Bureau Veritas Partners With The City of Santa Rosa
To Speed Rebuilding After Wildfires

The city of Santa Rosa has opened its new Resilient City Rebuilding Permit Center (RCRC) at City Hall Room 6 to expedite plans and permits in the areas devastated during the October wildfires.

While Coffey Park and Fountaingrove are the most well-known burn areas, there are six designated zones that benefit from the streamlined rebuild efforts: Coffey Park, the Highway 101 corridor and Round Barn area, Fountaingrove, Fountainview, Montecito Heights and Oakmont.

Between opening its doors to the public on Nov. 28 and the first week of January, the one-stop center has serviced nearly 550 walk-in inquiries by homeowners, developers, contractors and rehabilitation firms on recovery, permit and rebuilding information.

From these, the first residential building permit was issued for the Coffey Park area at the end of December. The center recently received the first commercial-property plan submission, from Oakmont Senior Living for a new senior housing section to replace units destroyed in the blaze.

In addition, there are 11 single-family residence plans that are under review — eight in Coffey Park and three in the Fountaingrove area — and an increasing number of business owners are meeting with staff to discuss their expedited pathway to rebuilding.

“The city is taking all the steps necessary to help the areas of Santa Rosa that were destroyed by the fire to rebuild as soon as possible,” said David Guhin, Santa Rosa assistant city manager and planning and economic development director.

Important to this process, Guhin said developers want to establish master plans, including home model designs and floor layouts. The city is supporting this effort and is working with developers to pre-approve plans to reduce the time and cost to the homeowner for plan checks.

“We have seen five different master plan developers, each with from five to 10 proposed model houses. We are also encouraging revisions to add accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to these master plans,” Guhin added.


The Santa Rosa City Council adopted a Resilient City Urgency Ordinance on Oct. 24, 2017, providing streamlining and expedited review, waiving fees for discretionary planning, demolition and temporary housing permits, reducing the review authority of Hillside Development and design review to the director, allowing for temporary housing including trailers, recreational vehicles, manufactured homes and tiny homes on affected properties. The ordinance also allows construction and occupancy of new, detached ADUs, prior to the construction of a single-family residence.

To help cover the cost of processing all the rebuild permits, including ADUs, plan check review and inspections fees are still in effect. For an average sized home, this generally equates to $3,000 for plan check review fees and $2,000 for inspection fees.

In compliment to the urgency ordinance, Santa Rosa’s City Council passed another local ordinance on Tuesday, Dec. 5, that eliminated Impact fees associated with parks and infrastructure for ADUs up to 750 square feet. For 750- to 1,000-square-foot ADUs, owners will pay 25 percent of typical fees, and for 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot ADUs they would pay 50 percent of fees.

“Some fees associated with ADUs are being waived to encourage building this type of housing, and also because they represent a new way to close the housing gap,” Guhin said.

“During the fires, we put through a Request for Proposal to the city council for a new permit center office to handle fire-related services in an unprecedented three days time. Our goal is to do whatever we can to keep residents and businesses here and provide a single place people can come to get answers from a variety of subject matter experts. The council unanimously supported our proposal.”

The city has already awarded a two-year contract for $9 million to support the rebuilding effort and an additional $1.3M in development fee revenue to support the processing of new housing development citywide.

Guhin said those seeking information about how to rebuild can start by going online (www.srcity.org/rebuild) to review the data and see a series of documents available, including permit application forms.

Applicants can also visit the office at City Hall and speak directly with the RCRC staff members ready to guide them through the process, from debris removal, the design of a new dwelling or business, permitting and review, construction and inspections to moving back into a new home.

“Our goal is to provide homeowners, renters and business owners with as much information on the process as soon as possible so they can make informed decisions on what steps to take next.”


“Given the anticipated high demand, a team from Bureau Veritas North America, Inc., was brought in to add to our bench and enhance our skill sets in handling much higher than usual permit application volumes, plan checks and inspections. At the same time, we’re trying to staff our offices with as many local residents as possible,” Guhin continued.

