Is This What Government Corruption Looks Like?

cccounty In the rural Contra Costa County lies a small city named Walnut Creek. That is where Dick and Jane decided to buy a small business and build for their future. Having scraped together their small change and secured a business loan they purchased a small cafe’ that showed promise of success. Not quite set up and running their new business Dick and Jane decided they wanted to upgrade the cafe’ to a full service restaurant with “on sale” beer and wine. Two changes were required. A wet bar that would serve as the service for the alcohol and a liquor license. So Dick and Jane contacted a designer and spent a small fortune designing a pre-fabricated bar to be installed in their little cafe’ soon to be restaurant. They were going to need a Building Permit for the necessary modifications as the new bar would add two sinks to the existing plumbing and sewer system. So they had plans drawn and submitted their application for the building permit with the belief that the work so minor the permit process would be a simple “over-the-counter” permit.

As they anticipated a quick building permit they chose to tear out there existing meal service counter hoping to limit the amount of time the restaurant would have to be closed for the necessary modifications. Well the Building Permit process, coupled with the liquor license process soon became too lengthy a delay for them to reopen the restaurant. What they anticipated as a weekend modification and straight back to open for business soon became three weeks of the business being closed with no real progress attained. The business was purchased with the intent that the 8 employees that had worked for the previous owner would be retained for employment with the new owner. So, at this stage the restaurant has been closed providing no income for Dick and Jane nor their 8 employees. Dick and Jane decided to hire Bob, a friend of Dicks to help them through the permit process in hopes of moving things forward quickly as the permit and liquor license had become overly complicated for some reason and now it was more important to reopen the restaurant than anything else.      

Bob got involved, met with the Planning Department and discovered that the Planning Department had placed their building permit application on hold pending the liquor license application process. The delay caused by continuing this path was determined to be too costly so Dick and Jane chose to forget the liquor license idea and use the new bar as a “Coffee/Beverage Bar” not requiring such license. The intent being to hurry the permit process along, install the bar, and reopen the restaurant as soon as possible. The existing plans were at the Health Services Department and had been approved. So Bob had new drawings made amending the changes and resubmitted the plans to Planning for approval. Three days later, Planning approves the modifications.

Allow me to explain these modifications. The new bar provides three sinks. Of these only one sink actually requires internal plumbing modification the equivalent of moving your household kitchen sink from it’s current location to the other end of your kitchen counter. The other sinks actually replace sinks already part of the existing business. This is a one day job that Dick and one of his current employees can handle themselves.

Subsequent to Planning approval of the plans, Bob met with the Building Department staff who looked over the plans and asked for additional changes to the drawings. Bob took the plans out for the necessary changes. So a few days later Bob returns to the Building Department hoping to acquire the needed building permit. At this point the whole process begins to get a bit strange. Instead of the Building Department issuing a permit for the required changes to the restaurant, Bob is sent over to the Contra Costa County Sanitary District (CCCSD) for plan review. Of course the CCCSD offices are not at the same location. Bob knows that the modifications the permit calls for do not impact the existing sewer system and hopes for an “over-the–counter” review of the plans by the CCCSD.

The restaurant has now been closed for close to 30 days providing no income for Dick and Jane or their 8 employees over a building permit that in essence adds a single sink to the restaurant plumbing.

Bob takes the plans over to the CCCSD who wants to take the plans in for a ten day review. Bob argues this as the delay not reasonable for the work to be performed. While discussing this with counter staff the Engineer responsible for the CCCSD review walks by and is invited to look over the plans to see if they require additional detail or modification. The Engineer approves the plans as is, without need for permit issuance from the CCCSD, but is prevented from signing his approval by counter staff who say they still have additional review to perform, but cannot explain what the additional review is for. Bob cooperates and leaves the plans for the CCCSD additional review.

Now at this stage the CCCSD is intending to do a review of the plans for other purpose than the building permit process and plan to withhold the permit for at least the 10 days  they claim they are entitled to use to process them, but have mislead Bob in the purpose and scope of the additional review. About 5 days later Bob is informed that there is some billing errors relative to the business location and the CCCSD. This billing error has absolutely nothing to do with the building permit process. Inadequate explanation is given for the reason but the CCCSD was going to withhold the permit until they further review the matter.

At day 10 of the CCCSD review process the CCCSD says that modifications made to the business location 10 years ago were never brought to the attention of the CCCSD by the previous business owner. These modifications would have resulted in a changer in the rate the CCCSD charged for their services had the CCCSD of been notified. So, the CCCSD has compiled a “back-charge” of what they believe the charges should have been totaling approximately $40,000.00. They tell Bob that the business is in violation of the code and the building permit for a completely different reason will be withheld by the CCCSD until the $40,000.00 is paid. Important for reference: At this stage no notice of violation nor accounting demonstrative of the charges the CCCSD claims due them has been provided to Dick and Jane, nor has any billing for the claimed debt been provided. We have now reached almost 6 weeks of the restaurant being closed without income for Dick and Jane or their 8 employees, apparently for the CCCSD to pull this move on the consumer.

Allow mw a moment to explain this situation a little better. The CCCSD under guise of performing an unnecessary plan review for the restaurant, has blocked issuance of the necessary building permit for reasons unrelated to the permit application and seek to back-charge the current business owner for charges they should have made to the previous owners billing ten years ago. County Ordinance makes Current Business Owner, Previous Business Owner, the Property Owner where the business located all liable for unpaid charges to the CCCSD. When asked to release the permit so the restaurant can move forward, the CCCSD says, “pay the $40,000.00 and we will release your permit.”

At this stage we have exceeded the seventh week of the restaurant closed for this permit process and the CCCSD is withholding the building permit for violation of their code for which no notice of violation or accounting yet served on Dick and Jane.

Review of the County Code does not demonstrate the CCCSD has the authority to withhold the permit, their “back-charge” review is not of the part of the building permit process, and the CCCSD is literally holding the permit hostage until either the Property Owner or Dick and Jane pay them $40,000.00 and still the necessary documentation of this situation has yet to be served on Dick and Jane.

The CCCSD is “strong-arming” Dick and Jane who just bought the business for charges not ever made to the billing of previous owners of the business for a period of ten years, for “Capacity Fees” which the CCCSD says would have increased had the CCCSD of known that the original business which had been a coffee shop changed to a cafe’. How do we know if the capacity of sewer usage changed at all during the past ten years. There is no metered reading of sewage usage. For that matter why should the existing business owner be held liable for a debt the CCCSD never charged the previous owners. Dick and Jane and 8 employees have been losing every single day during this process, and it looks as though there is no end in sight.

Is this what Government Corruption looks like?   If the CCCSD is successful in taking this action against Dick and Jane’s new business, won’t that open the door for the same to happen to any small business in Contra Costa County?

 

( NOTE: The names have been changed of the business owners and Bob to protect their identities, but all other relative facts are true to the extent of my knowledge, which is significant.)

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