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One-stop comes to a halt
Split council drops ball to streamline permit process
The one-stop permit center is designed to speed up the time to get permits to do everything from building a home to putting in a new air conditioning system. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Six months ago the “one-stop” permit center to process building plans for everything from a shopping center to home improvements was the Manteca City Council’s pet project.

The idea was to end the public’s frustrations and avoid things slipping through the cracks by having all municipal personnel needed to process permits in one location. Council members were routinely confronted by angry homeowners and builders who lost valuable time and money waiting on City Hall. The worst cases were people waiting three months or so to get a swimming pool permit processed.

Today, the one-permit center is in limbo due to the economic times and the $430,000 price tag even though the money isn’t from the general fund that is facing an $11.3 million deficit situation in the fiscal year starting July 1.

The council split 2-2 with Mayor Willie Weatherford absent to halt moving the one-stop plans forward.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead, who along with Vince Hernandez cast the dissenting votes, believes the key objective of substantially reducing processing time is being accomplished thanks to new city personnel and procedures that were put in place. One of the things that prompted Moorhead to run for the council was the business community’s frustration with getting projects moved through City hall as well as her own experiences of spending an entire summer trying to get a permit to install a patio cover at her Villa Ticino neighborhood home.

“it’s not the building that makes it work,” Moorhead said. “It’s the policies and people.”

Rank and file staff has been undergoing cross-training in recent months so that they have a fuller understanding of all phases of a permit and not just their own niche. That way, minor permits can be handled by only one person who has at their disposal information how-to binders put together by mid-management. The goal is to avoid delays of days in processing even the most routine permits and to stop telling the public they have to go to another location within the city hall complex.

As for not being able to pay for their permits at the spot that issues it, Moorhead noted the finance department is just across the hall from where the Community Development Department is now located.

Last year prior to being elected to the council, Moorhead in her role as Manteca Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer visited other cities - as did municipal staff – to examine how they operated one-stop permit centers.
It was from those tours that the original plan for the $1.3 million renovation to create a one-stop center was devised before being redrawn to accommodate budget concerns.

“We are astutely sensitive to the economic times,” Community Development Director Mark Nelson said after he followed previous council direction and rethought how to implement a one-stop permit center which resulted in whacking off $920,000 in costs.

Hernandez was worried “how it would look and be perceived as we’re tightening  our belts” if the city proceeded with the one-stop permit center regardless of the source of the money.

Councilman John Harris argued that investing the money now when construction costs are lower would benefit the city’s financial picture in the long run and would improve efficiency which ultimately would lower costs.

‘”The main mission is to better serve the public,” Harris said.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted the idea was to make the capital investment now so the city could start shedding operational costs as each year goes by to create an area with adequate space to handle all personnel needed for permit processing instead of farming parts out to other departments where the job functions are mixed with other duties.