The once-bright lights above Boulevard Burgers have been taken down, after Alameda County planning department officials said the sign violated rules prohibiting displays that rise above roof lines.
What caused this confrontation between business and bureaucracy that Patch wrote about Tuesday?
And what does the Boulevard Burgers affair have in common with the story of Muzo's -- the hot dog stand that can't open because it doesn't meet the standards for establishments on Castro Valley Boulevard?
The simplest answer is that county businesses must deal with two departments, building and planning, that don't always know each other's requirements.
Moreover, these two departments work in different agencies, Public Works and Community Development, respectively. So they have no common boss, other than the elected Board of Supervisors.
In writing this story Patch interviewed Gordon Galvan, partner in Boulevard Burgers; Bill Lepere, Deputy Director of Public Works; Albert Torres, Planning Department director, and Bob Swanson, aide to Supervisor Nate Miley.
Here's a distilled version of what thos interviews revealed.
The owners of Boulevard Burgers got a series of permits from the building department to open their restaurant.
But what they didn't know is that the planning department must approve all signs in advance.
This is especially important on Castro Valley Boulevard, which has special rules that prohibit signs that rise above roofs. Had the restaurant owners applied for a permit, planning officials would presumably told then that their sign did not pass muster.
So it's a mess and there's plenty of blame to go around:
- The building department apparently did not tell the owners they needed to apply for a sign permit.
- The restaurant owners assumed that, since their architect's plans showed their sign, and they got a building permit to open, that they were okay. We all know what happens when we assume, right?
- And the planning department -- which rubber stamped each building permit issued -- apparently failed to ask whether a new sign was being installed; instead officials waited until 90 days after the restaurant opened to order the BLVD taken down.
A similar confusion between building and planning occurred with Muzo's. Owner Marc Michieli is still trying to get the proper approvals and recover from his own mistakes (unlike Boulevard Burgers, he made improvements without a building permit; tsk-tsk).
The public can't get involved in the details of such disputes.
But it is our job to step back and ask:
- Do building and planning work hand in glove, or does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing?
- Is there one page or or place where a prospective county business owner can go to find out what approvals they need and where to get them?
- And if county officials can boil all this down to a checklist, how is a citizen supposed to navigate the system?
Are you a business owner who's gotten tripped by red tape? Sound off in the comments or email reporter Tom Abate.