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Truckee’s inner workings: streamlining the process

Talk of the Town, a Column by Heidi Scoble and Robie Wilson Litchfield

In our last article we took you on a tour of Truckee Town Hall. Today we return, for the first in a three-part look at the Community Development Department – we’ll start with the Building Division. OK I know you ask, “What the heck is going on down there?” Rumors are flying and nearly the entire construction community is in an uproar about operations in the division.

First it’s important to know what the Building Division (BD) does and why. Then we will look at some of the issues of current controversy, explain some of the reasons and then, hopefully, ease your mind with sharing what is being done about it.

To begin, the BD’s chief building official is Bill Miller, who works under Tony Lashbrook, the community development director. Mr. Miller has 26 years of building experience in the public sector, beginning as a plans examiner for the Nevada County Building Department. He has served the town since its incorporation, managing the division, which includes two plans examiners, three public service technicians, and four building inspectors. It is these people’s jobs to ensure the goals of the state.



For the purpose of community health, safety and welfare, the state mandates that each town have a BD that reviews construction proposals based upon a chosen set of rules, in California’s case, the Uniform Building Code, or UBC. The reason for these mandates is to prevent incidents such as the Rhode Island nightclub fire, or more close to home, the 1993 propane explosion at the former Masonic building downtown. The UBC is a complicated document, and can be misunderstood and misinterpreted. The plan check process is the first step in ensuring that the UBC is enforced.

The town’s plan check process, at times, has seemed rather convoluted and circuitous to the average person, and the building division has on and off for the past few years received much criticism for this as well as the perception of its inconsistent inspections and the amount of information that is required to issue a building permit. What people may not know is that the BD not only enforces the UBC, but also ensures compliance with codes relating to planning, engineering, fire, and other special districts. Living in a mountainous environment with significant snow loads and steep slopes require a myriad of complex information, such as grading plans, soils reports, engineering, snow load and energy calculations, revegetation plans and more to be submitted to the Building Division for review and approval.



While the goals and intentions of the division are noble, the intricacies of the process are largely responsible for confusion and slowdowns. An unusually high volume of submittals for new construction of residential and commercial buildings, particularly for a community this size, an inordinately complex set of requirements for design for the mountain environment, natural gas conversions, re-roofs, additions, wood stove change outs, incomplete plans, and professionals from “off the hill” who are not familiar with the town’s permitting requirements all contribute to the increased work load and drag on the review and inspection process.

So what’s being done about it? Meetings – lots of meetings, six meetings so far. Participating are representatives from the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe, (CATT), other area contractors, local engineers, architects, the town’s chief building official, and liaisons from the Truckee Town Council, which include Craig Threshie and Mayor Ted Owens, facilitated by Tony Lashbrook. The goal: to develop strategies for improved efficiency and responsiveness from both sides – the town and the construction community, The outcome: a proactive and apparently successful dialogue between all meeting participants. The process has created an awareness of what the construction industry finds as problems with the building permit process and conversely, an understanding of the volume and complexity of building permits that inundate the system. Ultimately the group hopes to have a set of recommendations ready to take to the town council for approval by the end of the year. Included in these recommendations is increased funding for additional staff, establish a process for quick turnaround on plan checks (four weeks), establish a system that will enable applicants to submit complete plans, and provide a means for consistency among all inspectors during on-site inspections. In the hopes that the recommendations will quell the frustrations associated with the BD, we are looking forward to seeing the results.

The advice we can give is to hang tight, the town and the community are actively working hard to make changes that will make the process more efficient. Also, don’t wait until summer to apply for a building permit. The winter months are a great time to submit your permit for plan check. You may even experience a faster turn around … the end result being a building permit at the beginning of the construction season.

For more information on the building permit process, contact the Community Development Department at 582-7820 or access the town’s Web page (www.townoftruckee.com), Building Division for information on building permit submittal requirements and contacts. CATT, the local contractor’s association can also be reached at 550-9999.

Heidi Scoble is Associate Planner for Truckee, and Robie Wilson Litchfield sits on the Truckee Planning Commission. They can be reached at hscoble@townoftruckee.com.


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