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Local Man's Christmas Wish: Let Me Sell Hot Dogs

A red storefront on Castro Valley Boulevard has been red-tagged by building inspectors. Now Marc Michieli is trying to cut through the red tape and open his take-out restaurant.

 

Marc Michieli is seeing red this Christmas but it isn't the color of the decorations on his tree.

Instead, the 50-year-old local businessman has been mired in red tape ever since he tried to open a hot dog stand called Muzo's on Castro Valley Boulevard.

This story is based on interviews with Michieli and with Alameda County officials, who hope to put a happy ending on this bureaucratic tale. You can see and hear Michieli state his case in a brief Patch video.

The dream store

The whole mess started a few months ago with Michieli, a San Leandro native whose dad used to a run a tile business that was well known in the area.

For the last 15 years, Michieli, his wife and their three children have lived in Castro Valley where they used to run the Little Sunflowers day care center.

A few months ago, when the Michielis shut the day care , Marc set out to pursue a modest dream.

He wanted to reopen the tiny store at 3210 Castro Valley Boulevard that was once the site of a take-out food joint called Carry Outee (now relocated to Mission Boulevard).

Michieli started by getting a lease from the landlord.

In mid-October he visited the Alameda County Building Department to figure out what he needed to do in order to open Muzo's.

Enter the bureaucracy

That's where the confusion began.

On October 16, Michaeli told building and planning department officials what he wanted to do: make some interior and exterior repairs to the store and then sell hot dogs and sausage links.

He applied for building permits to replace a water heater, fix a sink and repair dry rot. A planning department official okayed his plans to make cosmetic changes to the interior and exterior.

Planning okay in hand, Michieli said he tried to get his building permits.

Building department officials told him that he first needed to get inspections from the health and fire departments, he said.

Michieli said he spent $3,200 to get those health and fire reviews and returned to the building department once again in early November to get his permits.

It really hits the fan

That's when the trouble really began.

Sonia Urzua with the Alameda County Planning Department explained the bureaucratic roadblock that Michieli encountered.

She said the Castro Valley Central Business District plan of 1993 prohibits walk-up or drive-up food takeaway establisments in the downtown.

Any such stores in existence prior to this time could have continued to operate. But 30 days after they closed, their grandfathered exemptions expired.

Since the Carry Outee had been shut for years, the storefront was now covered by the prohibition, Urzua told Patch.

Michiele said he only found out about this 30-day rule when he returned to the building department with $3,200 worth of health and fire department approvals.

He notes that planning officials had already signed off on his application on Oct. 16 without any mention of this.

"Nobody ever told me there would be a problem," Michieli said.

Full steam ahead

Even though building officials would not issue him permits, Michieli said he fixed the sink, replaced the water heater, retiled the store and painted the exterior.

He obtained a business license on November 7 and opened Muzo's on a trial basis a few days later during the "Meet in the Street" festival that celebrated the completion of the upgrades to Castro Valley Boulevard. 

"Customers loved the place," Michieli said.

He also opened Muzo's over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Not so fast

Then, on November 30, building department officials red-tagged Muzo's and shut him down.

As far as the county was concerned Michieli was operating a store that was specifically prohibited in that location by the 1993 Business District plan.

Can't we get along?

Ever since, the businessman and the bureaucrats have been wrangling.

Michieli said he was initially told that he had to put up $4,000 to defray the costs of commissioning a site development review to determine whether a hot dog stand with a take out window could be allowed in downtown Castro Valley.

The businessman, who says he's already sunk upwards of $30,000 into the project, balked at this additional expense.

Urzua said county officials have offered to lower that outlay to $1,500.

"At this point we're just trying to help him get on the right path," Urzua told Patch.

The two sides continue to look for a way out.

Michieli argues that his take out stand is in keeping with the spirit of the improvements to Castro Valley Boulevard, which have aimed in part to make the street more pedestrian-friendly.

"I've improved something that has been an eyesore for years," he told Patch.

What's your take on this situation? What do you think about business-government relations in general?

 

 

mloura December 21, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I was thinking the same thing. The big money chains can open anywhere on the boulevard but let's not let a local boy make good. Typical of not only the county but the country in general. The rich get richer and they just leave the rest of us middle classers who are trying to make a go of it behind. Ridiculous.
Ken Martin December 21, 2012 at 09:32 PM
This is not the first time the county has OK'd a building or a business, issued permits, collected money, and then shut everything down over some obsolete or petty county regulation. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that should be in the forefront of promoting business development here are notably silent when controversial situations arise. They should be supporting Marc Michieli in his effort to add something to Castro Valley, especially after he has invested so much time and money based on what he thought were county approvals. Miley should also be supporting him instead of standing on some archaic statute that probably should be changed. The sidewalks on the Boulevard were widened so they could handle more pedestrian traffic. Why was this done when the county is busy making sure that the pedestrians have NO PLACE to go!!!
Bob Swanson December 22, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Hi Folks, Mr. Michieli came to Supervisor Miley’s office and spoke to Kriss Kokotaylo who has been researching this issue with Planning, Fire, Environmental Health and the Public Works Building Department. The building Mr. Michieli chose for his business is quite old and rundown. It is my understanding, at this time, that this building was red tagged for safety issues previous to Mr. Michieli opening. No one is allowed to open a business in a building that is red tagged. Some years ago Castro Valley Business owners and citizens came together in a public venue with the County Planning Department and created a “Specific Plan” for the CV downtown. This plan governs what can and cannot me done in the CV business district. Unfortunately this business does not conform to the plan. It may be possible to change the plan through a public process. It may be possible to obtain a variance. All possibilities are being looked into. Bob Swanson Supervisor Nate Miley’s Office
Ken Martin December 23, 2012 at 12:10 AM
OK, Bob. But it appears that someone in the county hierarchy led him to believe that, if he made some upgrades that they specified, he could begin his operation. Otherwise, why would he proceed with spending his money and doing the work that he did? This seems to be typical of our county government. The right hand doesn't seem to know what the left hand is doing or saying. Certainly the building is old and apparently Mr. Michieli was aware of that when he first spoke to the county people. If his version is correct, these people gave him a list of upgrades that, when done, would allow to open the business. He apparently did them only to be told that he may have wasted his time and money. If any criticism is merited here it should be leveled at whatever county person or persons that gave him some incorrect information. I'm sure that those people are in their "Not me!" mode and denying that they ever spoke to Mr. Michieli. Let's start a public process to change the plan!!!
Bob Swanson December 23, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Hi Ken, Your speculation may be correct. I don’t know at this point. I can place no praise or blame on anyone until all the facts are pulled together. If I were posting here as a private citizen I could speculate with few or no facts as is done quite often in the webs virtual reality. Working for the Supervisor I can not speculate. This issue is cautiously being looked into and as the facts become clear an appropriate outcome will arise from the confusion. Kris Kokotaylo is ferreting out the facts of this issue and I know him to be quite competent. Bob

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