Scuttlebutt: Permits and Red Tape
Last month my column discussed the housing situation in Point Arena and emphasized how intense regulatory regime and permitting procedures have contributed to the dearth of housing. I have since become aware of two simple projects that help illustrate my point.
The first is the weather station at the Point Arena Lighthouse. In October of 2012 storm conditions caused the rusting tower supporting the equipment to collapse, ending transmission of weather data.
It should be noted that weather reports from Pt. Arena are especially crucial since Pt. Arena is the dividing line between forecast zones. There is a weather report covering Point Arena south and another for Point Arena north. They do not always agree, particularly in the winter. Knowing the actual conditions at Point Arena can inform someone as to which forecast is more appropriate.
As most of the promotional material from the Lighthouse Keepers group correctly points out, Point Arena is arguably the most important coastal feature in California, if not the entire West Coast. The only rival could be Point Conception west of Santa Barbara.
So why will it take six years before broadcasts will resume? The National Data Buoy Center will merely replace the tower and put some instruments on it.
The first hint might be that the person shepherding this project, a very nice Stephen Cuculli, works at the Stennis Space Station in Mississippi. Why replacing a weather station in Point Arena needs to be guided from Mississippi seems strange to me. How high of a priority is Point Arena to someone in the Gulf of Mexico?
The first hurdle they faced was that the Lighthouse Keepers didn't want the tower put in the same place, due to what was termed “aesthetic” concerns. I guess it is just me, but I feel good when I see a weather station. If a weather station detracts from the natural setting, what does a 115 ft. lighthouse tower do to it?
This decision was passed along in January 2013, four months after the tower came down. Nearly two years later, in December of 2014, the Coastal Commission issued a Negative Declaration, relieving applicants of a much more onerous permit process, but during dialogue pointed out the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) must review a change in location if ground is disturbed.
Four months later, in April 2015 a Statement of Work for contract solicitation was finalized by NDBC for consultant services to conduct Cultural Resources Survey at proposed site. This was not to do the work, but to get bids to do the work. Merely two months later a contract was awarded. Phew.
Nine months later, in March of 2016 the contract had to be modified to resurvey the area due to the finding of some Obsidian flakes that might indicate the presence of artifacts. Eight more months and the final report was delivered. Next on the timeline is, and I quote, “December 2016 through March 2017; discussions on procedures for submitting report”. That took three months. In March they sent a “Request Letter” to SHPO asking for a summary of findings.
June 22 of this year NDBC was told that a letter of acceptance is currently being drafted and to expect it shortly. That means that SHPO agrees with the Archeological Report and NDBC may proceed with their permit application. This is called a Special Use Permit that the feds require when dealing with private property owners. This will involve the Lighthouse Keepers agreeing to all its terms using whatever procedures they employ. It remains to be seen what negotiations will take place at this point in the process.
Don't imagine we're near the end. The next step involves the Department of Commerce Office of General Counsel to review the permit to make sure it abides by all the proper statues. Once everyone is in agreement then NBDC can apply for a county building permit. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard was brought in to evaluate the new location as it's near their landing and refueling spot.
I asked Mr. Cuculli when he thought the project would be up and running. He estimated early 2018 “pending completion of identified tasks”. Good idea to leave the door open on that one. I asked him, “What has been the biggest obstacle to getting this done?” His answer: “Identifying needed steps in the process”. Really.
Next up is Peter Bogdahn, former Harbormaster in Point Arena. Last fall he decided to put solar panels on his roof. First he went to the city to get a city permit. This required a $50 fee and an inspection by the fire department. Then he checked the county website which contains the proper specifications and regulations for installing solar systems. After consulting their planning tools and local installer Pete and Sun, he elected to install thirty 295 watt panels. So far so good.
While applying for a county building permit, it came up that he owns a modular home, meaning he is under the authority of the Tax Assessor's office. Whoa. Because his home is on a foundation, he needed to file a form 433A from the tax assessors office, putting him now under the jurisdiction of the building department. Off to the building department only to discover that modular homes are regulated by the state Department of Housing and Community Development in Sacramento. Once his 433A was filed with the county he could proceed to HCD for a permit. HCD requires a 415 Alteration Permit, which requires engineering plans and a very detailed application. And a $400 filing fee that includes an inspection and one hour of time for a plan checker. The trick is if you make one mistake in your application, it is thrown out and you can file a new one (for another $200). Fearing a mistake and not wanting to start again, he drove to Sacramento to fill out the form in front of the clerk to be sure it was correct. His journey down this rabbit hole could be its own column.
Along the way he learned from PG&E that he was designing too big of a system. They only want you to install panels to offset 110% of your historical usage. His system would give him 137%. After promising to use more electricity after the system is up and running they allowed his design. Once the system is installed Peter gets an inspection. Only one though. If anything is wrong and the inspector has to return it is another $200.
After everyone is happy, PG&E comes in for an inspection and if they give it a thumbs up, you are ready to go. By the time he begins generating electricity, it will be about one year from when he started. And he had no glitches. He made it through the gauntlet relatively unscathed. His biggest issue with the project: “paperwork”.