Archive for December, 2012
December 3rd, 2012
On Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 Daniel Robinson of the California Coastal Commission staff called Dave Watson back (finally). Daniel said that the Coastal staff wanted a fuller analysis of the alternate sites for my house. Dave agreed to deliver the analysis, and so Dave got Lenny Grant and Robert Malone of RRM Design to knock out the additional analysis over the weekend. Here is what Lenny and Robert did:
Dave emailed this analysis to Daniel this morning. Daniel said that this afternoon the Coastal staff would have an internal meeting about the alternate sites. Hopefully we can soon find out what they decided.
The Coastal staff has been saying for the last six months that my proposed house is too visible from public areas. From every public vantage point the Coastal staff’s proposed alternate sites are much more visible than my original site. Not to mention that the alternate sites they propose are in a fault zone. Clearly the alternate sites are much worse than the original site.
Finally, there is no conceivable way that SLO County would have ever approved my permit application if I had used the Coastal staff’s alternate sites. The fact that the alternate sites are visible from Avila Beach Road alone would have prevented SLO County from approving my permits – in fact, SLO County would have required me to move the house to exactly where I originally put it.
Because the Coastal staff’s alternate sites are so bad (compared to the original site) that we are starting to think that there is some sinister motive in their requiring all of this additional analysis. Maybe it is all innocent on their part, and they have no evil plans, but the Coastal staff’s past history argues otherwise.
December 8th, 2012
Yesterday Dave Watson got a phone message that was left by Daniel Robinson of the California Coastal Commission. Daniel’s message was that the Coastal Commission staff had decided that the original location of my house on my Cave Landing property is in fact the best location for the house. Daniel also said that the Coastal staff is planning to have the full California Coastal Commission hear the appeal of my land use permits from SLO County during the January 2013 meeting. The Coastal Commission meeting is on the 9th, 10th, and 12th of January in Pismo Beach, California (which is right next to Cave Landing). My guess (based on the schedule of the November and December meeting) is that my hearing will be on Wednesday, the 9th of January, 2013 – or just about exactly 3 years since I first applied for permits.
We have no idea if the Coastal staff report will recommend approving my house as designed, or if they will require my house to be significantly reduced in size. At one point the Coastal staff said that my house could only be about 1300 sq. ft. Hopefully they have realized that a reduced size requirement is both unrealistic and unconstitutional.
December 12th, 2012
The priorities of California are driving me crazy. My simple minor use permit to build my single family home on a properly zoned lot has taken me almost three years, dozens of professionals (lawyers, planners, and geologists), and many hundreds of thousands of dollars. California has the highest paid government employees, and the highest rate of poverty in the U.S. This system cannot continue like this.
As for me, like a lot of business owners in California, I am now hiring employees in Texas and considering moving there myself.
December 24th, 2012
It is Christmas Eve, and I’ve got a present from the California Coastal Commission staff! After a year and a half, the Coastal staff has finished their report on the appeal of my land use permit for my house at Cave Landing.
I am scheduled to go in front of the full Coastal Commission on Thursday, January 10, 2013, toward the end of the day.
I couldn’t tell if the Coastal staff report is good or bad for me. There is a lot of shady stuff about limiting the size of the house, public trails, view shed analysis, etc. I called Dave Watson to ask him what he thought, but he hadn’t read it yet so I really don’t know if I am screwed or not.
That being said, a general rule of thumb in California is that if the Coastal Commission is involved, you are screwed.
So there is a little song about how I feel …
December 29th, 2012
It took me a couple of days and several hours of meeting with Dave Watson (my planner), Lenny Grant, and Robert Malone (the architects) to figure out just exactly how screwed I am by the California Coastal Commission’s staff report on the appeal of my Minor Use Permit to build my house at Cave Landing.
The entire report is 276 pages long. You can read it here (if you are crazy and have no life). Of course I carefully read it, and below is the summary:
The staff is recommending that the full Coastal Commission approve my house but with “Special Conditions”. Here are the ways the Coastal Commission staff has screwed me over with the “Special Conditions”:
1. I can not use CSA-12 water at all, but I have to continue to pay $6,000 a year for forever to CSA-12 for the water that the Coastal Commission won’t let me use.
2. I have to hide my house from the Cave Landing dirt parking lot by digging down 16 ft below grade and moving 260,000 cubic yards of dirt to form berms.
3. My house has to be dramatically reduced in size EVEN THOUGH NO ONE CAN SEE IT! I don’t know how small my house has to be because that special condition is vaguely written.
