Tag Archives: ANGUISH

#69: AND EVEN MORE AGONY, ANGUISH AND DEALINGS WITH THE CITY, PART 3

August 18, 2017

Checks and balances (photo from lawyersites.net)

(Continuing on my rants from previous posts on agency agony, here and here.

I respect the city process where my designs are reviewed and approved for construction. In theory, this process can offer productive checks-and-balances. But since this is so rare these days, my idealism is often extinguished.

Measuring Lego-style (photo from saber-scorpion.com)
Measuring Lego-style (photo from saber-scorpion.com)

True story. The planning code for some new homes by Poon Design was unclear. We went to the top, asking the Planning Director for clarification on the required length of the driveways. The boss stated the driveways are to be 15 feet long. Seemed clear enough, right?

Since agencies are notorious for being noncommittal, forgetful and/or contradictory, we requested that the Director’s ruling be provided to us in writing. Receiving the black and white document, we proceeded (safely we thought) with this simple criterion of 15-foot long driveways.

With all the homes approved by the city’s numerous departments, construction commenced. The homes were completed beautifully, and later, furnished, styled, landscaped. Families moved in.

S/B House, Encino, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
S/B House, Encino, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Then the inexplicable and implausible occurred. The Planning Director changed his mind.

He now wanted driveways to be 20 feet long, not the aforementioned 15 feet.

How long is an automobile? (photo by Anthony Poon)
How long is an automobile? (photo by Anthony Poon)

We said okay: We will revise the designs for the future homes to come. But here is where it becomes unfathomable.

This Director demanded the driveways of the recently completed homes be extended. As you can guess, such a change would be physically impossible, since one cannot simply push an entirely built home back five feet, nor can one extend the driveway into the street.

A typical dreaded public hearing (photo by Colin McEvoy, Express-Times) Image of public hearing
A typical dreaded public hearing (photo by Colin McEvoy, Express-Times)

Our request for relief was brought to the Planning Department and the City Council. Though the decision makers went on public record, broadcasted on television, and admitted the change for the driveway length was puzzling, and though the Council said it was ludicrous, they supported and upheld the Director’s change. The financial damage of this whimsical, unprofessional and even unethical decision would cost millions of dollars, in addition to making families homeless.

After many months, after several dozen meetings, after hundreds of phone calls and emails, and after the threat of a lawsuit against the city for negligence, the city officials allowed the completed homes to remain as they were.

Concepts for housing development, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)
Concepts for housing development, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

EPILOGUE: For nearly every architectural project of my colleagues and mine, these bewildering challenges have seized us, in one form or another. There is no escape.

#60: AND MORE AGONY, ANGUISH AND DEALINGS WITH THE CITY, PART 2

April 14, 2017

Art of red tape (source unknown)

(Continuing on my rant from a previous post.)

In the not-so-far past, city approvals for a project were provided by a small handful of departments. Today, even for the tiniest of projects, approvals are necessary from over a dozen different agencies like Bureau of Sanitation, Green Building, Community Plan Injunction Compliance, and WTF Department.

With the ever-changing and self-contradictory city requirements, even the most experienced architect has trouble getting his client’s project approved for construction. Additionally, if the city employees don’t know what they themselves are doing, how can any architect? Maybe intentionally created to torment, getting a permit is an inexplicable mishmash of unfathomable cruelty and perversion.

Torture scene from A Clockwork Orange, 1971
Torture scene from A Clockwork Orange, 1971

My project consisted of adding a mere 750 square feet to an existing small house from 1957. I will only hash out two crazy situations of the twenty that I confronted during the nine months of the city process. Note that in this time frame, a contractor could actually construct my entire addition.

City height diagrams and restrictions
City height diagrams and restrictions

CRAZY EXAMPLE ONE OF TWENTY

The city Plan Checker determined that my design was above the height limit. But he stated with a straight face, “If I made the design taller, he would approve the project.”

You did not read this wrong.

The city code had an obscure loophole. If a certain roof shape was added on top of my design, then it would be allowed to be taller than the limit. Though none of this made sense, I proceeded with a revised taller version, and was now found to have an approved design.

Sketches for the house renovation and addition
Sketches for the house renovation and addition

CRAZY EXAMPLE TWO OF TWENTY

Due to my project’s new square footage, the city required one additional parking space.

The city recommended that this new parking space be located at the bottom of the hill. A peculiar suggestion: Such a parking spot would be 100 feet lower than the existing house, and the distance between the spot and the house would be a half a mile walk.

Even worse, to add such a parking space would require a 15-foot tall retaining wall to hold back the hill. And such a wall was not allowed by the city. Not only that, but the cost for this wall and the associated hillside work would be $300,000.00!

A most expensive eyesore: the neighbor’s city-required retaining wall, (photo by Anthony Poon)
A most expensive eyesore: the neighbor’s city-required retaining wall, (photo by Anthony Poon)

Plan B. The city’s Planning Department stated that the new spot could be added at the front of the house. A great idea. But the city’s Bureau of Engineering would not allow a new driveway to get to this spot. This made my new parking space unreachable, thereby making Plan B a stupid idea.

Victim and government, from Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Victim and government, from Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

EPILOGUE: The joy of being an architect can easily be compromised by employees of a city—sometimes just doing their jobs, sometimes looking to not say “yes,” since it is safer to say “no.”

One might believe that these tales are exaggerated by blending a heavy dose of artistic flair to the small amount of truth. One might assume that such stories only occur once in a while. But here is the frightening fact: Such events happen most of the time. And it gets worse every year.

© Poon Design Inc.