My Building Department – One Piece of the Puzzle that Ensures a Stronger California for All
By: Lauren Herman, CALBO Deputy Director
COVID-19 has impacted us all, especially as building-safety professionals. At the height of the pandemic, CALBO published a membership highlight series to feature building department stories of adaptation and change to keep us encouraged and connected. I was inspired by the efforts of our members to not only provide, but improve public service during one of the most challenging times in recent history.
As a Long Beach resident, I recently visited my local building department for a ride-along to see first-hand how staff are overcoming the barriers of the pandemic to keep my community safe and strong. What I discovered is that the City of Long Beach Building and Safety Bureau demonstrates how building departments are the pandemic’s heroes keeping services available, whether in-person or online, to support residential and commercial projects year round.
Even when doors periodically closed to the public during the pandemic, Long Beach plan check and permit applications increased with each quarter this past year, and customers assisted on the permit center help desk phone line ranged from 7,400-10,500 each quarter from 2020-21 to date. In addition, the Building and Safety Bureau’s website offers online scheduling, permit submissions, online training opportunities for the public, and other service resources.
I had the privilege to visit Long Beach’s Permit Center for a ride-along with Combination Building Inspector Eric Kranda. I visited the new Civic Center, Steel Craft, a cargo container outdoor urban eatery, and Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) residential projects. These are examples of the diverse development in Long Beach neighborhoods. This coastal city continues to embrace progressive standards while improving customer service and ensuring compliance with state and local codes for a better built-environment for all.
During my visit to the Permit Center, I walked through Long Beach’s new Civic Center, home to City Hall and the Port Administration Building. I was amazed by this state of the art facility for its redesign that ensures a seismically safe and environmentally sustainable civic core of downtown for both residents and city employees. This $520 million project, that includes the redevelopment of the Main Library and the revitalization of neighboring Lincoln Park, was made possible through a public-private partnership that offered new avenues of funding and sustainability.
Long Beach is also known for its innovative commercial projects; most notable are downtown high-rise projects that I drove past during my ride-along. The City is dedicated to building for the future while respecting and preserving the past; Eric pointed out parts of historical structures that are being preserved in the new designs of downtown. But, there are other cutting-edge projects to explore to local neighborhoods.
We drove to the Bixby Knolls neighborhood to visit Steel Craft, a cargo container outdoor urban eatery that offers diverse choices for nearby residents and workers. The repurposing of these containers, otherwise deemed unusable, has been attractive alternatives to indoor dining and social gathering spots during the pandemic. This past summer, Truong Huynh, General Superintendent of Development Services, taught a CALBO webinar educating members about the use of cargo containers in residential and commercial construction.
The highlight of my ride-along was a tour of ADU projects in the Alamitos Heights and Belmont neighborhoods. Residential construction, including ADUs, continues to boom across the state. From 2020-21 to date, there have been 576 ADU projects on file with over 4,000 inspections conducted in Long Beach. Staff continue to keep up with the demand for this alternative, flexible housing model to address home supply and affordability, including offering outreach and online resources for submittal packages. During my tours of ADU projects, I met contractors and residents who talked with Eric about their construction progression and current ADU standards. I quickly noticed that there was no hostility or confusion – only cooperation and mutual respect from both parties. This is a testament to Eric’s ability to communicate professionally and knowledge of current standards and codes.
I was humbled to witness the dedicated public service efforts of the City of Long Beach Building and Safety Bureau. Staff work together to ensure a growing Long Beach while committing to a safe, sustainable, and structurally sound built environment for current and future residents and visitors alike. A special thank you to Truong Huynh, General Superintendent of Development Services, Evan Zeisel, Building Inspections Officer, and Eric Kranda, Combination Building Inspector, for contributing to my ride-along. I cannot drive, bike or walk my Long Beach neighborhood without remembering the exemplary service of my local building department. You are one piece of the puzzle that ensures a stronger California for all.