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Thursday, April 10, 2008

They sign permits, don't they?

Bureaucrat-speak is always a little hard to make out, but no agency blows thicker smoke than the Portland "Bureau of Development Services." When they open their mouths to explain what they do, the jargon that comes out is often impenetrable. I think they used to be called the "Building Permit Office," but nowadays they make it sound like they're some kind of insurance company, or maybe Home Depot.

Yesterday they sent around a breathless press release letting us all know that they have "rebranded" themselves, with a spiffy new logo. I don't even want to think about how much it all cost, but what cracks me up is the goofy description of their mission. It's reach the point of self-parody:

On March 20, 2008, the first day of spring, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services unveiled a new look signaling a new beginning – the creation of a cohesive and easily identifiable image of the bureau for staff and customers. The bureau’s new slogan, "From Concept to Construction", cements the logo which depicts residential and commercial development nestled among Portland’s precious and valued natural resources....

According to Paul Scarlett, BDS Director, "The new logo and slogan embody the bureau’s commitment to promoting safe and attractive developments, balancing the built and natural environment, and reinforcing our focus on assisting customers with their development projects from start to finish."...

The new logo and slogan is part of an overall marketing effort that is designed to build and reinforce the bureau’s identity in the community. "Our top priorities continue to be to provide excellent service, creative solutions, and reliable information to meet our customers’ development needs," said Alisa Cour, Public Information Manager for BDS.

"We want to reach all our customers with the message that if you are planning a development project in Portland, come see us first," said Cour. "We’re here to partner with you on your project from concept to construction."

Whew. Somebody, please open a window.

Comments (33)

"We’re here to partner with you on your project from concept to construction."

This line has all the tenor of some goon laying down the law for how the vig collection is gonna work in a proposed new nightclub or something.

Exhibit numero uno for why I will someday own property in the Northwest, which I love, outside of the reach of the tentacles of that RICO, our own beloved Metro.

There was a time, honest, that a bureau chief would and could speak for the bureau, not anymore now they all have a group such as Alisa Cour, Public Information Manager, to mis-speak, lie, or cover-up. Instead Of one PR I see it is now almost a bureau within a bureau. A manager and how many underlings?
Hey, if we went back to Chiefs addressing the public we might have enough to fix the streets.

The bureau's announcement makes me long for the days when Randy Leonard actually worked for his constituents. Remember when he'd step in and personally solve a constituent's problem? Or the case of the employee who he personally re-instated after bureaucrats laid her off?

Now he's gone native and picked up the mantle of Stenesque grand plans--BIOFUEL! DUCT TAPE!--and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

"From Concept to Construction"

Sounds expensive.

"From Concept to Construction"

Sounds intrusive.

Obviously inspired by "from cradle to grave"

"We’re here to partner with you on your project from concept to construction."

Just to let you know the meter's running at BDS. It is a huge profit center for CoP.

"if you are planning a development project in Portland, come see us first"

Uh, do we have a choice? I love how this over-funded agencies has money to "brand" itself. The glaring omission in the press release is no mention of saving builders' cost. "Creative" usually means forcing builders to add costs or impeding a project.

The concept of BDS as more of a one-stop-shop for developers' permitting needs probably arose from the city's belief that condos and infill aren't getting built fast enough.

It's clear from this release who they view as their "customer": those who pay the application fees for the "services" they provide.

This problem started way back in Hale's tenure, and I see they're still confused about things. If BDS would stop structuring itself as a fee-for-service operation serving only developers and applicants, and start acting as an arms-length evaluator of whether an application at face value meets the city's codes in force, everyone would probably be happier.

Jumping in and getting involved in fixing problem applications is often viewed as being meddling and expensive from the developer's standpoint, and a conflict of interest from the standpoint of those who might oppose it. No one is happy outside of BDS.

Why do BDS and the other agencies feel the need to "market" themselves? Businesses market themselves to differentiate from the competition. Who is BDS' competition?

Granted, they do have to let customers know how to access their services. But why the fancy-schmancy PR and branding? Where else are developers and applicants going to go?

My guess this is the inevitable outcome and downside of our commissioner form of city government. Each commissioner has his own fiefdom, and he and his sub-chiefs vie for public attention and support so they can get a bigger slice of the pie.

Just to let you know the meter's running at BDS. It is a huge profit center for CoP.

I believe BDS is self-funded through permits/fees, and I don't think they contribute to the City's general fund.

Where else are developers and applicants going to go?

