Five Questions with Jim Chan, Assistant Director for Permitting, Department of Permitting and Environmental Review

Jim Chan1. What was your first role at King County? I was hired as a summer intern in my junior year at the University of Washington, working for the Building and Land Use Department as an Engineer Assistant. I reviewed residential building permit applications, drove throughout the county visiting development sites and met with property owners and consultants.

2. Why did you choose King County as an employer? While a student at the UW, I worked for a professor making $4.50 an hour counting cars on overpasses. The Building and Land Use Department was located two miles from my parents’ home in Bellevue. A phone call landed a summer internship, later a part-time job which became a permanent hire after graduation.  Engineering was my degree and focus. The work location was close to home at the time. A third of the work was outdoors away from the office. Many of my co-workers were also recent hires out of college and we bonded outside of the workplace. It also paid significantly more than the UW.

3. What do you do as Assistant Director for DPER? As the Assistant Director of DPER, I oversee the product lines of development processing, code enforcement, permitting and customer services.

4. What do you like most about your job?  Every day brings a different challenge and I have never been bored. Just in the past year, the spotlight has been on permitting marijuana, development of green building tools, anticipation of online permitting and emerging interests in upscale tree houses. The ever-changing landscape of the work itself is what I like most.

5. What is the biggest challenge in your job? The Department of Permitting and Environmental Review is very small, less than 100 total employees, therefore, we are challenged with having to do it all. We are transitioning from being specialists to generalists to maximize the use of our resources. Supervisors and managers are wearing multiple hats to cover initiatives, committees and other required directives. We are also one of the oldest departments with many staff eligible for retirement. When you do not have deep bench and they are retiring, succession planning is a major challenge.