Glendale's new building official ready to hit the ground running

Jan Edwards, Glendale's new Building Official, has many challenges ahead, such as handling the city's apartment development boom with a leaner staff. However, with 25 years of building-and-safety experience under her belt, she is up to the task.

Edwards, who is known for wearing Hawaiian shirts around City Hall, replaces Stuart Tom, who became the Glendale Fire Department's fire marshal in December.

She was officially promoted to her new position this month. The city's building official helms the city's Building & Safety Division, which reviews development projects and upholds building codes.

What are you most excited to accomplish in your new role as building official?

Improving our public outreach efforts to help the community better understand [the Building & Safety Division's] role in maintaining a safer built environment as well as our processes and requirements. I would like the applicants to know how best to use our office and what to expect so that they can get through the permitting and inspection process as smoothly as possible.

What will be your biggest challenge?

Two years ago, Building & Safety lost 33% of the administrative staff and 20% of the inspection staff while at the same time experiencing a building boom. The new construction is much more complicated and requires trained professional staff. While we have been authorized to fill a few of the vacant inspection positions, finding qualified individuals has been next to impossible. Finding ways to cope with the workload with the slimmed-down staff while avoiding burnout and related morale issues is what I consider my biggest challenge.

Community Development Director Hassan Haghani has said he promoted you because you have a "fresh vision for the Building & Safety Division." Please elaborate on your vision for the department.

I want to bring the department into the 21st century. For example, building departments traditionally are "reactive." We wait until people ask questions about a permit to provide answers. We wait until someone calls for an inspection to schedule one. I want to change this to be more "proactive." Using the web page and the Internet to provide "be prepared" videos and documents to demonstrate our processes and requirements, to establish "progress" inspections to help prevent abandoned projects from languishing for years, and to establish the ability to look at permit records online, without needing to submit a record's request. To accomplish some of these changes, I need to reorganize the department from a top-down organization to shared leadership with focus on various aspects of the Permit Services Center.

Your educational background is in architecture and architectural engineering. Which building (or buildings) in Glendale is your favorite for its architectural style? I have a fondness for historic structures. For example, I had the opportunity to review the Goode house renovation project — the [support] walls failed in the Northridge earthquake. I also reviewed the Cedar mini-park project which included the renovation and change of occupancy of a craftsman home into an after-school center. I still occasionally drive by those structures to see how they are holding up. While I wasn't directly involved in the Brand Library project, I have been trying to make time to see the results now that it has reopened.

What inspired you to get into this line of work?

I sort of fell into it. I had been working on the private side of construction and was tired of working only on single-family homes and very small commercial projects. I applied for a position with a neighboring city — I didn't get it — and one of the interview panelists was impressed with my credentials. Soon thereafter, he had an opening for a plan-check engineer in his jurisdiction. He contacted me and asked me to apply. I ended up being offered the position, really enjoyed it and have stayed with the "public side" ever since.

Anything else you want to add?

Only that I know I have quite a challenge ahead of me and I'm committed to making significant progress in moving the department forward during the next fiscal year.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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