In a region that thrives on innovation, it should come as no surprise that people would expect their government to innovate, too.

In Sunnyvale, a dynamic Silicon Valley town just a bit smaller than Santa Rosa, city leaders have figured that out.

Imagine entering a building permit department and being asked at the counter: "When do you need to be in?"

Sunnyvale does that.

Oh, and it also monitors telephone wait times to make sure they are meeting customer service goals. Ninety-nine percent of those who answered a survey about its permitting center said they were satisfied or very satisfied with its service.

Meanwhile, despite the recession, the number of permits the city has issued has remained relatively steady. The value of permits issued is down from a spike in 2007-08, but is not too far below years earlier in the decade. And it isn't all strip malls and big box retailers. More than 36 percent of its tax revenues come from business and industry versus 19 percent from consumer goods.

And not content to rest, the city that invented the one-stop permitting center  is expanding the number of permits and plan checks that can be done online. It is experimenting with using satellite technology for final sign-offs on projects.

Now, one can hear critics saying, "the North Bay doesn't want to be like San Jose," which is impossible anyway given this region's strong urban growth boundaries and protections for agriculture.

The issue is not Sunnyvale vs. Wine Country. It is about creating a process that works, that fairly and efficiently takes a community in the direction it has set for itself. Sunnyvale is a prosperous, educated community with a vibrant lifestyle. It is made up of mostly small companies with an emerging green tech cluster. It is home to one of the most-watched green energy companies in the nation, Bloom Energy. Its housing, including in-fill, is in balance with the jobs base.

Isn't this at least in part what we say we want to be?

Speaking to the Business Journal's annual construction industry conference Wednesday, the director of community development for Sunnyvale, Hanson Hom, said the city has used its track record on efficient and timely planning and permitting as a competitive advantage to attract companies that might otherwise have gone out of the area or out of the state.

To their credit, planning agencies across the North Bay, including Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, are looking at ways to improve service and lower hurdles to business.

The lesson from Sunnyvale and Mr. Hom is that for most companies today, especially venture-backed technology firms, time and speed are critical.

Delay, on the other hand, can be  deadly.


Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or