Tag Archives: Cal Poly SLO

Bureaucracy And The Hedge

For those of you following along, you’ll remember The Hedge, and if you are just joining in on our story, let me synopsize…We had a 6 foot oleander hedge. It blocked our view. And it was dying. And it was ugly. So we removed it. We thought we’d replace it with a short fence.

3 years later, and we’re demoing the existing asphalt driveway, patio and front porch and we’re starting over with a new house-level patio, a new garage and driveway. The hope is to create a beautiful indoor-outdoor living space, with relaxing and inspiring areas that can be used to write, record and play music.

After numerous revisions with the architect and the city, here is our plan:

We happily broke ground a couple of weeks ago, but I have to admit, there were many times over the past 3 years that I wanted to ditch this whole project.

Oh boy. We were so naive. We thought – all we need to do is hire a landscaper. They’ll draw up some plans. We’ll give some revisions. Then demo. Then construction. And then we’ll have our beautiful outdoor space. It should take a few months, we’ll be done by summer! Of 2015.

Well, two ‘landscapers’ (btw-what exactly is a landscaper??), two contractors, two engineers, one surveyor, one architect, many many many meetings with the city, and a neighborhood review later, and here we are – with plans, ready to be executed and implemented!

Like I said, there were many times I wanted to bail out, but there was one person whose words and encouragement got me through to this point: My mom.

Throughout my life, I watched my mom ease through interior design, landscape and construction projects with decisiveness, firmness and perseverance. She just doesn’t let frustration overwhelm her and she keeps things moving forward despite obstacles.

Many times in the past few years I’ve recalled some of my mom’s parting words as I left for college: she explained that perhaps the biggest lesson I was about to learn was how to successfully navigate through a bureaucracy. She said, if I did in fact graduate (which I did…yaya Cal Poly SLO!), that I would take with me crucial life skills, necessary to flourish in today’s economic, political and social environment. Attention to the details, following the rules, tenacity, diplomacy…all of these things would matter in every day life.

Then she explained that the next 4 years would be unlike any other time in my life, so I’d better enjoy it!

As her words would cross my mind, (usually while standing in front of a clerk at the city planning counter), it only seemed right that I resist the urge to yell obscenities back to the person asking for some random detail and another check to get me to the next step in the process…that I bite my tongue, take a deep breath, smile, and follow the rules.  Yes Mom, that college education was totally worth it!

After 18 months of city planning and neighborhood approval reviews, there was a sublime sense of victory as I crossed the last threshold of city planning before beginning our project…it was bureaucracy at it’s fullest and finest…

Since we are in a fire hazard area (aka, the entire state of California), we had to submit a “Fuel Modification Plan” to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The plan included full size architectural drawings, with every existing and projected plant identified, listed according to regional zones, along with a detail on the irrigation locations, AND a signed document stating that the plan is true, and our “covenant agreement” to water the plants.

So, I took a day out to make a fuel modification plan. And then I took another day to deliver the plans. And then they were approved…ish.

All I had to do then, was:

  1. Get our Covenant Agreement notarized:
    (Notary Public Fee: $15) 
    2. Get a cashier’s check, payable to the Los Angeles County Fire Department
    (LACFD Fee: more than $400 and less than $600) !!
    (Bank Fee for cashier’s check: $5)

    3. Go to the County Registrar’s Office to certify and file the plan
    (Certification Fee: $35)
    (Filing Fee: $17)
    (Parking: $6)

    4. Mail the cashier’s check and the Covenant Agreement to Los Angeles County…2 different offices.
    (Stamps: $.98)

I included the fees for this last step, not to be snarky (well maybe to be a little snarky), but  really, to illustrate bureaucracy at it’s fullest. These were not permit fees. These were not plan check fees. These were random, not to be expected, not outlined in the process, over and above fees…fees that went to FIVE different government entities, and a bank, and a notary.

As I sit watching the demo crew rip apart our driveway with tractors, pitchforks and jack hammers, I can’t help but feel a sense of victory. Not victory-victory. I mean, I didn’t destroy the bureaucracy. I didn’t even fight the bureaucracy. In fact, the bureaucracy is alive and well. But I navigated the bureaucracy. I worked through it.  And here I am. Smug and victorious. Watching my driveway get demoed.

Pictures coming next time!!!

And in the meantime, for more about this project, start here:  The Hedge

Thanks for following along!