Make the City of Manteca more business friendly.
There might just be an app for that.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin said staff is looking to identify funding for software that will provide greater flexibility for business owners, property owners, and contractors to do research on their own parcel — or other parcels — and the permit activity connected with it.
The software would allow certain permits to be issued electronically online without an in-person visit to the Civic Center’s Community Development Department.
Harnessing technology to streamline doing business with the city has been raised as a campaign issue by at least two council hopefuls in the Nov. 8 election — Gary Singh and Jeff Zellner. They want Manteca to deploy a system that some cities have gone to that allows building permit inspectors and applicants to check the status of permits at any time.
The relative business friendliness of city hall has been an issue in past campaigns and promises to be raised this fall. Both Singh and Zellner — who each currently serve on the Planning Commission — are on record saying the timely processing of permits from citizens, businesses, and builders needs to improve significantly.
McLaughlin defended city staff saying the perceived delays are not necessarily attributed to the city.
“When we are told it took months for a permit process to get through, sometimes the length of time is either in the (applicant) reviewing what they receive and taking the next step or the applicant failing to provide all of the needed information forcing steps in the approval process to be retaken,” she said.
Frustrations with securing a permit to put in a patio cover at her home was one of the things that prompted incumbent Debby Moorhead to run for council nine years ago. Moorhead, in her role at the time as Manteca Chamber of Commerce executive director, was also hearing complaints about the perceived business friendliness of city hall.
McLaughlin said staff is responding to those concerns.
City staff met twice with the Manteca Chamber of Commerce and members of the business community to understand what “perceived issues or roadblocks they are running into when working with the city on their projects.”
The feedback staff received led to the creation of a new business packet. It provides a concise and tight review of steps required to start a business in Manteca. It includes a building permit flowchart, minor plan/modification/minor use permits process, a listing of over-the-counter permits, and plan check response turnaround times.
It is designed to equip applicants with the knowledge of what they need based on “yes” and “no” inquiries that — depending upon their answer — direct them what to do next.
McLaughlin said it eliminates problems created when applicants don’t ask the right questions
She cited a hypothetical dance studio as an example. An applicant may come in and say they plan to have perhaps six students at a time at most in a building where they want to open up a dance studio. Everything goes fine and the application moves ahead until such time the fire department — in asking more questions — finds out the applicant wants to hold dance recitals that will have upwards of 100 people in the building. That changes state-mandated safety requirements including perhaps the need for additional exits.
McLaughlin said the new business flow charts are aimed at avoiding such issues cropping up as the permit process moves along and delaying the project.
The city manager said another strategy to make Manteca more business friendly will be addressed: The distribution of incorrect information on what people can and can’t do by city employees.
“Often time it happens because people are trying to be helpful but aren’t aware of other regulations besides the ones they deal with,” McLaughlin said of staff.
Such a situation cropped up recently when the non-profit that purchased the former Manteca News building on the southeast corner of East Yosemite Avenue and Fremont Avenue was replacing their parking lot.
They had the contractor check at city hall for the appropriate permits as well as to ask about removing a series of trees on the edge of the parking lot next to the sidewalk.
The contractor was told it was OK to remove them. The city employee that gave the advice conformed that was the case when queried about the situation.
But after the work was done, another city employee — this one with a working knowledge and the responsibility for street trees — said the trees had to be replaced because they were legally required to be there.
Restrictions placed on the parcel by a previous permit — this one issued before 1980 — clearly states that is the case. The software system that McLaughlin is referencing would have caught that.
McLaughlin said the street trees are a legal requirement and that the city is working with the non-profit to resolve the matter.
At any rate, McLaughlin said staff will conduct training citywide to help educate employees in all departments about the process needed to open, relocate. or expand a business.
“Our employees are the eyes and ears in the community, and the more they know about our processes, the better informed they, and the public, will be,” McLaughlin said.
In the first 11 months of the current fiscal year ending June 30 the city has issued 555 new licenses for businesses compared to 610 for the same period last year.
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