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?