Just this week the City of Menifee approved a contract with a Computer Software, Inc. to computerize its building permits.
Up until now, all building permits were processed and managed using storage boxes. Perhaps no one is more relieved than Craig Carlson, the city's building inspector, who currently spends a lot of time sifting through one box after another.
"I get about four to five calls each day from realtors, the census bureau, and other groups who want reports." Carlson says. "It literally takes me several hours to go through this stuff. I've got boxes from 2010 and 2009, and I have to go through each one."
MAGNET Municipal is an Internet-based system that integrates with local geographic information systems (GIS) as well as Google Maps, and keeps an electronic dossier on every property in Menifee. City staff can view a satellite image of Menifee, click on a house with a swimming pool, and find out if that house has proper permits on file. If it does not, the system can generate a letter to the homeowner and fire it off from there.
"The county of Riverside can already do that with its existing GIS" Carlson said. "But those satellite images are old. It still doesn't even show my house, and my house was built in 2006." Interestingly, Carlson said that Google Maps offers a premium service to cities and counties showing satellite imagery updated to within six months. "Most people don't know that service exists." he said.
So if you're a homeowner in Menifee, and you built a patio cover without obtaining a permit, should you worry now that the city has this new software?
The answer seems uncertain. Carlson noted that with or without the new permit tracking software, residents in Menifee seem to do a pretty good job of notifying the city about building projects taking place nearby. "Much of our enforcement actually comes from calls we get from residents".
But the new system will also help home buyers identify outstanding issues before they make a purchase. "By law, Realtors are supposed to disclose all outstanding problems to the homebuyer, and they haven't been doing that" Carlson said. "A homebuyer can call us and find out if the home they want to buy actually has permits for its improvements."
Cost of the new software is $146,100 for the first year of use. Each subsequent year the city will have to pay $28,960.
But it sounds like it's going to be worth its weight in gold just in the amount of man hours it's going to save. "We really need that software!" Carlson was relieved to say. "It's going to save us so much time."