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Many L.A. building records now just a few clicks away

L.A. unveils a new system to look up construction permits and other building records online

Los Angeles leaders unveiled a new online system Thursday that allows people to look up construction permits and other building records, sparing them a trek to a downtown office to get copies of the documents.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the new tool is “good business practice and just plain common sense.” He had touted the planned system before business leaders and other groups as part of a broader effort to simplify the way the city does business.

"This system cuts red tape and improves customer service for builders, developers, and everyday Angelenos, making L.A. more attractive to key investments that create jobs,” Garcetti said.

The online system, available through the Department of Building and Safety website, allows users to examine building permits, certificates of occupancy and other paperwork. It includes more than 13 million records dating back to 1905, which can be searched using an address, parcel number or other key information.

Building and Safety spokesman David Lara said the new system is expected to halve the number of customers walking in annually to seek records. Building records are commonly sought by homeowners, contractors, architects, engineers, banks and permit expediters.

Not all documents are now available: City staffers are still digitizing some historic records, including those kept on microfilm, and will put them online as they become available, according to the mayor's office. Building permits filed between 1970 and 2003, for example, are still being uploaded to the website, as are certificates of occupancy filed between 1982 and 2003.

The new system was welcomed by business and advocacy groups. "Any time we can streamline the process and save folks the time ... that's a win not only for our industry but for the city and everyone," said Ezra Gale, director of government affairs for the Los Angeles/Ventura chapter of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California.

Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn., which advocates for downtown business, said it is part of a series of positive changes at the Building and Safety Department.

"The development community feels that they really get it and are really helping to move projects through," Schatz said.

Mike Eveloff, a board member with the advocacy group Fix the City, which has sued the city over development issues, said increasing city efficiency is good, but "care should be taken to protect against data mining and security concerns."

Reacting to such concerns, the mayor's office said that construction drawings would not be available through the website and that the building department had worked with a data security task force to protect the information.

At least initially, the website will not include some detailed records on code enforcement actions because of privacy questions. City officials are consulting with attorneys to determine what can be shared publicly, mayoral aides said Thursday.

Nearly 3,700 users had accessed the website before its official unveiling Thursday, according to city officials. The building department fields requests from roughly 65,000 customers each year.

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