The Monday before Thanksgiving the company came in under terms of a project contract to help with this process and to assist in getting information out to those impacted by the wildfires.

Stephen Jensen, P.E., CBO, is the contract project manager and plan check lead heading up the Bureau Veritas team in Santa Rosa.

“We have a presence throughout North American including several offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and now Santa Rosa,” Jensen said. “In addition to our people on temporary assignment in Santa Rosa, we can also send plans to our other offices for backup support and to accelerate plan check reviews.”


As visitors arrive at Room 6 at City Hall, they are greeted at the door and asked to sign in – soon an automated digital system will display the waiting queue on a flat panel screen.

An administrative customer services ombudsman directs visitors to staff with expertise to respond to their questions. Appointments can be set to address more complex issues. Representatives from each division are on hand. That includes staff from the water and engineering departments and inspectors from fire and emergency services.

Visitors can also go to the records counter to source data on their homes or businesses, obtain recovery technical permits, submit permit applications, and get information on planning, zoning, vacation rentals and ADUs. In addition, staff members are cross-trained to serve as plan reviewers and building inspectors.

Also available online is a document submission checklist and an aid to use when developing cost estimates.

To help answer frequently asked questions, the RCRC website has a section devoted to 23 frequently asked questions, such as:

“What can I put back on my lot?

When can I get back into my property?

How do I submit a plan?

What are the current setback and land use policies?

When I rebuild, does it have to be in compliance with current building regulations?


Rebuilt homes must comply with today’s ordinances and building codes, such as the California Building Standards Code that incorporates the green building code, and the California Building Code and includes requirements for fire sprinklers.

“We are also serving as a resource center informing developers, contractors and property owners about how they can modify their proposed rebuilding projects to achieve energy efficiencies at low cost,” Guhin said.

“A major aspect of our work is to provide resources and education for consumers. In the future, energy-saving features such as all electric appliances, fixtures and the use of heat-pump concepts for air-conditioning and heating will become common practice. We are meeting with state officials to determine the cost factors and resources needed to accomplish this.”

The Energy Code includes ways to build in greater energy conservation. The baseline is to address the energy use issue and provide options for the future without adding another layer of regulations. Under Title 24, the California Energy Commission’s energy-efficiency standards, the goal is to reach net-zero-energy use by 2020 with its new code that is anticipated to be adopted in 2019.

“We are striving to educate the development community to incorporate this net zero future into our planning process within reasonable costs. We’re working with Sonoma Clean Power, (Sonoma County Transportation Authority) and other regional groups to determine the process and to find funding sources,” Guhin said.

Other requirements, such as the California Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Code, mandate buildings be constructed using more fire-resistant updated methods.

“One of our key objectives is to ensure consistent and accurate answers for everyone,” Guhin said. “The design and engineering community is working hard to determine what people want and what is possible given updated codes, ordinances and regulations. For example, in Coffey Park, foundation systems for homes have to be able to support structures on expansive soil. Geo-engineers are working to address building in liquefaction areas.”

Before the fire, the goal for Santa Rosa was to build 5,000 new homes in five years. After the fires, time is of the essence. Now the city wants to see 3,000 units rebuilt in two years, in addition to 1,000 new units in the city to address the prefire housing shortage, Guhin said.

“We are taking a more aggressive focus on downtown, transit-oriented development,” he said.

On Dec. 5, the City Council voted unanimously to move quickly to build new homes on city parking lots. For example, exclusive negotiations are underway to build permanent housing on the lot adjacent to the Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Ave. This “aggressive” approach could involve multistory apartments that may exceed 10 (or more) floors.

“Our role at the Santa Rosa Resilient City Rebuilding Permit Center is to convene meetings, educate people (owners, developers and contractors) on their rights, factors affecting rebuilding, and how to accelerate and speed the time required to do this,” Guhin said. “It’s a very big task. We’ve made a good start and hope to increase the pace with help from Bureau Veritas, additional employees and continuing support from our city council as well as county, state and federal partners.”

Article courtesy of North Bay Business Journal.com

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