Archive for April, 2011
April 12th, 2011
I don’t want to get overly melodramatic about my struggles with the Planning Dept. I have been very fortunate in my life. If the Planning Dept is successful in stopping me from building my house I will lose around $3 million. This represents the costs of my option to purchase lot #2, plus the costs of all of the consultants I have had to hire. Because of my success in business I can afford to lose this $3 million. I will be very angry with the Planning Dept for causing me to lose this money, but I will not be sorry for myself. I will be sad for an elderly widow named Barbara Baker.
Bob Howard and Ray Gallo put together a short history of Barbara Baker for me. Here is my edited version of that history:
Barbara and her husband Bill Baker purchased 230 acres of ocean front property between Pismo Beach and the Union Tank Farm at Avila Beach around 1975. This 230 acre property includes Cave Landing. Bill passed away shortly after the purchase, leaving Barbara with two children, a large mortgage on the 230 acre property, and no available cash. Barbara had to immediately go to work to support herself and her young children.
Barbara soon met the brothers Bill and Bob Howard. Bill’s and Bob’s company (Howard & Howard, Inc.), along with Barbara Baker and her lawyer Ray Gallo, formed San Miguelito Partners with the intent to develop the 230 acre property. As part of the partnership agreement, Howard & Howard, Inc. provided the money Barbara needed to pay her mortgage. Howard and Howard, Inc. also funded the necessary work on the property to prepare it for sale. Barbara now remains the majority beneficiary of San Miguelito Partners some 34 years later. Bill Howard died in 2009, leaving Bob Howard as the primary person responsible for the development of the property.
At the time Bill Baker died, there was an approved tentative map with SLO County for the 230 acre property. This plan was to build approximately 250 apartments or condominiums. After Bill Baker died, Bill Howard met with a county supervisor and he was told that this apartment plan would never happen. After seeing the Planning Dept staff’s negative attitude about the development, it was decided by San Miguelito Partners to get Pismo Beach to annex the southern- most 100 acres. Later, they would deal with the remaining five parcels (one of which is parcel #2, the parcel that I call Cave Landing Ranch).
A series of difficult legal and regulatory battles ensued. In the early 1990s,the 100 acre property, now legally part of Pismo Beach, was subdivided into twenty three lots. The result is the current “Bluffs” project, which is considered to be one of the nicest home developments on the Central Coast. Unfortunately the costs of construction and the prevailing market values meant that there were not substantial profits from the “Bluffs” project to share with Barbara and the other partners.
But five parcels remained, comprising roughly 130 acres. At one point, San Miguelito Partners had a deal with the “Trust For Public Lands” to purchase all the property, but, disappointingly, that fell through due to some behind-the-scenes activities. There were a couple of attempts to have SLO County purchase the entire property for use as a large public park. There have also been several unsuccessful efforts to bring utilities to the property. The property has always been in CSA 12, but the Planning Dept staff contended that CSA 12 could not deliver water service to the property. A deal was finally made with SLO County wherein San Miguelito Partners retrieved four acre feet of water from Pismo Beach and gave it to SLO County in exchange for a “will serve” letter from CSA 12, thus solving the water problem once and for all.
Now, in April 2011, lot #5 has been permanently dedicated to SLO County by San Miguelito Partners as public beach access. Lot #3 was purchased by the county in 2008 to use as a public park. Lot #2 is Cave Landing Ranch, which I have optioned and will purchase, providing that I am able to get a building permit. Lot #1 and Lot #4 are for sale, but no buyer is likely to act until it can be seen if I can get a building permit for lot #2. If I cannot get a building permit then the three lots are worthless, as no one will purchase property that they cannot use.
Barbara is now 69 years old. She lives in Pismo Beach and works in San Luis Obispo. She was only 35 when her husband died. Barbara has continued to work to support herself and her family since her husband Bill’s death. If she is finally able to sell the three lots at market value she will have enough money to finally retire and live the rest of her life in comfort.
To summarize: the Planning Dept’s efforts in preventing three houses from being built has kept a widow poor for 34 years and counting.
Barbara did recently say this to Ray Gallo about her hopes for the future: “I hope that before I die, I will finally be able to sell the remaining three parcels without further county planning department efforts to halt the construction of three single family homes on our three lots.”
April 14th, 2011
In response to the County Geologist’s letter of March 11, 2011, which is here, Rick Gorman of Earth Systems Pacific put together two reports.
Rick’s first report covers the Percolation Testing of the new location for the septic system. We had to move the leach field over a little bit from the original location because of the larger rain drainage system. Since we are only building a single family residence, on 37 acres of rural land, a leach field is perfectly acceptable – even for San Luis Obispo County.
