Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nobody Speeds in Alameda!

No, I did not just get a speeding ticket in Alameda.

Everybody don't speed in Alameda. Everybody knows this. Everybody knows that the APD takes speeding seriously.

You may go 28MPH but any faster and 'THEY WILL GET YOU' Everybody knows this right?

Somehow the APD has been able to leave this lasting impression with those of us who live/work/frequent Alameda. Heck, I don't even know if they STILL enforce the speeding limit so strictly...maybe they don't have to because they've convinced us its really, really not a good idea to speed in Alameda.

As a result, we have streets that are safe for kids, safe for bicycle riding, just safer-better.
As a parent, I am very happy about that.

Here's my question.

Why don't people have the same opinion of the Alameda Building Dept???

Wouldn't it be better for our fair city if people had the same opinion on doing work without permits as they do towards speeding?

What if people knew, KNEW that they would most likely get caught and have to pay big fines if they did major remodeling without permits?

Why is there not some sort of fine-administrative judgement that can be levied against contractors who do unpermmited work? Right now, its the HO that shoulders all the burden. Shouldn't there be a fine levied against the builder also? Maybe revoke their business license.

It seems to me that right now the system is set up to encourage illegal builders to do unpermitted work.

Putting the Fear into Home Owners
Here's what I think should happen....

Outreach to Homeowners and Contractors to explain the new reality.

First off, step up code enforcement dramatically. Its human nature, people are not going to toe the line unless they feel like they are going to 'for sure' get caught and that the consequences are going to be severe.

On top of the other code enforcement fee's tack on a FINE to the homeowner for using illegal contractors.

Figure out a way to slap a fine on the contractors that work illegally in Alameda...I mean, its against the law right? Just like having too many chickens.

The Result
No more scary-shoddy-illegal work done on the island. What's that going to do to property values?
No more illegal contractors undercutting the legit guys.
More revenue to the city due to the increase in permits.
More revenue to the city due to houses being correctly valued and taxed by the assessors office.

Now before somebody can say, 'Of course you over there in the republic of CA want to increase taxes.' I'm not talking about adding any taxes. I'm talking about getting people to obey the law which will have concrete benefits to our city.

Yes, doing it illegally will be cheaper than doing it legally....BUT YOU'RE DOING IT ILLEGALLY!!

The current system is broken with illegal contractors ruining it for the legal ones.

I'm going to send this post to all the Alameda elected officials and Building Dept heads. We'll see if I hear anything back.


KS said...

I did a kitchen remodel last year, with proper permits from the city.

But I can understand the reasons why someone would skip it.

1) The rules/laws seem sometimes outdated - e.g. why require ugly fixed fluourescent lighting in kitchen when LEDs are much nicer and even more green?

2) As a DIYer, I have to take half a day off to ask any question or get permits - no one ever answered my simple questions over email, and opening hours are not very 9-to-5-worker friendly. Their online documents are hardly readable (scanned old docs e.g. for kitchen electrical requirements).

3) If you go by the letter of the laws, you'd need to get a permit for every light fixture, switch, and outlet changed. That's silly, really. I mean, who can afford to do that time-wise?

4) Costs. I did a kitchen remodel for maybe $2000 in materials (Ikea etc). Cost of permit? $1300! Yikes! It's based on sqft of kitchen, no matter what actually gets done. For me it was just some smaller electrical work and the vent that the permit was needed for.

5) no enforcement - I can see blatantly unpermitted work at so many houses even from the outside or when the garage door is open - if everyone else gets away with it, why should I pay for a permit?

The good things - the actual people in the office and the inspector were very nice and understanding; they actually had some valuable tips.

But I can fully understand why many DIY remodels are done without permits. They need to make the rules and cost more reasonable and accessible, and get into the 21st century.

The MadScientist said...

Hello KS and thanks for the long reply.
Sat is my most sleep deprived day so hopefully this will make sense.

I'll address you questions best I can.
1) I can't understand how LED lights are not officially energy star certified...are you sure about this? I am using CFLs as under cabinet lights adn they are fine I think. As for the main room light, they are making a lot of nicer GU24 base lights now a days..Heck I just bought a ton from Costco to use in the basement apartment.

2)Yep, I agree to all of those comments its a city dept after all with city workers...what I can say as compared to my experience with the Oakland building dept the Alameda building dept is a dream.
what's funny is nobody even works on the weekends...apparently no illegal construction happens on weekends....

3)No, the city is not going to require you to get a permit to switch out existing lights, outlets, switches..only for installing new ones.

4)Wow!!! First of all if you actually did a kit remodel for $2k that is truely amazing!!! I bet the ave kit remodel costs twice that! Did you use the IKEA butcher block counter tops? I think those are an incredible bargain. The city has actually changed how they do permits and its actually easier now/when you did your work than it was 4 years ago. I looked on the website but could not find a schedule of fee's...should be up there for everyone to look at for budgeting purposes as least.

5) Sure, if EVERYBODY else is jumping off the Golden Gate bridge why can't you??? But seriously, there is an anon why to call in building code violations, maybe you should do that for the more egregious cases you've seen. I've only done it a couple of times when I've seen something that was clearly a safety issue.

I think that there are two different issues here.

1st. I don't think that there could be any good reason for a pro contractor doing a job here in Alameda to not get permits.
I bet most of the scary unpermitted work is done not by HO's but by illegal contractors taking advantage...its the old, 'You don't need to get a permit, we ALWAYS do everything to code.' line of bs.

2nd, nope its not easy as a DIY'er to get permits but, it is the law. Once you learn the system its not really that bad I think...just don't walk into that dept, which is basically completely run by women, and be a bossy a-hole.

Lori R. said...

I can understand why people don't pull permits. I live in a completely different part of the country from you. I pulled electrical permits 16 years ago when our service needed to be upgraded in order to accomodate a new condensing unit for AC. The service was inspected and passed by our local building department. Becuase I work for a GC I recently opted out of permits when we flipped locations for our dining room and kitchen. The electrical which passed 16 years ago was a hairy scarey mess to correct. My electrician which I have been doing business with for 14 years was tempted to walk from the job because it was so bad. The new panel was installed on top of our old non-working panel. He didn't walk and he got the mess fixed. No more questionable anything with our current system.

Our local buidling department has gotten rediculous. They make up new rules every year (that have nothing to do with code) and then when you follow them, they don't. I personally have written to our county commissioners complaining about them. Our building deparmtent has turned into a dictatorship run deparmtent. The old Chief Building Inspector passed away about 5 years ago and was replaced with a guy who loves "Power". His "Power" has nothing to do with code and safety issues and everything to do with "control". I know my house is up to code and done correctly. I've been working with the same professionals now for 14 years.

My reasoning for avoiding permits had nothing to do with costs. I feel that the fees in our area are pretty fair. It's the "control" thing. If the Buldling Dept. was more worried about code and safety then their own rules I would be much more inclined to pull permits on my own work. As a GC we pull permits on EVERY single job we do. But on my own personal project I avoided Little Jerry and his ridiculous rules. My boss, electrician and plumber all agreed with my decision.

The MadScientist said...

Hi Lori,
Well I can't speak to any other part of the country than Alameda. I've been told that in some parts of the U.S. there are no building codes at offically you can build any kind of crap shack and its okay...crazy.

Unfortunately it sounds like you have a petty dictator to deal with...If he's the chief douche are there not more reasonable underlings to deal with? Or is it a one man show?

It seems like you've figured out how to work with him profesionally though...

If your AHJ has adopted a code he can't just make up his him on it...

Or, maybe find out what his fav type of scotch is and leave him a bottle of it?