Make Novato building department accountable and transparent

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To: Mr. Fryday, Mr. Candelario,

The Novato building department has an important mandate because enforcing the Title 24 serves the public good by allowing our community to have safe, accessible, efficient, and sustainable buildings.

However, the ability to fulfill this mandate fails when a building department does not act in the best interest of the public it serves.

We are looking for your assistance in making changes to how the Novato building department conducts business. Below are the areas of concern where changes are needed:

  • The inconsistency of information/ of code interpretation between different employees
  • Excessive nature of what jobs/projects require permit/ Mandate to be revenue-neutral
  • Inaccurate information
  • Privacy concerns regarding photos taken during presale inspection

The inconsistency of information/ of code interpretation between different employees

The building department does not have clear code interpretation. This leads to overly broad code interpretation, arbitrary decisions, and confusion.

Code interpretations vary between individual department employees. There should be “one source of truth” document that the building department employees use instead of interpreting the code as they see fit. The document/ the code interpretation should also be available to the public.

This would remove the opaqueness in code interpretation and as a result limit the confusion, frustration, and distrust the public has of the department.

Excessive nature of what requires a permit/ Mandate to be revenue-neutral

The list of items Novato homeowners need a permit for is excessive. Simple projects, such as changing a shower head, replacing shower handles, replacing exterior light fixtures, and many others require a permit. However, most stores and websites limit the selection of items to those that comply with California law and one would have to make an extra effort to buy for example a non-compliant shower head. Therefore, such jobs should not require a permit.

Instead of going after homeowners over such items, the department should show restraint and focus on areas that impact the building safety or health of its occupants.  This would also give the department personnel more time to focus on items that matter, the intent of the Title 24.

The state law allows the building department to establish fees to offset the cost of enforcement of the building codes. It also says that such fees for permits and enforcement activities shall not be levied for general revenues (Ref. Health and Safety Code Sections 17951 and 19132.3). The excessive nature of what requires a permit and attempts to make the homeowners and contractors to price the work higher than its true cost, goes against this principle.

Back to the example of shower replacement; it would cost around $130 of which ~$100 are the permit fees, plus couple lost hours waiting at the department for the paperwork and for the inspection. How does this benefit the public?

Inaccurate information

Statements by building department employees contradict information published by the department. As a result, homeowners are asked to get permits that do not require permits, based on the department’s own published information.

For example, page 2 of this Pdf (http://novato.org/home/showdocument?id=19405 lists tiling as not requiring a permit. “Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work’.

However; in a conversation with a building official, they stated that a permit is needed when putting a tile floor in bathroom or kitchen as well as when replacing tiles in the shower surround.

General recommendation from the building official was to inquire with the department about all items that did not require a permit and to list non-permit requiring items on permits, in order to avoid being fined later.

Since this is an official document the building department should not be able to fine people for doing work they officially list as not requiring permits.

More importantly, the above-mentioned document should be greatly expanded so that it provides clear and unequivocal information for both the public and the building department employees.

Privacy concerns regarding photos taken during presale inspection

During the presale inspection inspectors take photos of entire property—particularly kitchen, bath(s), accessory structures, retaining and landscape walls, fence height, patio cover(s), deck(s), and other fixtures.

If the homeowner still resides in the house the photos will include their private possessions which seem like a serious invasion of privacy.

The homeowner should have the right to refuse the photos be taken and he/she should be able to do that without fear of repercussions.

For private photographs already stored on city computers, the public should know what are the safeguards put in place.



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