Why I Love Seattle's DPD

The earthquake in Haiti reminds one writer of all the reasons he's fond of Seattle's planning department.
The earthquake in Haiti reminds one writer of all the reasons he's fond of Seattle's planning department.

Let'ꀙs do the full disclosure right up front: my late father Richard J. Banel worked for what is now called Seattle'ꀙs Department of Planning and Development from 1963 to 1989.

Back then, it was called the Building Department, and the boss was called the 'ꀜSuperintendent of Buildings.'ꀝ That'ꀙs why the T-shirts that everybody wore to the annual picnic read, 'ꀜMy boss is the S.O.B.'ꀝ But I digress.

I of course love DPD because it kept my father employed for nearly 30 years, and it fed, clothed, housed, entertained, and educated our big Catholic family (there were 11 of us, counting dad, mom, and the kids). If you figure in what the City of Seattle spent for health insurance alone for us, our family did very well, and I remain ever grateful.

But I really love DPD because, unlike earthquake-ravaged Haiti, when someone wants to build an addition, a garage, a house, a stripmall, a school, a hospital, or a skyscraper, they have to get their plans examined by an engineer who knows the building codes. And those building codes, particularly in a seismically active place like Seattle, represent the best defense against loss of life and property in an earthquake.

My father was a 'ꀜplans examiner'ꀝ for the City of Seattle for his entire career. He didn'ꀙt want to get into management, because he truly loved doing the work. During those three decades, he examined thousands of blueprints, working to find flaws and requiring changes that resulted in better-constructed buildings. He and his colleagues oversaw the huge building boom that took place downtown from the 1960s to the 1980s, and are the unsung heroes of a future disaster that is sure to strike here someday.

I'ꀙm obviously partial to DPD for very personal reasons, and my experiences with building permits over the years have been few and have always been smooth. I have heard the complaints about fees and delays from some contractors and builders, and I'ꀙm sure that DPD has had its problems, like any public agency. I remember one colleague back in the early 1990s who went to check on the status of a permit for a commercial development only to find his plans and application materials had been lost. Thank goodness my dad no longer worked there then!

We will face a huge quake in Seattle someday, there'ꀙs no doubt about that. But I'ꀙm confident that we will never see damage anywhere near what'ꀙs happened in and around Port-au-Prince. And that'ꀙs why I love DPD, and why you should, too.


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