Little things matter
A summer visit to City Hall in pursuit of the most mundane of things — a building permit for a home improvement project — ends in failure. A half-hour wait in line ... and not a single customer is helped. Plan B: Go home and hire a contractor.
Fast-forward several months, and the project is on hold because the contractor is waiting on the permit. “I’m having a difficult time with the city of Richmond and the permit,” he says. “They are understaffed and overworked.”
We’d dismiss the delay as one bad example if not for the fact that it’s not. It’s hard to find a homeowner, business owner, or contractor who has had an easy time with any part of the permit process in the city of Richmond.
It’s not the people in the office, who seem to be working as diligently as possible. It’s that there are never enough people, and those few there are working with antiquated systems. We’re well into the digital age, and you still can’t file a building permit application online in Richmond. You have to put your plans onto a CD or a flash drive and deliver it in person (to a building with no parking, but perhaps that’s another issue).
So while we will again commend Mayor Levar Stoney for his bigpicture vision for remaking downtown, we hope he and City Council will devote some more time, and resources, to help the people and businesses who are already here. We know the mayor has been working to make City Hall work. But he’s not there yet. You shouldn’t be able to propose and hope to begin a $1.4 billion development quicker than you can get a permit to build a new deck on your house.
There’s nothing sexy about the building permit office. And properly staffing it isn’t something you’ll typically see touted in an election campaign — but an inability to get the details right creates the impression that leaders aren’t focused on little things that matter. Redoing downtown is a worthy ambition, but the people who already work and live in the city deserve attention, too.
You shouldn’t be able to propose and hope to begin a $1.4 billion development quicker than you can get a permit to build a new deck on your house.
Richmond’s City Hall can require more patience than most places.