Connecting state and local government leaders
The permitting tool is 16 months out from launch but has the potential to scale with the city.
By the end of 2015, federal and state government agencies in the United States will have spent more than $6.4 billion on civic tech, according to an assessment by the International Data Corporation.
The city of San Diego, like other major jurisdictions looking to boost their civic tech credentials, is heading into 2016 fresh off an $11 million cloud-based permitting initiative announcement from earlier this month.
But America’s Finest City shopped around for two years to settle on permitting software that offered flexible upgrade paths. The city decided to implement Accela’s Civic Platform, when the support cost of an in-house custom solution proved too much.
“The cost is shared by multiple municipalities that use it,” Jim Myers, San Diego Development Services Department (DSD) deputy director, told Route Fifty in an interview. “Also, the current software can’t scale up to make big changes.”
Accela, a San Ramon, California-based software-as-a-service provider, specializes in processing rising permit volumes, tracking more documents and managing increased customers as the nation’s biggest cities continue to grow.
Currently, San Diego, which is California’s second-largest city and the nation’s eighth-largest city by population, sees 4,000 code enforcement cases, 46,000 permits, 97,000 project reviews, and 137,000 construction inspections each year.
San Diego County has a longstanding relationship with Accela when it comes to solar and environmental health permitting, but the city government started small with a custom application for permitting the 500-some special events it hosts a year.
“Cities like to tell you how unique they are, but we’ve been doing this a long time and understand how to configure a platform to really map to the way agencies want to work,” said Rob Cassetti, Accela’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, in an interview. “We’ve come across situations where there’s tension between the building and planning departments and allowed different workgroups to share the data they need.”
A complete land management solution, Civic Platform streamlines planning, zoning and permitting. Several mobile inspection tools exist on the platform for code enforcement, building inspectors and work crews, letting them attach record types from the field for immediate viewing without having to report back to the office.
San Diego’s goal is to eventually open all of its data, starting with OpenDSD, via a citizen-facing portal, and Accela publishes free datasets.
“We have some customers who believe somebody else got a deal on a permit,” Myers said. “We just want to open up city data and let everybody see what’s going on.”
Opening up data and the platform itself with APIs allows staff to focus on more complex decisions in the permitting process, instead of responding to customer requests. While the permitting tool won’t be turned on for another 16 months, its customer portal will accept online application—reducing wait times in department lobbies.
Event permitting is a complex process in San Diego when it comes to conventions like Comic-Con, given the sheer number of vendors under the purview of upwards of five departments.
Metrics measuring the success of technology deployments allow cities to take on larger projects overtime.
Accela’s clients also form regional groups to discuss best practices.
“One of the strengths is they have an online community of users, and it’s a really good place to vet changes in the regulatory environment and how we might address that sort of thing, from food trucks to medical marijuana,” Myers said. “It’s likely some other city has dealt with them and figured out how to implement Accela.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.