El Dorado County supervisors address building permit backlog

Eric Jaramishian / Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The El Dorado County Planning and Building Department is making changes to address a backlog in approving building permits, including hiring more staff.

As of June 30 more than 10,000 building permits have yet to be processed from the 2021-22 fiscal year.

More than 13,800 new building permit applications were sent to the building division in 2021-22, a 30% increase from last fiscal year.

The building division received around 10,000 permits in 2020-21 and 2019-20.

Planning and Building Director Karen Garner shared these statistics with the Board of Supervisors during a regular Tuesday meeting Sept. 27.

“I think that is primarily reflective of the strong housing market and strong economy overall in addition to all the new homes, tenant improvements and remodels coming through,” Garner said.

District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl noted the number of permits in process from fiscal year 2021-22 jumped by 69% from the previous year and questioned if a bottleneck in issuing permits had been identified.

“I know staffing has been short but whenever you see that kind of increase it’s almost like we need to start looking at a closer timeframe, because if this thing is growing unexpectedly then we need to figure out why and what we can do to respond,” Hidahl said. “That response time needs to be fairly quick and we can’t wait until the end of the year to look at it again.

“The more we can get ahead of that and understand the trending, I think we are going to be better off in understanding (if) we need to … start hiring now, recognizing that we probably have a lag time of three to six months in being able to hire anyone.”

Garner said while her department has no control over market needs and demands, they plan to hire additional staff.

The bottleneck is the result of increased applications submitted in fiscal year 2021-22. Staffing levels and the process in which applications are processed remained the same that fiscal year.

“We don’t have a way to increase that output, so they are getting backed up a little bit,” Garner explained.

Garner also cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the Caldor Fire as factors in slowing down processing.

Steady numbers of permits have been finalized in the years since 2018, which Garner chalked up to the number of staff and the process staying the same.

Out of 13,832 permits, 7,348 were finalized in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Garner said smaller projects get processed quicker, oftentimes on the same day, while larger projects take more time to get approved.

While Garner said her department is starting to get a handle on finalizing permits, the bottlenecks sent red flags to supervisors.

“That gives me more concern if you are saying there are actually projects that are quicker than others because this seems like a huge bottleneck and we are only getting out half as many as we are putting in,” District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel said. “We are getting way behind on this.”

County building inspectors conduct 10 inspections per day. They inspected a total of 32,226 buildings in 2021.

Garner confirmed there are more county inspectors on the West Slope than in the Tahoe region. As of press time there were 44 building division staff.

Garner said her department plans to hire additional staff in the Tahoe office, to use salaries for unfilled “extra help” positions to convert to full-time positions and will regularly monitor building permit processing times and staffing to inform additional changes as needed.

Garner‘s department is also looking into their permit processing software TrakIT to make sure the program is both user and customer friendly.

“When I talk about staffing and our process being the same, TrakIT is that piece where the process can really improve and we should be able to speed things through more quickly,” Garner said.

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