per the plans and the Permit which included all of the related Approvals.


The Approved Permit Plans will be the documents that the builder uses to complete the work but it is also the document in which the City, Town or County will use to inspect the work so that it is affirmed that the work is completed properly. Inspections which are performed are not necessarily completed as a result of the City inspectors’ own experience, but it includes the Approved Plans from the permit process as the standard for their inspections. The municipality will therefore inspect the completed project’s work in order to be certain the work matches the Approved Plan that is the standard. Keeping this in mind will allow you to understand that the process is not just the administration of receiving your documents and then collecting a fee so that the inspector looks at you work for their experienced comment but instead the creation of a document so that the municipal inspectors can confirm the work as designed on your plans which also is creating a historical record for the facility or residence. Therefore, the plans need to be ACCURATE and COMPLETE for the work proposed but also clear so that the inspector has the ability to inspect from then as well. So, in order to expedite the permitting process, consider the simple Design Criteria listed below.

a. Reference the Design codes and year used for the plans; design per those regulations.

b. Always create a simple written SCOPE OF WORK on the cover page which communicates your project work. You understand that the proposed work may only include a door into a nonstructural wall, or a skylight change from an older existing opening or some other task description, but if the actual scope of work is not clear to the plan checker or city engineer; without this written help, the Checker may then choose to move your plans into a formal review process (which may take a considerable amount of additional time, usually weeks) instead of just processing an approval immediately at the counter.


c. Work to include Information which is as simple, basic and is as understandable as possible. Be orderly and basic.


d. If your project does not require Land Use or Site Development related work, identify this in your scope of work statement as such, i.e. “there are not any changes to the building or site’s land use nor any changes to the exterior of the building except …. 

e. Assemble all of the other approvals which are required and have them ready for your interaction with the City, Town or County meeting/s for your expediting of the permit process.


3. Carry in your Package with a Friendly Demeanor

Be Courteous, Friendly and Patient. The process is often imperfect, filled with interpretation, subordinate staff reviews and/or support staff persons for approvals availability can be limited in their available time, which can then slow your prerequisite approvals being completed which are needed for the issuance of the permit. Your patients will be a real benefit. Returning at a later time can always be a necessary event. Additionally with the current budget cuts, position re-staffing and schedule furloughs the process is sometimes slowed and even frustrated by new employees and department deficiencies or changes. Your readiness with a good package and a good attitude will help far far more than it could ever hurt. It is sometimes true that in some circumstances the staff person is in error or incorrect about the process, or your requirements and/or their ability to expedite your permit can be limited for many reasons. 

This can be frustrating, but if you stay on topic, seek to understand their comments or communicated concerns, and continue to openly communicate your understanding and questions, then you will be successfully working towards the expediting of your Approval and ultimately the project permit. Be sure to listen well and be prepared to work towards completing their requests or discussing where you may not agree with their understanding for a decided resolution.


These are only some of the most basics of expediting your permit, but if you can follow these general steps and guidelines you will be able to greatly impact the expediting of your approval exponentially. Permit processes which normally can take months can be reduced to a single day of actual processing for issuance.