Contractor's Corner: Permits are a Project

There are some things money can’t buy, that is a General Contractor who knows their way around a Building Department. It takes some doing, back forth, give take,  getting to know everybody in the place. Mostly, it takes time. In Northern California, we have lots of small municipalities, one overarching county. In all of San Francisco, it’s just one building with lots of departments!

In some towns, like Half Moon Bay (until the recent budget cut where everyone lost their job!), San Bruno the city of San Mateo, it is a simple predictable process to get your remodeling plans approved. The town Planning Building departments are in the same area. When you bring in your 3 sets of plans, you pay the Planning (or Submittal) fee the City charges. If there is time, you review the plans at the desk with the Planner  to ensure you have included everything they need. This works well, because if you are missing a piece of paperwork, you can quickly run out make copies of whatever it might be that is missing, get it the package bring it right back. Otherwise, it might be a week of waiting before you hear that a certain required form or sheet of information was left out of the packet.82715_l

However, not every city has the budget to keep their own Planning Building staff employed full time. So, they  have clerks, who hle many different tasks. Just one of them is mailing off (snail mail!) your plans to a outsourced company that reviews the plans, then makes comments,  mails the corrected set back. This can be a very time consuming process, particularly if there a simple details left off your plans, or  a piece of ‘critical’ information about a project that needs to be certified by an engineer.

In my business, after years of remodeling both commercial residential sites all over the Peninsula San Francisco, we are familiar with the ins outs of most of the area departments. We also remodel many homes buildings in unincorporated parts of San Mateo County that must go to the County to get their plans reviewed. They are efficient, knowledgeable, very helpful. But the sheer volume of people with projects is overwhelming, even in these lean times, it takes longer to sit wait, schedule the planning meeting review, submit the approved plans to the Building Department, pay for the final permit.

As you plan your project, time is an important consideration. My advice?  Know what the rules are where you live, what the procedures are for procuring a permit for your project. It’s easy to find out by checking the local government’s website, or just making a phone call. Then you’ll know how much up front lead time you’ll need for your remodel once you have your completed plans, before your contractor can start the actual work.

Contact San Mateo County here:,,5557771_5558929,00.html