New San Jose programs approve permits in days—not months
Lisa Joiner, deputy director for San Jose's Building Division, said the city's Best Prepared Designer program greatly reduces permitting time so companies can start construction faster. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

    San Jose’s Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Department is streamlining its permitting process to generate faster turnaround times.

    The online process is two-fold. One feature—Best Prepared Designer—is aimed at design professionals and contractors who have a good track record with the city on small projects like single-family remodels and commercial projects. The program aims to accelerate approval time dramatically. The other program—Self-Start Building Permits with Plan Review—provides a transparency feature that helps builders and residents initiate projects and track the progress throughout the permitting system.

    Lisa Joiner, deputy building division director, said Best Prepared Designer allows experienced professionals to receive a permit within days rather than months.

    “Once people are enrolled in the program and submit their plans, we can get that permit issued within five days,” Joiner told San José Spotlight. “It reduces it from what currently is two to three months down to about a week to get them into construction.”

    Willard Decker, owner of Decker Engineering & Construction in San Jose, appreciates the city’s accelerated permitting process. He’s been frustrated with San Jose’s wait times on multiple projects in the past.

    “It is very important for me to be able to get something reviewed, approved and then just move on and build it without a half a year delay,” he told San José Spotlight. “As a design builder, it just makes it a lot easier for us. We do the design, have a quick turnaround … and we’re off to work.”

    Willard Decker, president of Decker Engineering & Construction, said having building plans reviewed and approved quickly is crucial. Photo courtesy of Willard Decker.

    The Self-Start Building Permits with Plan Review program lets applicants directly upload their plans as opposed to waiting for staff to put them in the system, Joiner said.

    Building permits for simple projects can already be self-administered online at, but starting Oct. 30, the majority of the city’s building permits that require plan review can also be uploaded ahead of time.

    “We’re starting with the smaller projects with the Best Prepared Designer … and hopefully, if it’s successful, we can expand it to bigger projects,” Joiner said. “Our goal is to keep streamlining and making things easier for our customers, but of course, always maintaining the building safety that the community needs.”

    Architect Jeff Current, owner of Studio Current in San Jose, said it’s been rough since the pandemic. Most of the expedited plan-check programs slowed down or were eliminated. 

    “The projects that are eligible are relatively limited and small in scope,” he told San José Spotlight, “but it is a start.”

    Department spokesperson Cheryl Wessling said Best Prepared Designer is unique in putting the responsibility for code compliance on the professional designer. Customers are required to have current licensing and experience with the city’s permit process, including having submitted accurate plans designed to code.

    “Not only do they benefit,” she said, “but this means that staff time taken up on those plan reviews is now freed up for other customers.”

    Wessling said the city already has 56 online building permits for simple projects such as installing water heaters or furnaces. Of the nearly 30,000 building permits issued last year, 81% were downloaded online, she said. The new Self-Start Building Permits with Plan Review program will address more complex projects, and allow applicants and their clients to see the status and who’s responsible for the next step.

    “Certainly, there are cases where our team has gotten log jammed,” she told San José Spotlight. “But we also know there are times where we’re waiting more than a month for a design professional to reply to the comments we sent. Now the whole transaction is transparent.”

    Wessling said appointments can simply serve as a confirmation with fee payment, and customers can jump right into plan review.

    “You get to that appointment with a lot done,” she said. “It’s a time saver on the intake process. If we shave off just 15 minutes on each customer … that adds up to a lot of time savings across all applicants.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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