Mayor London Breed Announces 28% Decrease in Processing Time for Over-the-Counter Building Permits to Speed Construction


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60% of San Francisco over-the-counter construction permits now issued within two business days

Mayor London N. Breed, San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI), and the San Francisco Permit Center today released data documenting a 28% decrease in Over-the-Counter (OTC) building permit application processing times in February 2022 compared to the same time last year. During February, 60% of OTC customers got their building permits within two business days of submitting an application.

Streamlining the permitting process and making it easier for individuals and companies to navigate San Francisco’s bureaucracy has been a focus of Mayor Breed’s since taking office. By streamlining the process for building permits, the City can help reduce the time and cost for construction across the City.

“As I said in my State of the City address, our city government needs to ensure we’re delivering on the basic services that residents expect. That means when someone wants to remodel their kitchen, or repair their deck, that the process is transparent, straightforward, and easy to navigate,” said Mayor Breed. “By creating a one-stop permit center and bringing together the multiple departments involved in this process, we’ve made it easier for people to get their permits and get started on their project. We’re going to keep looking for ways to build on this progress.”

Over-the-Counter permits accounted for 94% of all building permits issued in February 2022 (1,716 out of 1,816 building permits were OTC) and cover most construction work, including commercial tenant improvements, residential kitchen remodels, bathroom additions, and deck repairs.

“During the past year, we’ve started to reorganize our work processes around the needs of the customer. The faster processing times are proof that those efforts are succeeding,” said Patrick O’Riordan, Director of the Department of Building Inspection. “Our goal very simple: provide efficient and effective oversight as part of a positive customer experience for every permit applicant. We are committed to getting there one step at a time.”

The strong partnership between DBI and the Permit Center has been key to the recent service gains in OTC building permit review and processing. Together, the two departments have started to deploy a series of customer service initiatives designed to speed permit review, offer high-quality staff support for all permit applicants, and provide a better experience for permit customers.

In particular, the implementation of the Qless customer notification and online waiting system, which allows visitors to check their waiting time online before heading out the door, has been central to the success of Over-the-Counter permitting as it reduces the customer’s time at the Permit Center and creates more certainty in the process. The Permit Center also recently opened a new onsite Print Center to make it easier for permit applicants to take care of all their construction permitting needs in one location.

“Putting our customers’ needs first has always been our priority. That mind set is what created these profound and positive impacts on our operations and ability to serve the public,” said Rebecca Villareal-Mayer, Director of the San Francisco Permit Center. “We remember the earlier days when our teams were reviewing documents outdoor in the parking lot at the height of COVID, that is because we have our customers’ best interest in mind.

DBI has also expanded the permits that can be applied for online to include kitchens, bathrooms and reroofing, and are making incremental improvements to DBI’s website starting our most popular, customer-focused pages, including Over-the-Counter, In-House Review, Complaints, and Solar installations.

OTC applications are submitted at the Permit Center located on the second floor of 49 South Van Ness. The Permit Center was opened in August 2020, providing a centralized place for construction, special events, and business permitting, by working closely with a wide range of City agencies such as Planning Department, Public Works, Fire Department, Public Utilities Commission, Public Health and others.

OTC Building Permit Processing Today vs. A Year Ago

  • 28% year-over-year increase in the percentage of OTC permits issued within two business days
    • 1,028 of 1,716 OTC permit applications (60%) in February 2022
    • 734 of 1,606 OTC permit applications (46%) in February 2021

Key Operational Improvements

  • “Get them going” – Prioritize intake of new permits so customers can work with other permitting departments and secure their permit on the same day as they apply.
  • “Staff where needed most” – Team leaders use dynamic staffing to manage multiple queues and reassign their staff to where they are needed most at that moment.
  • “Stay open until the last customer is served” – Qless and the Point of Sale system remain open until the Permit Center queue closes at 4pm. At that time, staff strive to help all customers remaining in the queues, including late arrivals in the queue.
  • “Check that list” – All over-the-counter permit customers are provided with a checklist of required forms for intake and issuance. The document is also available on our website.
  • “Standardizing service” – Enhanced trainings focused on customer service, escalation processes and internal coordination. Standardization of policies and procedures to establish consistency in our processes, feedback and direction to the customer.

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