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Palo Alto, California, Moves Permitting and Inspection Online and Takes Advantage of Open Platform to Build and Deploy Civic Apps

Accela cloud-based solutions keep infrastructure and staffing costs low while reducing wait time in agency offices

Located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose, the City of Palo Alto is a community of approximately 61,200 residents and encompasses an area of approximately 26 square miles, of which one-third is open space. While the tree-lined streets and historic buildings reflect its California heritage, Palo Alto is recognized worldwide as a leader in cutting-edge technological development, and the mix of tradition and innovation makes it an extraordinary place to own and operate a business.

The Palo Alto Development Services Department manages regulatory compliance for all construction-related activity in the city. Construction activity has to gain approval from five different intercity departments for both the plan check and construction stages of a project. This accounts for plan review, permitting and inspection of every new and improved structure that attains a building permit — approximately 5,000 permits and 24,000 inspections per year.

But with a community eager to build and grow, Peter Pirnejad and the team in Development Services realized that the development review process had languished. Citizens were forced to wait in long lines at the Development Services office to fill out the paperwork needed for permits and inspections. Average wait times topped two hours, causing citizens to get parking tickets or avoid filing the necessary paperwork altogether.

“We did surveys and found that people were looking to engage with Development Services and local government agencies online. In fact, 50 percent wanted to engage via an online portal. So, we were looking for a way to respond to that, create more services in a self-service format so that citizens can get the data they need, get the permits they want, pay online, schedule their inspections — all the things they would do in our office from their home.”


The agency’s goal was to become a leader in the space of permitting, licensing and development review. Palo Alto partnered with Accela and is now leveraging Land Management solutions hosted in the cloud.

“I’d rather spend our resources on our innovation and not on the hardware. We spend too much time trying to update our servers when we should be focused on the technology. A cloud-based environment lets us do that.”

Palo Alto is also using Accela Mobile Office and is working toward a launch of Accela Citizen Access. Today, all inspectors are equipped with iPads, making it easier to view and manipulate cases from the field and shortening the time from application to completion. Additionally, Pirnejad and his team are partnering with civic developers like BuildingEye and Civic Insight to launch apps to streamline display and development review, with a view toward launching additional apps throughout the year.

“By being hosted in the cloud, we have the ability to partner with leaders and civic innovators in a way we couldn’t before. Giving them access to the data they need is simple and now we’ve been able to partner to create new civic applications.”


By implementing Accela solutions, the Palo Alto Development Services Department has accelerated the planning and review process, improved customer service and enhanced citizen engagement through the development of mobile apps. The agency continues to look for ways to leverage technology to simplify civic processes and to enable constituents to access government on their terms.

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