Self-certification could slash Honolulu’s permit backlog

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Honolulu City Council on Oct. 18, 2023.

October 18, 2023
9 a.m.
Honolulu City Council Chambers

To: Honolulu City and County Council
      Councilmember Calvin Say, Chair
      Councilmember Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Councilmembers:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on Bill 6 (2023), CD1, which would allow building applications to be reviewed by professionals qualified to self-certify that the plans and other data are in compliance with all applicable laws.

Expanding the use of self-certification could meaningfully slash Honolulu’s permitting backlog, which now stands at about six months.[1]

Under a self-certification regime, professionals such as architects, engineers and other experts designated by the Department of Planning and Permitting could attest that their building plans comply with all applicable building codes and regulations and automatically receive a permit without going through a DPP or third-party review.

Other municipalities across the country use both of these mechanisms to minimize permitting delays.

For example, Johns Creek, Georgia, a town of about 80,000, contracts with a private entity to review its most complicated permits, such as for hospitals, while allowing its civil servants to review standard permits, such as for homes. This helps the city avoid permitting backlogs. In fact, permits in Johns Creek are often issued within five to 10 days of when they are applied for.[2]

Self-certification has also worked in other cities. For example, New York City has employed a self-certification process for decades. This has helped speed up the building process. In fiscal 2023, New Yorkers could expect their building permits to be approved in about 18 days.[3]

The city has also implemented several safeguards to help ensure that all buildings meet code. According to the 2023 New York City Mayor’s Management Report, city auditors randomly review roughly 20% of self-certified permits to deter cheating.[4]

Likewise, Chicago has used a self-certification program with success. Many architects can self-certify building plans and receive a permit within 10 days.[5]

Lest anyone fear that self-certification could lead to unsafe buildings, many architects and engineers would likely ask third-party reviewers to double-check their findings for more complicated projects.  Building code inspectors would also still perform routine inspections on the buildings during their construction, and again upon their completion.

Of the proposed amendments to Bill 6, the Institute supports the amendment submitted by Councilmember Andria Tupola because it allows for a more expansive use of self-certification.[6] However, any use of self-certification would be an improvement over the status quo.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Ian Bauer, “City director reports drop in Honolulu building permit backlog,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 21, 2023.

[2] Joe Kent, “Testimony: Hawaii County could use ‘Konno’ exceptions to address permit backlog,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Nov. 3, 2022.

[3]Mayor’s Management Report,” New York City, September 2023, p. 328.

[4] Ibid, p. 328.

[5]Self-Certification Permit Program,” City of Chicago, Feb. 25, 2022.

[6] Honolulu City Council, Committee on Zoning meeting, Oct. 18, 2023, pp. 18-19.

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