Permit process heartbreak

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    After reading the campaign literature mailed to me by certain incumbent City Council members I had to write this letter. These council members claim to favor streamlining the permit process for homeowners. It is odd that they would discuss this now, right before the election, when they have had years to address the problem.

    I built my home while Malibu was still under the county. The permit process was a nightmare. I wanted to build a 2500-square-foot house on a flat one-acre property. It took years, but I got it done. I voted for cityhood. I am not a proponent of development. I don’t want hotels, condos, department stores or 15,000-square-foot, four-story mansions on quarter-acre lots. But people should be able to do reasonable things with their properties.

    In 1996, my parents, both retired, decided to build a granny cottage on the property. There was nothing unusual, 750 square feet and a garage, no variances and a flat lot. The process took three years. Besides the incredible red tape, there were endless requests for more sets of plans, misfiled or lost documents (the city’s mistake) that sent my father all over town, from the architect’s office in Hollywood to the Coastal Commission in Ventura and many repeat waits in line at Planning and Building & Safety. Finally the permit was issued. However when the foundation was staked out, we found that the orientation of the house was not right (our mistake). Rotating the house, without moving its location or changing its height, was the best solution. A simple thing, or so we thought. We were told to go back to the Coastal Commission and start the permit process over. My mother joked that they would be dead before the house was building. The process was “expedited.” Coastal approval took two weeks. The city of Malibu took four months. Thousands of dollars in fees. Finally we had the permit. A time for rejoicing. So we thought. We broke ground the beginning of February 2000. The same week, my father was diagnosed with cancer and operated on. As of this writing he has one or two weeks to live. He has never seen the house. We wanted to bring him out here a couple of weeks ago but he was too weak to make the 35 mile car trip. Now, in his lucid moments, that are getting fewer, he asks me about the progress of the house and expresses regret that he won’t be able to enjoy it. I guess the joke’s on us. What was to be a happy retirement home will now be a painful reminder.

    If a reasonable system were in place, the permit process could have taken six months. The construction will take about six months. My father could have enjoyed the house for 2-1/2 years. The City Council has shown no desire to streamline the process. For them, the slower the better. If you are rich or powerful, you can hire attorneys and “expediters” who will speed the process, the rest of us be damned. I fear that if this letter is printed, I may be subject to retribution by the city, as the house is not finished. However, when I read that campaign literature, it made my stomach turn and I knew I had to say something.

    David S. Lamont

    Editor’s note: We are informed that Mr. Lamont’s father, Herbert Barry Lamont, died April 2, at his home in Gardena. He was 71.