LPA Entitlements Team Helping Agencies Improve Online Submissions

LPA’s entitlements team is in demand these days. Agencies have been reaching out to the group to help develop their online submission portals, as they look to upgrade their filing systems and improve their overall plan check and permitting culture.

The City of Santa Ana and the Orange County Fire Authority are the most recent agencies to seek out assistance on how to improve their Web-based document processing infrastructure, says LPA Entitlements Senior Specialist Ginger Shulman.

“They want to get a better understanding of what other cities are doing and what is working and what isn’t working,” Shulman says.

Last year, LPA worked with the City of Irvine to develop its online submission portal, a streamlined, web-based platform for the planning, building, and public works plan check and permitting processes. The site handles planning and building applications, and engineering review and fees, creating new efficiencies for design and contractor teams.

LPA has worked with the City of Irvine’s planning department for decades and has established long-term working relationships with many of the personnel in different departments. The entitlements team was enlisted to provide input into the development of the online system, and test and evaluate it once it was operational.

“Their goals are that anyone can submit 24/7 and to make their plan check process more streamlined and faster,” says Shulman, who has worked with the City for 13 years in her role with LPA. “They want to increase the efficiency of the process.”

The new system eliminates paper and printing costs, and reduces trips to City Hall, meshing with the City’s environmental goals. In the five months that LPA team members were evaluating Irvine’s online system, they processed about 200 projects electronically, saving approximately 1,600 trips to the city’s office, Shulman notes.

During the COVID closures, the City of Irvine was one of the few agencies in California that did not close the submittal and permitting process, thanks to the new filing system.

From the city’s perspective, the involvement of the LPA entitlements team helped provide real world expertise to analyze how the system could increase efficiency and ensure security and accuracy. LPA’s dialogue with City staff also explored the culture of the process, looking for ways to improve communication and increase transparency.

“Our partnership with LPA has been invaluable as we introduce new technology and work to improve our entitlement and permitting workflow,” says Pete Carmichael, Director of Community Development for the City of Irvine. “Because of our longstanding relationship with Ginger and the LPA team and their knowledge of our system, they have provided insights and ideas that we have put in place and have greatly benefitted LPA and the City.”

LPA is one of the few design firms with a dedicated entitlements team, working across practices, to expedite the plan check and permitting process. The entitlement experts follow a project throughout the process, ensuring documentation and applications meet the local requirements.

“The entitlement team works closely with the agencies every day and they know what we need to supply and when we need to supply it,” says LPA Managing Director Damon Dusterhoft. “It takes the confusion out of the process from the very beginning.”

The expertise of the team members speeds up the process and helps minimize errors and changes, Dusterhoft says. “There are many levels of discretionary approvals on many of our projects,” he says. “We save time and money thanks to Ginger and her team and their understanding of the process and their relationships with the different agencies.”

One sign of the department’s status in the industry: clients are asking to hire the entitlements experts on non-LPA projects. The agencies also recognize the value of their diverse experience, which is key as they look to improve their online and digital interfaces.

“We’re happy to work with the agencies in any way we can to share our experiences and help improve efficiencies,” Shulman says.