Previous Capers

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bloomin' Bureaucracy!

If you think the lovely City of Seattle or government in general for that matter, can't get anything done on a large scale, try applying for a permit to landscape your parking strip. This process is a microcosm of the bigger picture and pretty much illustrates the inefficiencies and dysfunctions pervasive in our government system.

After years of out of control grasses, daisies, black-eyed Susans and dandelions in the parking strip, we finally pinned down Dr. Dirt who happens to live 2 blocks away to come over with his excavator and dig it all out. He hauled the refuse away and brought back 6 yards of soil. We had visions of large edible annuals, blueberries and espaliered apples planted in order to expand our food supply and beautify the area. We wanted to build a small fence along the length on the sidewalk side in order to keep out the K9P. I had visions of a stone mosaic border between the fence and the sidewalk (to accommodate the one foot setback required) and bricks along the parking area as a firm walkway. It was going to be beautiful. Then SDOT showed up.

I wasn't present, but while Roland was working out in the yard, some woman from SDOT appears out of the blue (they know, somehow they know) and tells him that we can't do anything until we have a permit and have to cover the new soil with a tarp so it doesn't run out into the street, less we get a large fine. She also stated that we have to have a 3 foot set back from the street, and a one foot setback from the sidewalk (that's 6 feet wide) less someone trips over something. We can't plant any fruiting trees. She also informed us that the City owns 2 feet of land on the house side of the sidewalk (city right-of-way). When Roland asked her about all of the non-compliant parking strips just on our block she replied, "Well, those people didn't get caught and we don't make them tear it out (our 2 raised beds in the strip are non-compliant - oh, darn)."

"Then, how do people know that they need one?"

"Well, it's always been the law and we don't do a very good job at letting people know that they need one."

At least the thing is free. So, like good little proletariat citizens, we went to the SDOT web site and filled out all of the on-line forms. Around a week later, we got a computer generated e-mail stating that our permit has been approved and go to such-and-such link for the details. It ended up being the link to nowhere. The next e-mail from a "Rex" stated that he needs a sight plan (surprisingly, he didn't need GPS coordinates, satellite photos, and a note from Roland's mother). So, having been a draftsman in a previous life, I drew up the plans to scale and we faxed them off to "Rex." After a week or so, we didn't hear anything back from "Rex" and when Roland called in on several occasions, "Rex" was on vacation, took the day off, out to lunch, etc., etc. Finally, he made a WTF call and was told that "Rex" was "on (perpetual) vacation and that our permit application would be handled by "Liz." Roland was told that "Liz" would get back to him. In the mean-time they asked Roland to re-fax the plan to "Liz" because they claimed they never received the one sent to "Rex." She actually did send an e-mail to Roland confirming that they got the plan, bless her heart.

Several weeks went by and no "Liz" call. Instead, "Jennifer" calls back and says, "All my God, there's a fence on your site plan! You can't do a fence blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...the worlds going to come to an end....It's a $174 fee for the permit." So I redrew the plan, and fence was transformed into a pea trellis. Roland faxed the revisions off to "Jennifer." Apparently, "Jennifer" got swallowed by the computer generated paperwork monster and has disappeared.
We never heard from "Jennifer" again.

In the mean-time, Roland gets 3 more computer generated e-mails telling us that we haven't given them a start date nor scheduled an inspection for permit number blah, blah, blah and a 4th e-mail threatens us with massive fines with if we do any work, block traffic, or obstruct the freeway. etc:

Our records indicate that you have not performed any action on your permit application for at least 10 days. Please provide the following: JOB START CALL REQUIRED FIELD REVIEW If you no longer wish to obtain this permit, please respond to this e-mail to notify us that you wish to cancel the application. Your permit application may be cancelled after ninety days if we do not hear from you. To review the status of your permit application, please go to:


Before beginning work in the right-of-way, you must notify Street Use to verify your start date. Notice must be provided 24-72 hours prior to the start of work. The notification must include: 1. Permit Number 2. Job Site Address 3. Start Date 4. Brief description of work 5. Job site contact name, phone number and email address If you do not fulfill this requirement, a No Job Start penalty fee will be assessed in the amount of $300, or such other amount as may be established in accordance with SMC 15.04.074.

Two weeks later on Monday, Roland makes another WTF phone call directly to SDOT questioning the e-mails and the lady on the other end says, "OMG, your permit hasn't been approved! Don't touch anything, don't plant anything, don't walk on it diagonally, breath on it, don't look at it for more than 60 seconds!" She also stated that the e-mails don't mean anything. She then transfers Roland to "Liz" and he gets her voice-mail and leaves a WTF message . "Liz" finally calls back the following Friday afternoon.

Happy, bubbly "Liz" said that she would allow a fence up to 18 inches tall otherwise it's a tripping hazard (huh?), and no pebble mosaics because they kill people by the thousands when walk on (apparently, folk in Europe are more agile). Roland says, "Fence? we're calling it a pea trellis."

"Liz" replies that the plan says it's a fence which means she's looking at the original lost plan. Then she tells him that we can start anytime as soon as we pay for the permit.

"WTF! I was told it was a free permit!"

Well, apparently as soon as any hardscaping or structure goes in it's a $174 permit fee. However, there's no charge for planter boxes not higher than 5-1/2 inches tall or they're a tripping hazard (huh?).

Now we have to submit site plan number 3, sans the hardscaping, indicating strictly vegetation and topographical details of the mounds (and any planting boxes we wanted). And, apparently people getting out of cars can trample on any low, slimy, slippery vegetation, but as soon as you want to put down a harder surface for good footing, cough up the bucks.

The permit process is obviously a bait and switch operation - they dangle the free permit in front of you, but really, who doesn't add some sort of pavers, rocks or other non-vegetative product into their landscaping design!

So, after 2 months of this rigamarole where in limbo. The project started with noxious weed removal and we ended up in noxious government weeds. In defiance, I planted a zucchini. Take that, you parking strip Gestapo!

And I wonder why the viaduct hasn't been replaced or the 520 bridge expansion is taking so long, or where's the light rail? Silly me.

More to come on the SDOT plot...


  1. Geez. I thought Whatcom County was bad. With our barn construction, we were a few feet too close to a seasonal *puddle* (under 6' diameter, containing no migratory water fowl, no frogs, no fish) in our front yard, so we had to have a wetlands delineation done, set aside & fence off a mitigation area, and plant native plants there. That amounted to four trees. We call it the Elke &%$# Memorial garden. That set us back over two thousand dollars, and several months. My sympathies are with you. . .

  2. Apparently SDOT can't see the forest through the pea trellis.


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