San Diego processes record number of permits using virtual system

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California Construction News staff writer

The City of San Diego’s development services department (DSD) completed a record number of residential inspections in a month since the program began in 2020. In August, building inspectors conducted 849 virtual residential inspections, doubling the previous high of 400 in July of this year.

#DigitalDSD includes the rollout of an online permitting system for all new development projects, virtual meetings with customers, a new Zoning and Parcel Information Portal, the online Small Cell Supplemental GIS Tool and the digitization of more than eight million records.

The DSD is on track to approve more than 70,000 projects this year – nearly 5,400 residential inspections each month – virtually and in person – mandatory before any permitted construction work can be covered, concealed, occupied or placed into use.

“We are seeing exponential growth in the number of requests for virtual inspections for projects at residences,” said deputy director and the city’s Chief Building Official Kelly Charles. “The increase in inspections reflects the growing demand to install new solar systems and upgrade water heaters and heating and cooling systems, among other home improvements.

“The city can squeeze in more inspections per day performing the inspections online as we no longer need to commute to multiple sites daily.”

The online service has helped increase the number of inspections each inspector can conduct more than 40% per day. Inspectors conduct approximately 20 virtual inspections daily.

According to city statistics, inspectors avoided driving more than 3,000 miles in August. Virtual inspections can currently be conducted on projects that are installing or constructing a variety of elements, including:

  • Electrical vehicle charging stations
  • Drywall
  • Exterior siding
  • Foundation retrofits
  • Gas air tests.
  • Light standard footings.
  • Minor framing/shear.
  • Re-roofs.
  • Retaining wall footings.
  • Rooftop and ground-mount solar photovoltaic systems.
  • Slab grades.
  • Window and door replacements.
  • Shower pans and tubs.
  • Simple heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) change-outs.
  • Water services and re-pipes.
  • Water heaters.

“Digital innovations, such as our inspection by virtual meetings with cameras, help us serve more customers, reduce emissions from driving and speed up the process. It’s a win-win for both our customers and the city,” said Development Services Director Elyse W. Lowe.

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