Building Services plays a unique role in protecting Poway residents and businesses. A part of Development Services, this division oversees building plan checks, issuing building permits and conducting inspections during the building process.
“We’re here to make sure all life and safety issues are addressed so owners and contractors can have peace of mind,” said Trish Johnson, one of four EsGil Corporation staff members who make up the Building Services division.
Poway contracts with EsGil, which provides building services expertise. This enables the City to meet service demands during the plan check process and in most cases turnaround plan check reviews in a two-week time frame. Plans and applications are now submitted and processed electronically, which add convenience and efficiency to the building permit process.
Customer service and patience are two essential skills building services staff, who spend much of their day helping homeowners and contractors navigate the building permit process. They sometimes have to tell applicants things they don’t want to hear or explain why something does not comply with City codes. They know that not everyone will walk away happy, but staff go above and beyond to educate homeowners/contractors on the complex series of codes that must be followed.
“We do a couple of things that aren’t common with other cities,” said Development Services Director Bob Manis. “We offer to meet with the applicant to go through the comments and we bring in all the areas of expertise needed at one time.”
It often takes two to three rounds of plan checks until all requirements are satisfied and a building permit can be issued. A list of comments is provided with each plan check, including the previous list to show which items have been completed and which have not been satisfactorily addressed. To help communicate the status of a project, the Building Division will include the homeowner (when contact information is available) on correspondence with the contractor, architect or engineer.
“What we found was that the homeowner wasn’t always accurately kept up to date during the permit process,” Manis said. “We would often get the blame for holding things up when that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
Last year staff issued 2,771 permits and performed 12,137 building inspections that ranged from replacing a water heater to the construction of an industrial building. Building services staff know how overwhelming the process can be and offers the following advice.
“Research,” said Johnson. “Don’t be afraid to come into the office and ask questions. It’s best to come in so you can talk with someone from planning, engineering and building. You can get all the requirements in one visit.”
Because staff has pretty much seen it all, they also offer up the following tips for homeowners starting a project:
- Ask the contractor for three references and talk to the homeowners or drive by the sites (if the job is in process).
- Budget to go over budget – no matter how well you plan, you never know what will happen when you open up existing walls.
- Hire a contractor you are comfortable calling any time of day or night – even at 2 a.m. in the event of a roof leak!