The California disease

by Walter Olson on September 19, 2013

“We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck. …Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million [in] Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up. … Even as a service business we do a bit of this [manufacturing avoidance], no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California.” [Coyote]

{ 18 comments }

1 Steve 09.19.13 at 9:52 am

How about the “lack of specificity disease?” The “article” consists of one man ranting about unspecified regulations and a bunch of objectivist heroes piling on in the comment section and blaming this poorly described state of affairs on “liberal” boogeymen even though a more realistic assessment finds that onerous regulations are more often than not due to lobbying efforts of rent-seeking capitalists.

I’m all for pointing out excessive and unncessary regulation. But if your editorial consists mainly of “I have a tough time of making my business go in a state with a nomnial GDP that exceeds that of all but about 10 counties in the world just take my word for it ps liberals are worse than nazis”, then really, your editorial amounts to not much more than an advertisement of your own failings.

2 E-Bell 09.19.13 at 10:48 am

Steve, I recommend you read a little bit more of Coyote’s blog.

This is not the first time he has complained about overburdensome and pointless regulations. I mean, I guess I understand where you’re coming from on the lack of specificity, but do you really want him to itemize each and every complaint he has about a process that turned a million-dollar project into a five-million-dollar project?

By far one of my favorite examples of useless regulation that Coyote has blogged about is the Kentucky Egg License.

3 No Name Guy 09.19.13 at 11:41 am

Ahem….did we read the same article Steve?
– “We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion. ”
– “In Ventura County, for example, we have a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.”
– Alabama it was $1 mil and Cali it was $5 mil for a comparable expansion. 5 TIMES as expensive…..and no, I suspect the overall cost of construction (which is certainly higher in Cali) isn’t the cause of this magnitude of difference….twice as expensive, sure, I could see that. 5 times however is insane.
– 7 permits to demolish an unsafe deck?
– 3 years to install a 500 gallon fuel tank in lieu of driving a truck with 100 individual 5 gallon gas cans? It should be here are the plans, a quick review lasting a week or two, stamp of approval and off you go.

Are these not specific enough? And holy cow Batman, 7 permits to REMOVE a deck? What the heck. That, uh, should take either zero or 1 permit.

4 Alan K. henderson 09.19.13 at 12:26 pm

There should be a black market for unsafe deck removal, made to look like the work of vandals and thieves. Like hiring a hitman. Save the trouble of all those forms.

5 Steve 09.19.13 at 1:08 pm

No, it’s not enough. I see a lot of figures of numbers and time, but not anything as to what regulations, exactly, are at issue.

I fully agree that it is possible if not even perhaps likely that, to choose just one item, those 7 permits to demolish a deck are excessive. However, in that case, rather than feeding us empty figures, perhaps he would be so kind as to enumerate those 7 permits to let us evaluate them. Let’s see if there are indeed good health/safety/historical/etc reasons why such permits are necessary and whether it really would have or should have taken a competent person 3 years to get them.

And no name guy, yes, I clearly did read exactly what you did, but, and I don’t want to be too insulting, but honestly you seem to be impressed with smoke and mirrors rather than actual substance since exactly what you quoted has nothing to do with the actual regulations and does not allow a genuinely impartial reader to make his own decisions or do further research.

6 Jim 09.19.13 at 3:17 pm

“black market for unsafe deck removal”

It’s called arson-for-hire. It’s a pretty typical response to overbearing regulation in fact. Tough on the insurance companies, but understandable.

7 peter 09.19.13 at 3:20 pm

Steve….who are you complaining to? Perhaps you are under the illusion that complaining about lack of specifics on this site will cause someone to provide it? Do you think you are on the Coyote website? Can i suggest you go there.

8 Shtetl G 09.19.13 at 3:25 pm

Steve,

I know this is more anecdotal evidence but if you have a chance check out this this guy’s struggle trying to build a home while dealing with the California bureaucracy:

http://www.sloleaks.com/

It goes back to 2009 but it gives you a flavor of the alphabet soup bureaucracy that needs to be dealt with to build a home.

Plenty of details if you desire. Bring some coffee and a few hours.

