My "Expedited" Building Permit

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Time creaked like the hands of a slow moving clock.

I was at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection and the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector, trying to obtain a permit for a small bathroom remodel. To get this permit and license for our contractor, my first stop had me at the Building Inspection web site. It is written reasonably well in English and additional languages. Given the small size of this remodel, I next navigated to the Over the Counter Permitting Services page, an "expedited" process for projects that do not require on-site inspections. As they say, however, "It's all in the details." The fees page alone was confusing enough to make the room spin.

Once at the offices, the staff was professional and polite. It did not take long, however, before I found out how inefficient and non-user-friendly the system actually is.

After all, I am a developmental pediatrician. Ask me about children with ADHD, clear as crystal. Talk to me about load bearing walls, murky as mud.

The so-called "expedited" process requires appearing before several different inspectors like the PUC and Fire Prevention. Blueprints showing the entire apartment, not just the bathroom, need to be signed and stamped by each inspector.


What is missing is an actual list of what to do in what order and why. A list that says: "Do not show up at my desk until you have this particular document stamped and signed by so and so first". Woe to the inexperienced and non-English fluent.

Fortunately after 17 hours and one fire alarm evacuation , the permit was approved.

We all need clarity when forced to deal with systems. As a doctor, I need to be as clear as possible whenever discussing Systems of Care with my pediatric patients and their parents, at least more clearly than an "expedited" SF building permit application process.

With a Perspective, this is Brad Berman.

Brad Berman is a developmental behavior pediatrician practicing in the East Bay.