Dallas’ Development Services Department (DSD) predicts a positive outlook for 2023, following numerous changes the department made throughout the year. Only time will tell if an improved permitting process will become a reality.
The department struggled publicly in 2022, with permitting delays for new single-family dwellings (NSF), tension between the Mayor and City Manager, and continued delays in basics like reporting on the number of outstanding permits.
Attributing the responsibility for the problem to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, the mayor suggested earlier this year, “Mr. City Manager, we need you to take our city government to the next level by ensuring that the services we offer, such as those in our city’s permitting office, are first-class and customer-centric.”
“I know our city council is ready to give you whatever tools you need to make that happen. We need urgency, and we need results,” he continued.
In May of this year, the city hired a new Chief Building Official and Development Services Director, Andrew Espinoza.
Since taking over the position in May, Espinoza and his Development Services Residential Team have attempted to reduce permit wait times, improve customer service initiatives, and refine the department’s internal culture, according to Espinoza.
The Dallas Express reached out to Espinoza on Tuesday to get an idea of what he thought about DSD’s 2022 performance and its current outlook heading into 2023.
“I’m very excited for 2023,” Espinoza told The Dallas Express. “The department has continued work diligently to make incremental improvements throughout the year and is proud to be ending 2022 better than how we started.”
“Our team is getting stronger and is developing a better understanding of all the Department’s many processes,” Espinoza continued. “Although it has been a challenging journey, the team is moving expeditiously to improve customer service delivery, reduce wait times, and so much more.”
DSD has tried to handle Dallas’ “backlog” of NSF permits but has consistently turned up short, leading to the problems the City currently works to solve.
However, in November — roughly six months into his new job — Espinoza announced in DSD’s monthly newsletter that the department had cleared its initial-review backlog of “overdue” permits. DSD refers to an NSF permit that exceeds its established initial review performance goal of 15 days as “overdue.”
DSD continued demonstrating positive permit activity performance in December, according to Espinoza, although data for the month has yet to be released.
“We are proud to report that all permits in the department’s queue are currently being worked on or are with customers for fixes. This means that Development Services will be heading into January with a clean slate,” Espinoza explained. Still, “this is not the time to be taking our foot off the gas,” he added.
DSD still has many challenges to overcome in 2023, given the results of a 2022 audit by the Matrix Consulting Group, which made multiple recommendations to DSD after identifying a handful of easily identifiable and addressable issues.
One of the foundational issues Espinoza wants to see DSD change is the department’s internal culture, which he says will help improve many other issues, such as staffing problems and the long initial review times.
“We want to change the perception the community has about Development Services. That starts with changing the culture,” he said. “Right now, it can take anywhere from four to six weeks to interview, recruit, and onboard new team members, so it can be difficult to find the right talent.”
In addition, “DSD has to compete with private sector employers and other municipalities for that skilled talent, so if job applicants don’t already have the perception that DSD ‘is the best place to work,’ then many will seek employment elsewhere,” Espinoza said. “That responsibility ultimately falls on me, though.”
While progress can be slow, Espinoza remains encouraged and hopeful about planned changes in the pipeline for 2023.
“It is an honor to be a public servant in Dallas and to serve the community,” Espinoza concluded.
Espinoza’s optimism comes following renewed attention upon the department’s performance from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who has repeatedly called out the city’s permitting struggle.
The problem with Dallas’ permitting process was just one of the many points of tension between Broadnax, who has a bigger salary than the mayor and President of the United States. The conflict reached such a level that city hall even considered firing Broadnax in 2022.