Some government employees are terrible and they make it seem like they alone are the reason for all the issues in government work. We should be able to fire them more easily. There absolutely should be a way to get rid of them. But that’s a whole other can to open. I am going to argue that they actually aren’t the real, big problem. Yes, there are people working for this City’s planning, development, and construction sections who don’t know much about the Code or about SEPA or any other number of very important tools.
My good friend works for this City in one of those sections, and he is very smart, hard working, and is moving up quickly. I asked him how the bulk of his problems could be solved, and he told me the absolute, number one, most needed thing to do is make information more easily accessible and understandable so that the people reviewing don’t have to waste most of their time on project applicants who haven’t been in the business forever. For example, these applicants give messy drawings and expect the City to figure out their mess. They don’t know Code and seem to not know how to find Code let alone navigate a murky regulatory framework that seems to never end.
Information such as rules, code, law, process steps, and zoning need to be more public, easily accessible, understandable, and a requirement to know before plan/permit submittal. Information should be in one easy to navigate process/user experience in the form of a training.
A group of people (such as my smart friend) need to create this detailed process, tree-like, training tool that shows every single little step needed to implement buildings, cafes, trees, anything using application, permitting, and review processes (and mega tax dollars). Next, the City needs to make it a requirement that an applicant watch the training–our society requires this for driving! We should require it for development. If someone at your company has already sat through the training in a year, then you don’t have to do it again until the next year or two. Additionally, updates can be sent out to those who have sat through the training just like SEPA does for people who are signed up for its updates. If you only want to get a tree permit, then only do the tree training. If you only do single family, there’s no use in making you sit through the large office tower training. I’m sure there are lots of kinks to think about such as those. Point is: training should be a requirement.
My friend works 60 hour weeks wasting most time on applicants who failed in their accountability. If you apply to build, you should know what you’re doing or be open to being shown how to learn fast. He could spend those wasted hours on project applicants who are legitimate. Your curb cut may be seen to sooner next time, if the employees had taken this type of training and thus felt assured of their answer and of not getting in trouble for guessing. The training gives them the power to know what they tell you passes muster without needing god’s approval.
One more thing needs to happen! The directors need to be sent to other cities like New York or Frankfurt to learn about other regulatory methods and implementation processes and then the directors should have to report back to the Mayor, City Council, and their department employees in a formal presentation about what they learned and which changes they will make by the following year based on what they learned.
These things would bring accountability to applicants and City employees simultaneously creating a better regional future.