9 Bob Lipton 09.19.13 at 4:38 pm

Many years ago I worked for the lawyers in Health Education and Welfare in Scollay Square in Boston as a clerk. I noticed that in order to check out a case file, one had to fill out four forms and there was still no record of where the file was if you went to the place they were stored when not on a lawyer’s desk. So I devised a form to replace the others and to leave in its slot in storage, so if you went looking for the file you could also find out where it was.

They added my form to the other four.

Bob

10 No Name Guy 09.19.13 at 5:46 pm

Sorry there Steve

But lets think a bit….its a deck….its dangerous……it simply needs to be torn down. Please come up with a list of what 7 permits one might need.

To build a single family home in the regulation happy Soviet of Washington that I call home, I can come up with the following permits / inspection(s) that seem reasonable off the top of my head:
– Electrical, plumbing, general construction (e.g. framing, drywall, roofing, siding, etc), foundation, natural gas (but that’s only if gas is being installed), septic, but only if you’re not on sewer. I’m sure there’s probably one or two more in there, so lets throw in mystery permit, for things that aren’t covered (say if the city / county makes you get a separate permit for clearing / digging the foundation hole, separate from the actual foundation work).

A quick Google search indicates, for example, to build or rebuild a deck in Pierce County, WA (and needed only if the deck meets certain size and / or height thresholds, and presumably to also demolish one), it’s ONE permit. Perhaps the deck Coyote is talking about has lighting and the wiring has to be disconnected, capped and stowed safely…ok, electrical permit makes 2. Pray tell Steve, what 5 other permits could one need? Brainstorm for us, please. What permits would YOU need in YOUR jurisdiction to demolish a deck? Close to home for me, it’s one.

To solve a problem, one often bounds complex problems by making favorable and unfavorable assumptions, running the computations for each case, then uses reason to interpolate between those two bounds to locate a decent starting point for a more detailed analysis. Building a house is less that taking down a deck. I came up with 4, perhaps 6 permits for building a house (foundation, general construction, plumbing, electrical and perhaps natural gas & septic). House building >> complexity than a deck removal, therefore it should have more permits required.

11 Bill Alexander 09.19.13 at 10:57 pm

I recently had a barn built. The Northern California county where I am is requiring me to install a 2500 gallon water tank for fire protection. It must be at least 100 feet from any structure, and can be as much as a half mile away if still on my property (except I own 10 acres). 700 feet by driveway from the barn is a regulation fire hydrant, which I expect any fire truck would prefer, but that is not enough to get out of the $1500 or so to install the tank.

12 JimmyZ 09.20.13 at 12:21 am

I’m with Steve on this one, because I like reading the details of home improvement projects and what is required to do them right. Tales like the one above often bring me a chuckle when the author lists his many woes, then it is revealed, at the end, that he bought the house nobody could sell for fifty years because of some right of way or mining right that goes through the living room. The poor slob is already apopleptic over trying to get a permit for his pool, but even Hugh Carey wouldn’t swim in the choleric sewage percolating to the surface.

13 Alan K. henderson 09.20.13 at 1:00 am

Jim, doesn’t arson-for-hire tend to take down the whole building? (And risk collateral damage?) Surgical strikes against portions of property improvements requires something different.

14 Steve 09.20.13 at 5:42 am

No Name Guy,

I’m a business owner and an economist and a (not civil/structural) engineer by training. I have never built a deck nor had anything to do with one. Therefore, my list of 7 items below may be utter BS and may have nothing whatsoever to do with his deck or reality. So I’m going to try to make a list of 7 considerations below that are completely pulled from my backside but I think sound legitimate.

Please let us remember that unless I misread, he seems to be writing about a large deck, possibly used in business, not a backyard bbq station.