Part of the rebranding is probably to reach out to residential homeowners, who may not know that you need a permit to build an addition, a balcony, a dormer, a new garage, etc. Or they may know, but decide to take their chances because they think it's too much hassle.

And it is a hassle, and too expensive as well. But at the same time I want to know that when my kids go play at a friend's house, the addition wall isn't going to cave in on them because some jackass decided to skip the permit/inspection process while he and cousin Vinny threw back a few beers while putting up the south wall.

Sometimes marketing your image is a canny move, even if you have no competition. Agencies like this have a huge interest in being associated with action words like "proactive" and "visionary".

But the new logo kinda misses the mark, in my opinion. The execution is actually kind of clever, with shading making it look like the view through a window, but when you read the press release and it says that it's meant to show Portland's development "nestling" amongst the area's natural charms, and you look at this and see development dominating and about to overwhelm the area's natural charms ... well, maybe I don't know so much but I did have some graphic design training. I'd develop this up a little more. Those huge gray edifices in the design are kind of oppressive.

The colors overall are a bit too much on the cool side too. What's not clear is whether or not that's because a CMYK image was translated into RGB, which always neutralizes it a bit. But the big gray mass in the middle, coupled with a muted color scheme, kind of make for a visually depressing thing.

I often wonder if the choice quotes in press releases were ever actually uttered. I tend to think it's more like, "Just type out something and put my name next to it. I'm busy."

BDS? Sounds more like BS to me.

Oh please,,,,,

They want more customers to come see them because they're too many employees with the construction downturn.

Instead of laying off a few they want busy work.

"We’re here to partner with you"

Partner? OK.

I want to build a snout house because it's the only way to make my lot work.

What say you partner?

I want to move my pizza business across the street. How much are the fees?

$30,000.00 ????!!!!!!

Yikes. I need a new partner.

Jack, you're right most of the time but this piece against BDS is off. Reading the mission statement I find it generally reasonable. It does use current cliches like, "rebranding," and further extends the idea that Portland is becoming more "natural."

Try the Portland Department of Transportation mission statement. It used to be on their website but last I looked it was gone. Maybe someone beside me noticed that logic has left PDOT and they took it off. The last mission statement did not mention cars or motor vehicles. It did mention street gatherings.

In practice, the bureau is not that bad and the process of getting a building permit, in my experience, is less painless than it might seem (my experience being making improvements on my rental property). I can put up with the bureaucratese as long as the people I deal with are reasonable, and for the most part, they are.

"I believe BDS is self-funded through permits/fees, and I don't think they contribute to the City's general fund."

License/permits charges generated $150M
Service charges - $415M

Don;t know where SDCs fit, but when you go to BDS and tell them your project costs $100K and they tell you give us $10K, I believe they are more than self-funding.

The last mission statement did not mention cars or motor vehicles. It did mention street gatherings.

That may be what it takes to change the culture around here.

I thought Bill Sizemore, the infamous anti-tax advocate, was working an initiative which would allow homeowners to sink $35,000 or less in their house without having to get permits. It would require the work still meet code. I would sure appreciate such a law because getting a permit from this city, like most cities, for even the smallest of projects like replacing an existing fence, is an arduous process. I think Bradbury, Secretary (dictator) of Oregon, has the petition held up in his office.

Free the people.

I would sure appreciate such a law because getting a permit from this city, like most cities, for even the smallest of projects like replacing an existing fence, is an arduous process.

I don't think a permit is required for a fence unless it's *over* 6' tall. You buildin' a spite fence?

Steve, the BDS page in the City budget says they pull in about $26 million in licenses/permit revenues and almost $10 million in service charges and fees. I don't think any of that goes to the General Fund.

I would agree that it's too expensive. The permit for my covered front porch cost $300, even though the overall project was only around $4,000. Even so, I totally disagree with Sizemore's idea. How exactly are we going to ensure that renovations meet code if there's no permitting process?

Don't these bozo's work for us. When are we going to rise up and stop this nonsense?

"I totally disagree with Sizemore's idea. How exactly are we going to ensure that renovations meet code if there's no permitting process?"

I think there needs to be some cap on how much they charge for permitting since you can burn $100K pretty easily remodeling and I don't really think it would cost $10K of city labor to ensure it is meeting code.

In additions, SDCs are almost never used as they are supposed to be - in the neighborhoods they originate from. Heck, they were robbing SDCs from all over town to improve the Pearl District.

Don't these bozo's work for us.

It depends. Have you shown your love lately?

(sort by amount)

Another very good feature of Sizemore's initiative is the county couldn't figure out if you had a renovation so as to raise your property taxes. As it is now, homeowners are doing their own renovations in the "dark of night", and probably not doing it as well as professionals. As a result, old homes may be getting more and more out of code.

