Move to electronic plans submittals keeps Rancho Cucamonga developments on track during pandemic
The Rancho Cucamonga Building Department in Southern California was spending a lot of money copying and preserving in its files hundreds of plan submissions each month. Going back to 2016, Building Safety Services Manager Michael Frasure wondered if it might be possible for plans to be submitted electronically. That could save a lot of paper and space and also begin wiping away at least part of the city’s carbon footprint.
Initially, electronic plan review was voluntary, he said, with maybe three to five percent of the submissions coming in that way. But it began catching on, and with a little help from a neighboring business, the electronic plan submission process grew by some 10 percent each year since. “If people bringing in the plans didn’t know about electronic submissions or didn’t have the capability, we offered to scan the plan for a nominal fee,” Frasure said. “If they were larger plans, we sent them to Kinko’s, which has a larger scanner, and they had them in about a half-hour.”
By last July, Rancho Cucamonga was receiving nearly 50 percent of its plans electronically. The success led Frasure to put out the word that while the option still was voluntary at that point, the city would be requiring all plans to be submitted electronically by Jan. 1, 2020. The numbers then jumped to around 90 percent by November, he said, well on their way toward hitting the New Year deadline. Already, the city was beginning to save on the cost, and physical storage space, for “hundreds and hundreds of pounds” of plan copies.
Frasure figures that by October 2020, they should have all their paper files converted to digital files. In itself, that would be a great achievement, but the move to electronic plan filing became a blessing when the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made using hard copies of anything much more difficult. “I know there were some jurisdictions still using paper that had to have people drop them off in secure boxes and leave them for several days to make sure the virus wasn’t attached,” he said. “Contractors were happy they could just send in their plans electronically, and keep business going, not having to wait four days. The word ‘lucky’ was mentioned several times about the timing of the move to electronic plans submittal.”
The electronic system also meant contractors — some from as far away as San Diego — didn’t have to deal with a six-hour round-trip or the congested Los Angeles-area traffic. “And it’s been businesses as usual,” he said. Almost.
Because of the social-distancing restrictions, Frasure said his inspectors wear masks, keep at least six feet from others and do not personally inspect interiors of occupied structures. In that case, he said, they use virtual technology — tablets and smartphones — to have the contractors do a walk-through inside the structure, while the inspector stands in the driveway. The city also has been using drones for inspections in hard-to-reach areas, he added.
Frasure, who has worked for the city in myriad capacities since 1989, believes it’s important for inspectors to be on-site as much as possible, and as safely as possible. But a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the area has him preparing to have more of his staff work remotely, after getting tested. “I’m preparing to quarantine the entire staff if need be,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting developments coming up here, and we want to keep them going. But the safety of the staff is most important.”
Regardless of the pandemic, Frasure sees Rancho Cucamonga moving to all-electronic submissions and reviews in the next few years, driven by necessity, but also by a younger generation of inspectors familiar with the technology. “We have three fairly young inspectors,” he said. “I tell them, ‘What you see today is not your father’s plan review process. And it will be totally different in the next five years.”