Portland permitting consolidation starting July 2024 - To help streamline permitting process

Jake

Well-known member
Oct 30, 2023
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The Portland City council has recently approved a new ruling that would help streamline the permitting process by combining the permitting functions of multiple bureaus into one with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS for short). Starting in July, their aim is to improve upon the customer experience by providing a more streamlined service and bringing the expertise and knowledge of different bureaus into one.

Even though there have been some layoffs as of late, there are no plans to reduce that number anytime soon. They instead want to keep the staffing at a good level to meet the current workloads, especially considering that 97% of the revenue comes from the permits. So it makes more sense to focus on the permits over most everything else. This should help with coordination and communication within the bureau.

There are some issues though. The BDS does face some funding problems, they don't make a lot during downturns in the construction industry, which are known to have a big impact on revenues coming from permits. They will be exploring alternative options for funding. They will also be looking for strategies to keep in line with industry demands.

A good change? What do you think? You can read more about this news here: DJC Oregon
 
Location
Portland, Oregon, United States
It makes sense to focus on the permitting side when they make 97% of the revenue from it. I'm just happy they are retaining most of their workers to focus their work on said permits. Makes total sense to focus on what's paying the best. And if this helps improve the permitting process going forward, it could be a great change.
 
If I recall, the issue of how to reorganize Portland's permitting system was pretty contentious last year (we talked about it here). There were those two commissioners who were publicly debating whether to consolidate permitting functions into one office or whether to avoid changing to the bureaucracy and instead just focus on making clarifying updates to the city's code. I was glad to see that the reorg proposal won out. I remember thinking how the proposal to just focus on code updates didn't seem as serious and appeared to be more of a political maneuver on the part of the commissioner who'd proposed it.

It's a shame Portland BDS has had so many layoffs recently but glad to hear that's leveled off. I recall talking about Portland's layoffs and how their budget is tied almost entirely to (slowing) building activity over in this thread. All the recent changes at Portland BDS have certainly been interesting to track.

I know we recently got a new member who works as a permit expediter in Portland (@NathanFP). Nathan, curious if you've seen any outreach from the City regarding the reorg that's underway? Does it seem like customer service is really going to be improved by the change?
 
Honestly, it's all very nebulous and undefined at this point so it's hard to even wager a guess as to how this will impact permitting. We've known the interim director of BDS since he was a permit tech and he's very competent. That said, efforts in Portland to improve the process generally improve the BDS workflow and struggle to improve customer experience. If I had to put money on it, I'd wager this will solve some problems and create others.
 
We've known the interim director of BDS since he was a permit tech and he's very competent.

Thanks for weighing in and glad to hear your endorsement of the interim director (David Kuhnhausen). Having good and respected leadership really does matter, especially in a large/public-facing department like BDS.

That said, efforts in Portland to improve the process generally improve the BDS workflow and struggle to improve customer experience. If I had to put money on it, I'd wager this will solve some problems and create others.

You have a much better understanding of BDS operations than I do but I feel like this time must be different. The structural changes they're implementing - i.e., consolidating Environmental Services, Transportation, Water, and Urban Forestry permitting staff under a single authority - seem like the real deal. In the article @Jake linked above, the interim director says he expects "coordination between teams and communication to address customer service issues will be easier because they will be within one bureau." It's so encouraging when large organizations implement simple and common sense solutions like what BDS is doing with its reorg. Reducing bureaucracy between teams of people that need to collaborate really is a no-brainer to me.

My only concern is if Portland is still operating under pandemic-era telework/electronic communication policies. Being shrouded behind electronic systems and having minimal face time with coworkers could dampen the teamwork benefits BDS is anticipating.
 
I have come to realize that streamlining the permitting process is very significant and it has a lot of benefit for both the resident and the businesses as well. Consolidating permits could be a very good way to simplify the process and it will also go a long way to reducing the administrative burden that is involved in permitting.
 
I do but I feel like this time must be different
We always have hope! I just have been doing this long enough that the City's idea of progress does not always equal a better process for the customer. There is a long history of promising something better, but it's hard to change bureaucracy. This will not likely be a quick or easy process.
 
There is a long history of promising something better, but it's hard to change bureaucracy.

Agreed 100%. Something that happens in my world (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting) is that politicians and other higher-ups will promote new policies that sound really good in terms of publicity/talking points but that don't actually translate into real change on the ground. I'm sure the same thing happens all the time in building permitting. I don't think anyone should be surprised when the BDS reorg ends up being less revolutionary than advertised. However, like I said above, the reorg does seem to represent a genuine attempt at change (i.e., beyond just a talking point) and for that reason I have real respect for what they're trying to do.

Please keep us posted as BDS begins operating under the new org chart. We'd love to hear your final verdict on whether it's the real deal or if it was all just a bunch of hot air :).
 
Got an update for you all in regards to this story from last month. They have since decided on a new bureau name, that being the Portland Permitting & Development. Starting July 1st, it will centralize most residential and commercial permit processes. It will also feature up to nine work teams, that will include a dedicated customer support team, along with specialized teams for other development processes. They hope to combine the resources from existing city departments in the area as well.

More on this news can be found here.
 
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