Scuttlebutt: Housing and the Building Codes

     There is a phrase that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  It goes like this:  Just because something is a good idea doesn't mean you should always do it.  Think about that for a moment.  We are taught that good ideas lead to good outcomes.  While generally this is true, it is not an imperative.

     One area where this is abundantly clear to me is with our modern scheme of building requirements.  Most people realize that our current regimen of rules and regulations encountered by anyone seeking a building permit makes the creation of reasonable priced housing impossible.  Even politicians at all levels concede that this is true, yet the only solution that occurs to them is to subsidize housing or force developers to lose money on some units in order to be able to profit off some others.

     Part of the difficulty in finding a solution is that no one feels responsible for the problem that everyone knows exists.  Every rule and regulation is promulgated with the best of intentions by well-meaning people.  This is done in different rooms by different agencies at different times for different reasons, but the sum total is a maze of relevant and irrelevant requirements that can only be navigated with large amounts of cash.  This is what I call the end of affordability.

     Those who have followed the rebuilding of the Wildflower Motel have witnessed the patience and perseverance of the owners as they have been dealt numerous blows in their effort to bring a moderately priced motel to Point Arena.  This project surely will cost far more to complete than the owners must have contemplated at the beginning, so I don't see how they will be able to provide moderately priced units.

     A building contractor in Santa Rosa has written about how rebuilding from the fire in Santa Rosa will likely cost around $400/sq. ft. given today's building codes. That means a very modest 1200 sq. ft. home will cost nearly half a million dollars.  The 6” foundations need to be torn out and replaced with 8” foundations despite the lack of any evidence that foundations were failing.  The list goes on and on.  All these new rules were implemented to increase the safety of home dwellers.  What it ignores is that  people can't afford to own a home, so who cares how much safer new homes might be when people have to live in an RV at Walmart?

     There is an example of the frustration that faces potential home owners right here on the coast.  A young couple have purchased a lot in Point Arena on which they hope to build a home.  They are of moderate means and have a simple, basic home designed.   Prior to purchasing their lot they approached the City of Point Arena and inquired about the process of building a home.  They were met with all smiles and encouragement from city government and were told that their project was exactly what should be on their lot.  What they were not told is that they were entering a nightmare of bureaucratic resistance.

     The length of this column doesn't come close to providing the space needed to fully detail the hassles they have encountered.  Let's just look at one agency (of nearly a dozen) that they have dealt with:  the requirement to have an archeological review.

     I read the 23 page report and my hands were sweating by the time I finished.

     After 5 pages of cut-and-paste background we begin the report at 11,000 B.C.  Yes, it is important to know what was going on here 13 centuries ago in order to decide if someone can build a house today.  There are whole separate sections on the Lower, Middle, and Upper Archaic Periods that bring us up to the Emergent Period that extends to 1870.  Records show that Elijah Beebe laid claim to the subject parcel in the 1870's. Seven different maps and drawings through the years show that the house existed and in 1978 Edria Van Horn died there.  By 1986 the house was torn down.

     By the time we reach page 19 we learn that “No evidence of prehistoric use was discovered in the surveyed area.”  Phew.  Done deal.  Let's have that permit now!

     Whoa tiger, state law says that anything over 50 years old is of archeological significance.  That means my Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper from 1963 is an archeological artifact!  Excuse me a moment while I check eBay for it's value.

      After “an intensive and complete pedestrian field survey” using 5 meter spacing and shovel probes up to 20 cm deep placed at 3 m intervals revealed the following:  a portion of a well casing, some chunks concrete, some wrought nails, and some broken glass.  The exciting discovery was of the garbage dump from the former owners.  A garbage dump is called  “a historic refuse concentration” in archeo-speak. 

     These “significant deposits... may qualify as historical resources” so hold your hat permit seekers you are about to spend a bunch more money. 

     Despite the fact that “CEQA requires the Lead Agency to impose mitigation measures to reduce adverse impacts to a level that is less than significant”, what follows are 3 pages of mitigation measures all of which require the services of a professional archeologist (surprise, surprise!). 

     The American Heritage Dictionary defines archeology as “the scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures”.  If that includes Edria Van Horn, there are probably some of her relatives still around that could fill in the missing gaps for future archeologists.

     Please recall “No evidence of prehistoric use was discovered in the surveyed area.”   The Kashia Pomos were consulted and after a mere drive-by, then laid no claim to its historical significance, given, as the report states, “the location is far from a reliable source of water, lacked protection from prevailing winds ..., and has few resources to attract use.” 

        Government intrusion into peoples'' personal lives has created a hostility toward government that fueled the Trump ascension to power.  He leveraged that resentment when he claimed that he would cut regulations.  Of course, voters were concerned about the ability for them to conduct their own lives, but the rules Trump was really talking about eliminating are the ones that protect the environment and rein in the Wall Street power brokers .

     Ask any politician what  can be done about the current situation and they will tell you their hands are tied .  That is not an acceptable answer.  It seems they would rather have a housing crisis than buck the system.  The Point Arena city council and Board of Supes could start by asking the state to review the law stating that 50 year old bubble gum wrappers are “historically significant”.

Reading Is A Passion For Max

Animal Health & Welfare: Saying Goodbye

Animal Health & Welfare: Saying Goodbye