While many cities and counties have developed web sites to provide information to the public, few have attempted to use the Web to manage permitting. That is beginning to change, however, as cities such as San Carlos, Calif., seek to simplify the permitting process.

As part of the "Smart Permit" project, San Carlos is allowing people to track the status of permit requests and schedule inspections while logged onto the city's web site. Residents can use the system to voice support or concern for pending projects and to check on the zoning designation or ownership of property. Plans also call for the system to be enhanced to allow residents and property owners to apply and pay for routine permits via the Web.

Smart Permit is the result of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, a regional partnership of 27 cities and counties formed in 1993 to help its members incorporate web technology into basic government functions. One of its first projects involved developing software to allow permitting via the Internet.

Eight cities in Joint Venture: Silicon Valley -- San Carlos, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Fremont and San Jose -- have signed on as pilot cities for the Smart Permit program. They formed the Bay Area Software Purchase (BASP) to acquire and develop a web-based permit system, in conjunction with Tidemark Computer Systems, Seattle. The group arranged for industry experts to donate their time to work with city staff and make improvements to the existing permit process. In San Carlos, that led to more than 90 improvements even before the new automated permit system was developed.

Next, the cities standardized forms, systems and building codes (whittling 400 amendments down to 11) so that one technology package could span the needs of all the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley cities and counties. BASP members split the costs. Finally, the cities ensured internal buy-in by involving every department with a stake in the new system. Each jurisdiction had a core project team representing its planning, building, public works and information technology divisions.

The result for residents, businesses and developers was a giant step forward in self-service government. "What we are doing is revolutionizing the way permits will be handled by cities in the future," says San Carlos City Manager Michael Garvey. "After the Smart Permit project is complete, permitting at City Hall will never be the same." For more information on the project, visit the Smart Permit web site at www.jointventure.org/initiatives/smartpermit/index.html or the San Carlos Smart Permit section at www. ci.san-carlos.ca.us/building/ smart permit.html.