4. I have to design my house to have a ”rural agricultural theme” as defined by the Coastal Commission staff EVEN THOUGH NO ONE CAN SEE IT! (Remember, my house isn’t even in a rural area – it is in an urban or suburban area as defined by the LCP.)
5. I have to remove all the existing fences on my property and I can never obstruct anyone from trespassing on my property EVER! And what am I supposed to do with my two dogs? I can’t let them out without having a fence because they will run away.
6. The Coastal Commission staff has decided that my property contains public paths and I must maintain them and carry insurance for any injuries suffered by the trespassers while they are on my property for forever.
7. I must only plant native California plants in my yard. If I plant a zucchini the Coastal Commission can have me thrown into jail and fined up to $15,000 per day.
I cannot build my house under these conditions – which the Coastal Commission staff knows. So unless the full Coastal Commission overrules their own staff (which is very unlikely), I will spend the next few years in the California Court system – which the Coastal Commission staff knows. And, by the way, the Coastal Commission does not pay out of their budget any legal costs. All legal costs caused by the Coastal Commission have to be paid by the California State Attorney General’s office. So the Coastal Commission has a blank check to cover their costs, and any delays caused by lawsuits are to the Coastal Commission’s advantage.
The Coastal Commission staff has no legal ability to impose these conditions on me. There have been numerous legal cases since the creation of the Coastal Commission in 1976 that clearly prevent these sort of special conditions. (See Nolland v. California Coastal Commission, or Dolan v. City of Tigard) But that hasn’t stopped the Coastal Commission from continuing to bully property owners around by imposing illegal special conditions like they are doing to me.
So the brokest state of the brokest county in the history of the world has an unlimited budget to cover the legal costs of an out of control state agency that is forcing me to build on my property a small house without any fence, designed to look the way the state agency wants, with only the plants the state agency wants in my yard, using well water in a community water district, and I must allow anyone to trespass at any time. And it has taken this out of control state agency 3 years to decide this.
(BTW – there is an extremely important Supreme Court case coming up on January 15, the week after my Coastal Commission hearing. You can read about it here:
December 30th, 2012
Steve Blank is one of the current California Coastal Commissioners. Like me, he is in the high tech industry. Like me, he has started several high tech companies. Steve is also famous for his Customer Development methodology, which is part of the Lean Startup Movement. All of my managers at my current company, Lightspeed Systems, have read the Lean Startup book. The book explains very clearly a very important set of concepts and ideas that we use at work. So Steve is definitely a really smart guy.
After Steve sold his last startup company he applied for a permit to build a house in the California Coastal Zone in 2000. And, just like me, Steve’s land use permit was appealed to the California Coastal Commission. The reason for the appeal was “sensitive habitat” issues. (I don’t have any sensitive habitat issues because my proposed house is in the middle of a field of non-native weeds.)
Unlike me, Steve’s appeal to the Coastal Commission went pretty smoothly. He had his hearing in only 8 months – start to finish. It has taken me a year and a half, after waiting a year and a half for SLO County to issue the permit in the first place. And there were no onerous “Special Conditions” imposed on Steve by either San Mateo County or the Coastal Commission.
Superficially Steve’s house and my house are similar. I have a main house and a barn on 37 acres, Steve has a main house, two barns, and a farm labor house. But Steve’s house is 15,780 sq. ft., with a swimming pool, and a 2,500 sq. ft. barn, and another 3,040 sq. ft. barn 31 ft. high, and a 1240 sq. ft. farm labor house all on 261 acres. So Steve’s house is around 3 times larger than my proposed house (and much taller). Steve also got to have a fence and there was no requirement for public access. And Steve was able to build his house to look anyway he wanted. No “rural agricultural theme” architecture for Steve, that’s for sure. Steve can also plant in his yard pretty much any damn thing he wants.
According to the Coastal Commission staff, my house and my barn must fit within a 5,000 sq. ft. oval ring that is roughly the size of Steve’s pool and and surrounding deck, as you can see here.
I don’t know anybody on the Coastal Commission or the staff. I have no political “pull” at all. There is not a chance in hell that I would ever be appointed to be on the Coastal Commission – and the Coastal Commission staff knows all this. I am just a local guy trying to build a pretty house with an ocean view.
But there is a slim chance that Steve Blank will recognize that my retirement dream is very similar to his retirement dream, only on a much smaller scale. And maybe, just maybe, he would see that these “Special Conditions” imposed on me are deeply unfair. I can hope.
Otherwise I believe I will have to spend the next few years waiting for a court date instead of building my dream house in the place I grew up.