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Lengthy processing times possibly new norm at Community Development Department

Burbank’s current budget and a six-month hiring freeze have nearly every department head trying to come up with ways to maintain the city’s service levels.

While some department officials are still figuring out what they need to do, the Community Development Department has taken steps to control its already-high workload, which officials say will take longer than usual to tackle.

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Patrick Prescott, director of the Community Development Department, said he expects there to be about 22,000 plan checks this year, a number that he has seen grow steadily during the past several years.

“There was a time during the recession when the Community Services Building was a ghost town,” Prescott said. “You come in here at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning now, and it’s packed. That’s just a sign of a good economy, but also the fact that we also consolidated all the hours into the morning.”

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Because of the freeze, which the City Council implemented throughout every city department starting in July, Prescott said he has been unable to fill important vacancies — two planners and a building inspector.

With only seven planners, five plan-check engineers and six building inspectors, Prescott said the workload for his smaller staff is expected to drive up processing times.

In addition to having fewer employees to process applications, there are also now updated codes and policies, including new rules and guidelines for single-family homes and accessory-dwelling units, which have contributed to longer wait times.

Prescott projected review times for single-family-home permit applications to jump from about five to six weeks to six to eight months.

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“That’s not just because of the hiring freeze,” Prescott said. “It’s because of limited staffing, the hiring freeze and the new process.”

Another part of his department affected is the public counter in the city’s Community Services Building.

Hours to apply for a building permit or to have plans checked were previously from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

However, the city recently changed the counter hours to help with workflow. The plan check window is open only from 8 a.m. to noon, while the hours for building permits changed to 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.

Additionally, counter workers are limited to seeing 20 people each day — an amount they can easily reach by 10 a.m., Prescott said.

“We had to reduce the availability of the planning and building-plan checkers so that they could actually do the other work,” he said. “So, we reduced their time at the counters so they can actually do the plan checks and application processing.”

The new hours, which were implemented in late May, have gone off without a hitch, for the most part, Prescott said.

He said most people understand the crunch and restraints facing the Community Development Department. However, there have been some customers who have left the Community Services Building angry.

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“We’re not thrilled by the delay,” Prescott said. “It actually pains staff to have to tell people how long it’s going to take, but we have to be realistic. We can’t tell people five to eight weeks anymore. It’s just not the case.”

Residents aren’t the only customers affected by the changes. Prescott said developers looking to submit their projects to the city are also encountering delayed responses and lengthier processing times.

To try and overcome these setbacks, especially for large projects, Prescott said developers are being asked if they could pay additional funds so the city can hire consultants to work on the Community Development Department’s core services — planning, plan checks, transportation and traffic analysis — so his employees can work on other ongoing projects.

“We’re just getting started with that, so we haven’t seen the impacts of that just yet,” Prescott said. “We’re hopeful that it will help fix some of the backlog.”

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