August 12th, 2009
NOTE – The posts in SLOLeaks.com are in chronological order. To see the latest posts choose the current month link under “Archives” on the right panel. I also have a Summary of the most important events here.
I actually started this blog in February 2011. I wish I had started back in August 2009 when Judi and I first decided to build a new house. But since August 2009 I kept every email, every letter, every report, and every drawing so I have been able to recreate all that happened. I also used the California Public Records Act to try to get all its relevant emails from the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department. From here on I will post things as they happen – because after over two years of effort I am still far, far away from securing my permit.
To someone who doesn’t live in San Luis Obispo County (SLO) all of this must seem crazy. After all, how much more difficult could it be to get a building permit in SLO than the rest of the state, or the country? The answer is, sadly, a lot more difficult.
I want to be clear. I do not think that some evil cabal set out to deprive decent citizens of their constitutional property rights in SLO. Instead, what I believe is that the political leaders, for their own good reasons, decided long ago that SLO should be a “slow growth” county. And over the years hiring practices, procedures, state regulations, and pressure groups like Surf Riders, Sierra Club, etc. have created an environment where the SLO County Planning Dept staff view their job as preventing as much building as possible. Judi’s joke is that it should be called the SLO Planning To Stop You Department.
Who can secure a building permit in SLO County? It helps to be rich or well connected. You need to have the resources to pay for the extraordinary legal and consulting help that the process currently demands. This makes housing costs very high, and so there is a limited amount of low income housing. Traffic is congested because it is so difficult to build new roads, or expand old roads. Homeowners have a very difficult time getting permits to remodel. Water resources are artificially limited by the local government so that new housing in many areas cannot be constructed at all. And local kids have to move out of the county to find a job.
Why do I want so much to live here? My great grandfather, William McCarthy, moved to this part of California in 1906 and started a business, and my family has lived here since. At Avila I am in a beautiful place, where I had my happiest childhood memories, and many members of my extended family live nearby. And so Avila is where I want to spend the rest of my life.
What follows are my comments, along with documents, emails, drawings, etc., about each step I took to try to get a building permit for a single family residence in SLO County, on a parcel that is properly zoned, has no building code variances, and has both well water and a “will serve” letter from the county water utility. In most any other county in the USA this could be done within four weeks*. But not here …
*Note: I checked with the Planning Director of Kern County about the time necessary to get a MUP in his county. His answer was four weeks – I had originally put two weeks here and I want to be as accurate as possible so I have edited this.
August 13th, 2009
Judi and I decided to start looking for a new house. While we have enjoyed our Avila Valley home for 20 years, we hoped to find a house or property with a special ocean view. On the recommendation of a friend we hired Mary Moloney as our realtor, as we believed that our former reator Lisa Newton had retired. Only later did we find out that Lisa hasn’t retired and is still living and working in Avila Beach. (Whoops – I’m sorry Lisa).
Mary was great. In addition to referring existing homes to us, she quickly put us in contact with Bob Howard, a land developer who is the managing partner of San Miguelito Partners, who owns three lots centered between Pismo Beach and Avila Beach with amazing views. We decide to buy lot #2.
September 4th, 2009
Our lot is #2. We chose it because it has the most spectacular views among the three lots that are for sale. Additionally, this lot contains an already-disturbed area that provides a logical building site for a house.
About this time, we decided to call our property “Cave Landing Ranch.” The general area has been known as Cave Landing since the 1870s, when Captain David Mallagh used a steel cable pulley system to unload sailing ships here. Our particular lot was part of a cattle ranch whose original Spanish owner was Miguel Avila (1840s). So “Cave Landing Ranch” is a logical name to use because it reflects the history of the site. Throughout my blog posts, whenever I refer to “Cave Landing Ranch”, or to “Cave Landing”, I am referring to this lot #2.
September 30th, 2009
Mary Maloney arranged a meeting on site with land developer Bob Howard, who is the general partner of San Miguelito partners, the owners of the three lots that are for sale. Bob Howard proved to be an older white haired gentleman with a very sunny and kind disposition. I immediately liked and trusted Bob, and he has since proven to be a person of honesty and good character.
Bob strongly advised us to hire Leonard Grant as our architect, and to start the design ASAP. My uncle Earle Gibbons (who lives less than one mile away from us) also advised us to hire Lenny.
October 10th, 2009
Judi and I met with Leonard (Lenny) Grant and instantly liked him. He has a low key, quiet demeanor but is quite an artist. Over the next couple of months Lenny worked on the design of the house with the help of his staff, Robert, Claudio, Eddie, Micah, Scott, and Kayla. Here are some of the 3D renderings:
November 1st, 2009
This is looking west from the site …
This is looking south …
This is looking east …
Here are some of the neighboring houses …
December 8th, 2009
Judi and I signed an agreement with Bob after negotiating for two months on the exact terms. Jim Wiens, my business lawyer at Clifford & Brown, was a great help. This agreement loaned Bob enough money to pay off the existing second mortgage on all three of his lots, and gave us the option to convert the loan into a purchase of lot #2. Additionally, the agreement included incentives for Bob to complete the utilities (water, power, cable, phone) to our lot.
During this time I also had numerous conversations with engineers, geologists, planning experts, and lawyers to make sure that there were no legal or engineering obstacles to building the house. This is the sort of due diligence that prudent buyers should always perform.
It is a fair agreement, and once it was signed, Bob and I immediately began working together to get the necessary permits.
December 9th, 2009
Once the contract negotiations with Bob were completed, I turned around and hired Bob’s lawyer, Greg Sanders, to represent both Bob and me in front of SLO County. Greg is an expert in land use issues and has practiced law on the central coast for 34 years. I also retained Fred Gaines of Gaines & Stacey LLP to help with any California Coastal Commission appeals. Fred was a Harvard Law School roommate of my own undergraduate college roommate, Jim Borovsky. Both lawyers agreed that my biggest problems in getting a building permit were going to be with the SLO Planning Dept.
It is fascinating that there are prosperous law firms who’s entire practise is based on getting projects through the Planning Dept and the Coastal Commission.
December 12th, 2009
Several years before Bob Howard had applied for and secured a permit to drill a water well on Cave Landing. I decided to go ahead and drill the water well so that I would have a source of water on top of the ridgeline that could be used to fight a forest fire. (When I was a small boy my parents house burned down on Christmas Eve and I have been very nervous about fires since then.) I hired Tim Cleath, a well known local geologist, to locate the best spot for drilling. Tim and I walked the property together while he provided a fascinating commentary about the different geological forces that had built the hills. Tim picked the spot and recommended a well drilling company to do the work.
December 31st, 2009
I met Doug Enloe, of Enloe Well Drilling, at Cave Landing Ranch to show him where Tim Cleath wanted the well drilled. Doug had to see the property, and especially the access road, in order to prepare a bid for drilling the well.