In the second report, Rick covers the other comments of the County Geologist. Some of those comments were about maps, and I am unable to scan those because of their large size, so you will have to believe me that they were included in the report that was turned into the Planning Dept.
Rick mailed the reports directly to the Planning Dept, and also mailed a second copy to Dave Watson. Dave made sure that Ryan Hostetter of the Planning Dept received the reports by an exchange of voice mail messages. In the voice mail message, Ryan indicated that she was only waiting for the County Geologist to give his final report to her before she would complete the Negative Mitigated Declaration.
At this point the Planning Dept is about 4 months late on a California state mandated 6 month deadline for issuing a Negative Mitigated Declaration under CEQA. Missing the state CEQA deadline is entirely the fault of the Planning Dept. The total time used by my consultants to produce the different geology and engineering reports requested by the Planning Dept has been 3 1/2 months – and it has been 10 months since I turned in my MUP application on June 10, 2010.
To repeat – the State of California has a law that says that an agency (like the Planning Dept) must take no more than 6 months to complete a Mitigated Negative Declaration – no matter how complicated the project is. And in my case this is a simple single family residence with no building code variances and with no environmental issues at all. In Kern County this would be done in a couple of weeks.
Remember – all the Planning Dept has to do is read the reports that they made me produce – so how long could that take? It’s not like they are buried under permit applications – as far as I know my house is the only MUP application for Avila in the second half of 2010! It is really unbelievable how much time that this permit application is taking.
April 23rd, 2011
In my lifetime I have witnessed incredible improvements in almost all areas of my life. For example, when I was a kid the only phones available were bulky touch tone phones from Ma Bell. These phone were connected to a land line, and were very expensive to use. Now I carry an iPhone in my pocket that allows me to communicate with almost anyone on the entire planet – as well as gives me directions, acts as a flashlight, tells me where the closest restaurants are, and connects me instantly to all of the stored knowledge of the world via the Internet. Really amazing when you think about it.
Similarly, my parents had a little black and white TV when I was a child – and now I have gorgeous, huge flat screen TVs with hundred of channels to choose from – plus blue ray and on-demand video. Incredible!
Even coffee has vastly improved. The days of Yuban vs. Folgers are gone. Now there is much, much higher quality coffee available in completely customizable forms – venti low fat latte with a caramel shot, anyone?
And when was the last time you typed a letter using a mechanical typewriter? Or used a telex? Or played a vinyl record?
Lasik eye surgery wasn’t even dreamed of 40 years ago.
If you think about how much just ordinary life has improved since the 1970s it is nothing short of amazing. But there is one glaring exception – the efficiency of government. And in my particular case – the efficiency of the SLO Planning Dept. In the same period of time that phones went from touch tones to iPhones, the Planning Dept has gone from a single day to get a MUP to over a year. And the costs have skyrocketed – for both the County and the applicant. And for all of this time and money spent – has the quality improved at all? Is there even a single measurable improvement in any quality metric in the Planning Dept?
In my industry (computer software) we try to keep as many metrics as possible about quality. We measure customer complaints, support call time, customer requests, customer call back times, support queue depth, type of problems. Our software automatically sends us status reports about errors or performace issues, and we track those in order to make continuous improvements. If you bought our software 10 years ago, and you paid for maintenance, you now have version 8.0 of software that is better in every conceivable way – it is faster, with more features, is more robust, has better documentation, and has better customer support – both by phone and online.
Not with the Planning Dept. As far as I can tell there is no system for quality measurement, and thus there is no improvement. Customer complaints go unanswered. Deadlines are ignored. Productively is not measured. No one is ever fired for non-performance. No one is even measured for performance. And so we have this Soviet style bureaucracy, completely unresponsive to any market forces, right smack in the middle of the largest leap forward of quality in history.
Something has to change.
April 27th, 2011
On April 27, 2011 we got a letter from Brian Papurello, the SLO County Geologist,saying our geology reports are complete and that he agrees with our geologists that the house could be built in the way we have designed it without any geology problems.
This means that there are no official physical constraints to building my house – the geology is good, the engineering is good, I have water service from CSA 12, and there are no environmental issues like endangered species or rare plants.
Brian actually got things done in a reasonable amount of time. We first met with him on Oct. 14, 2010. It took until the end of January 2011 for my geologists to complete the reports that Brian requested. It then took Brian about 45 days to turn around his cut list of additional information that he wanted to see in those reports. Rick Gorman of Earth Systems took about two weeks to submit the additional information. And finally Brian took about 10 days to say that everything was all good. This is pretty good performance on Brian’s part – but then again he is a private contractor to SLO County and is not a county employee.
Now we are just waiting for the Planning Dept – again …