Permits: Sorted

NOTE: As of September 23, 2009, this post has been edited in
accordance with a court-mediated settlement. The names of the
contractor and his excavation subcontractor have been replaced with

I hear people complain a lot about city planning departments, but they clearly can't be referring to the nice folks at the City of Alameda Planning and Building Department. Every time I interact with them I have a great experience. I explain what I want to do, and they tell me exactly what I need to do to get a permit to do that thing.

My recent visits have been to sort out permit issues. Our original permits were acquired by Contractor A (the permits were for the earlier, non-basement foundation job; all the excavation work was done without a permit and without final engineering drawings, because Contractor A is a risk-taker), who listed themselves as the applicant on those forms. That means for any changes to be applied the permits, Contractor A (who was threatening us and trying to intimidate us through their attorney) has to initiate or approve the changes. As you can imagine, with relations as poor as they have been between Contractor A (who was trying to hold our project for ransom; he wanted a payoff and a nondisclosure to get him to release the permit) and ourselves, they were less than helpful in getting the permits changed.

We explained our situation to the City, who were very sympathetic to our plight. We spent a good hour with them brainstorming solutions to the problem. In the end, the City's Building Official (whose job it is to interpret the city regulations on these matters) got involved; his input allowed us to get things sorted out quickly.

The building permit to excavate and install the basement space (as opposed to the inital permit to replace the foundation) was applied for and paid for by us. There was no problem removing Contractor A (whose work mostly had to be torn out because it was so incredibly incompetent) from that permit. We did so.

We couldn't do the same with the original building permit, though. Technically the owner of a permit is the person who gave the money to the City. The permit records show that the checks were from Contractor A (the one who walked off the job to go to a bar and dumped the permit paperwork in my lap) (even though we reimbursed him for the monies), therefore Contractor A (who came back to the job reeking of alcohol; I sent him home) owns the permit. We had no other option than to acquire a new permit.

Here's where the City worked several miracles for us.

Since we bought the plans for the foundation well before the original permit was filed (we showed the City the receipts from our structural engineer) and are the creators of the architectural drawings (our names are printed on them), there wasn't any question that we owned all of the plans and were free to do with them as we wished. Since those plans had not been modified (we had the stamped originals in hand), were demonstrably our property, and had already been thoroughly reviewed before gaining approval under another permit, the City was able to issue us a new permit over the counter.

We'd brought along our contract with the new foundation contractor, just in case (these days I carry around two reams' worth of paperwork for anything involving this project). One of the City folks had a quick look at it and noticed that the total cost was significantly less than our original permit. Since the contract contained the scope of work for the add-on permit as well, he reasoned that the valuation for the original permit should be the new contract price minus the valuation for the add-on permit. Lower valuation means lower permit cost, which saved us about $3,000 in fees.

A huge side benefit of lower permit valuations is a relaxation of hauling requirements. While our original permits pushed us over the value threshold and required us to use a City certified hauler or get a hauling permit (that $700 fee we keep talking about), these new permits do not. There's no paperwork to fill out, no fees, and no limitation on who can come to haul away the work spoils.

Thanks to the help of half a dozen people in the Planning Department, some amazing things happened: we were able to get all of the required permits in a single day, rather than having go through the usual 14-business-day wait; they saved us a considerable amount of money in possible fees (about $3,000 all told); and hauling disappeared as an issue entirely. It was truly amazing.

Huge thanks to Linda Foye, Gail Moore, George Carder, Greg McFann, Evy Chase, Suresh Acharya, Dennis Brighton, and everyone else at the Planning and Building Department.

posted by noel on 08/02/05