So, let me try here:

1. Asbestos. If the structure is large, perhaps he needs to have some certification that is asbestos-free before moving it. Yes, some decks have plumbing.
2. Historical Value. Does the structure have historical value or interest. I currently live for part of each year in a town in England where you certainly cannot put things up or take things down as you please as the buildings are “listed.”
3. Underground Considerations: if part of the deck supports to be removed require digging (such as to remove underground concerete anchors) then there needs to be a check to make sure that this will not conflict with existing underground pipes and cables.
4. Waste disposal / Environmental Impact: prove that you have a legitimate and environmentally decent plan to dispose of the waste. One form indicating the name of the skip company you hired.
5. Scheduling/Road blocking: if you need to block the road or in general if you are going to schedule work that requires heavy machinery and loud noise, then a permit is reasonably required.
6. Emergency exits – if the deck was part of an emergency / fire exit system for an attached building, then it would need to be proven that the remaining commercial structure still meets fire code regulations.
7. Assessment / Mapping notification. Perhaps the jurisdiction allows changes, but requires notice of these to be made as there are implications for local tax assessment or the county surveyor requires them for changes over a certain size in order to maintain accurate maps or something.

[8. electrical - if the deck has electrical connections to the city grid]

Now, my list of 7 above may be partially or totally BS. In the UK, all 7 items or something close to it are submitted in ONE form (basically, you make a little report with the above sections) to the city council.

The point is that we don’t know if his complaint is basically…

a) a complaint that some of the regulations are unnecessary (I’ve seen american strip mall hell, to say nothing of places in eastern europe/africa/asia where the permits and planning process range somewhere beween corrupt/chaotic and nonexistent, and so I actually do have a fair bit of sympathy for reasonable oversight) because they are themselves unnecessary

b) a complaint that the process is confusing, even if the regulations are necessary. for example, that too many disparate entities are needed where one will do.

c) a complaint that the process is unnecessarily expensive (if so, let’s look in detail where)

here in the UK, at least in the highly educated town where I am now, government basically works. sure, there is always a bit of moaning at the margins, but basically where inefficiency is spotted, it’s handled. service standards are clearly posted, including audited performance metrics (“we aim to process all applications within 1 week. in 2012, 98.4% of applications were processed within 1 week, and 99.8% were processed within 2 weeks”).

The problem with this guy’s blog, and, frankly, american approaches to discourse in general recently, is that we haven’t even gotten to the point where we can have an intelligent discussion since the guy hasn’t even bothered to let us know if it is an a) b), or c) problem, nominally intelligent people like no name guy can’t see this, and the discussion becomes a silly one of partisan name calling and absolutist shibboleth throwing nonsense. That is, too many of us would rather just throw our hands up and engage in meta discussion rather than really starting inductively and looking at the actual issues. Get enough followers complaining about “liberals” in your comment section, as that guy does, and the echo chamber effect is complete.

15 Mike 09.20.13 at 9:50 am

JimmyZ: “even Hugh Carey wouldn’t swim in the choleric sewage percolating to the surface.”

Good one. I thought I was the only one who remembered our late Governor Hugh’s offer to drink a glass of PCB’s. For the real world result, see that Georgia politician (not USA, the other one) who actually ingested PCB’s as a result of a poisoning attempt. Not pretty.

16 Mark Biggar 09.20.13 at 10:23 am

One issue is multiple jurisdictions. A similar example is getting or refinancing a mortgage. Is there some reason why I need to fill out and sign 4 separate forms (one to each of my city, county, state and the feds) attesting that I’ve not been discriminated against because of race?

17 silverpie 09.20.13 at 1:50 pm

Mike@15: Ukrainian, actually, and the poison used on him was a dioxin (two benzene rings twice bridged by oxygen). PCB’s have the two rings linked once only, by a single C-C bond. But point taken, anyway.

18 A Critic 09.22.13 at 10:55 pm

“The problem with this guy’s blog, and, frankly, american approaches to discourse in general recently, is that we haven’t even gotten to the point where we can have an intelligent discussion since the guy hasn’t even bothered to let us know if it is an a) b), or c) problem, nominally intelligent people like no name guy can’t see this, and the discussion becomes a silly one of partisan name calling and absolutist shibboleth throwing nonsense. ”

It would take a substantial amount of time and effort to document the stupidity of government. It would also turn a brief blog post into a book. What you ask is not necessary, and if it is necessary for you, Google is right there waiting for you.

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