Why not do away the disincentives caused by permitting, and spur more home renovations using professionals? Free the People!

P.S I've been hearing the city wants to require permits on all fences, even 6 feet tall and under. & I'm not associated with the home construction business, speaking only as a home owner.

As a former (27 year) Bureau I will make a few comments.

State law prohibits any "building permit" fees from going to the general fund. The builders monitor where the funds go to make sure they are not actually funding something else. But SDC's are NOT "building permit" fees. These supposedly are fees that go to Bureau's other than BDS to help cover i.e expansion of sewer facilities, parks, etc. BDS just collects them.

Generally fees for small projects, like a front porch addition, do not cover the cost of providing plan review and inspections. The large projects, like Homers, pay extra to cover the costs.

The Bureau is rebranding itself because Randy thinks it will help keep him in office. The position Alisa Cour holds as well as the people who report to her didn't exist until Randy took office.

Greg C

Concept to Construction.

In the good old days BDS would refuse to look at your project until you paid your fees and submitted. This often times meant redesigning your project because you weren't designing it according to the latest iterations coming out of the various Bureaus. Ray Kerridge, now City Manager for Sacramento, thought it would make sense for BDS to actually advise builders during the design phase about what the bureaucrats were coming up with now so there would be no surprises later on in the process.

Coming and talking to the people at BDS prior to submitting your project is voluntary and doesn't cost you any money. The Development Services Center is open and staffed M - F from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm and most Thursday nights from 5 pm to 7:30 pm.

Greg C

If the city claimed the power to ban private adult consensual activity . . . then bureau Xx3 could be "self-funded through permits/fees[.]" (The funding method, by itself, justifies nothing.)

If they (any authority) ever lifted a restraint would that be viewed as adding value to the activity (or product)?

Does the need for, or usefulness of, a "partner" mean that the general understanding of "two's company three's a crowd" must be wiped from our collective minds'. So long as we recognize that private contracting (or building per se) is not sinful . . .

Wasn't there a church that went bankrupt (long long ago) and then took their message of absolution, for a fee, to the countryside (to rebuild their own coffers)?

As always, look at the money side first . . . then at the most convenient contemporary rationale. If people will pay extra for bottled tap water they will buy almost anything.

Generally fees for small projects, like a front porch addition, do not cover the cost of providing plan review and inspections.

That's hard to believe. My $300 permit involved the following: a 20-minute meeting with a BDS architect who reviewed the plans and made one minor modification; then an inspection a few weeks later, where the inspector spent 15 minutes making sure the joists were connected properly to the house and the posts were properly cemented. Not exactly $300 worth or work, even at a fully loaded rate.

The fees have become a major part of new construction. A person can have 10s of thousands in fees that are passed onto the buyer who in turns has to finance them as part of the home loan.
I have yet to understand how a few hours of work on the part of the permits process justifies this huge outlay.
Plan review
site plan review
site inspections
Electrical, plumbing, framing etc permits.

"State law prohibits any "building permit" fees from going to the general fund."

OK, I stand corrected. Where exactly do the fees go? THey seem awfully large for the little work BDS does to stamp them.

In addition, meeting early on doesn't cure my main gripe - You can never get a statement like "fix this and we'll give you a permit"."

The response is always, fix this and come back and we'll talk. THis wastes a lot of time. God forbid you should get a diff inspector that disagrees with the previous one since they always find something different.

C'mon, you're just looking for an issue here. The rebrand isn't bad, and they do indeed provide the services their new slogan infers.

Other commenters say Leonard is just trying to cement his re-election. Maybe so, but last time I checked he had no real competition. Maybe he's being cautious because his own union turned its back on him. Or maybe he's just doing what he's paid to do. Whatever. This isn't even a real issue, but I love it that the sensationalism turned into a comment-fest.

Would the proceeds of a real estate transfer tax (semantically equivalent to a recording fee, with a sliding price and a blanket banker exception for recording of liens such as mortgages and trust deeds, and retransfers of the same) be used principally to offset the cost of staffing the BDS? Can this be divorced from the various permutations of the definition of "affordable housing," which are now inherently tied to new development? (And to SDCs, and arbitrary waiver of the same for some.)

Hum, if the terms of some arbitration determinations, and settlement agreements, can be held in secret can the existence and/or price of a sale of a home also be done secretly, lawfully secretly? (Maybe I could create a private business to maintain the secrecy of such private transfers from prying eyes.)


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