Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Oh, to be One with the Land! (in California...)

Once upon a time, long, long ago, on a beautiful autumn day, Isaac Newton went wandering around his brother-in-law’s apple orchard in California.* The sun got high in the sky, the day got hotter, so Sir Isaac decided to rest in the shade of the lovely apple trees. Being autumn, the apples were ripe, (and fire season was on everyone’s mind.) And while Ike was resting, an apple dropped from the tree right on to his noggin’.

“Eureka!” he cried out.
“Wait one gosh-darned minute!” came a voice from several trees over...

Yes, coincidentally, the CalOSHA inspector was wandering through the very same orchard, and saw what happened. “These are manifestly unsafe working conditions. Apples cannot fall straight down from the tree. They cannot fall any farther than one foot away from the trunk. They might hit someone on the head and create an unsafe working environment.” The CalOSHA inspector rushed home to type up the memo, and issued a citation to the farmer who owned the orchard, Sir Isaac Newton’s brother-in-law, Jeremiah Waldimple.

After weeks of agony, waiting for the worst from CalOSHA, Farmer Waldimple finally got the citation. He had to pay a fine, and make sure that no apples in his orchard would fall further than one foot away from the trunk. Having a famous physicist for a brother-in-law didn’t help, as Isaac Newton pointed out that thanks to the law of gravity, apples were going to indeed fall straight down. So Jeremiah put on his thinking cap and came up with what he thought was a solution.
He constructed a number of devices much like this, and began constructing them and installing them around his trees. At great expense. (He had over seven hundred trees in his orchard!) It was tough to do, considering the profit margin on apples was already pretty tight. But it was worth it to get CalOSHA off his back. But he had not gotten very far when, along came some pencil-pusher from the State Water Resources Control Board, and he said...

“Oh, no! This will never do at all!” and he gave Jeremiah a citation (which included a fine of thousands of dollars) because he performed all this work during the rainy season, in a Risk Level 2 area,** without filing a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan. Even though Jeremiah was not aware that what he had been doing had been considered “construction activity,” he still had to pay the fine, hire a QSD, file a SWPPP, train to become his own QSP for a measly $1,285, (this even though the regulations were changing in September, making for little appreciable difference between a QSP and a QSD, and Jeremiah was not sure how he would get a QSP on site during a “qualifying rain event” in a timely manner, and thus avoid yet more thousands in fines.) He also had to buy a turbidimeter (at $896) and a pH meter (at an additional $735.) And shell out $145 to join CASQA, a private non-profit, just so he could acquire the forms that the state required but would not provide to him free of charge. Even in PDF format.

But Jeremiah followed on everything and was under the impression that he was getting into compliance with both CalOSHA and the SWRCB. But no....
The very next day, a letter appeared in the Waldimple mailbox from the City of Santa Juanita. From the Building Department. It seems that the pencil-necked geek from the SWRCB ratted him out to the city, and the city sent him a letter telling him that his project was “red-tagged” and he would have to cease construction until he had filled out an application, paid the fees and got his permit.

Jeremiah heaved a big sigh. And went down to the city building department to find out exactly what they needed, and exactly what fees he had to pay. But it was Friday, and the city was closed every other Friday, in order to “save money.” So Monday, he went back. But no one was there. He waited an hour, two, and no one showed. It seems that Jeremiah had made the mistake of arriving at the start of the union-mandated mid-mid-morning break, one of six breaks the so-called “service” workers’ union required throughout the four hour work day, and since it lead directly into the lunch break, no one even bothered to come back into work between the two... Sure, the engineers were there to review drawings, sitting in their offices, but they saw no one since the person working the reception desk was a member of the Civil Service Employees International Union. And of course, on his break.

Eventually, however, Jeremiah saw someone. It seems that Jeremiah needed to supply seven sets of drawings, all signed off on by a civil engineer, a structural engineer, and MEP engineer, a registered architect.

“Okay,” Jeremiah said, “I can understand that a civil engineer might be needed for this, and possibly a structural engineer, but there is no mechanical systems, no HVAC, no electrical and no plumbing involved in this project.”
“Do you have irrigation on your orchard?”
“Yes, but that is not being changed or touched.”
“Still needs an MEP engineer’s Juan Hancock! Next!”

Jeremiah didn’t even get a chance to ask why a registered architect... But off he went to comply with the City’s demands. And after thousands of dollars pressed into the palms of various engineers and architects, Jeremiah had seven copies of everything, and trucked them over to the city. (It was a lot of paper!) And fortuitously, he had finally figured out the ins and outs of the when someone might be at the Building Department to help him.

“Great!” Jeremiah felt relieved when he heard the city engineer exclaim that. But the counter-wonk continued, “Now, all we need is $5,634 for the plan checkers’ fee, a $1,654 fee for storage, and a $6,564 Design Review Commission fee.”

“What!? What is all that?”
“Well, first, we have to have an independent ‘plan checker’ review these drawings for compliance with city, country and state regulations. That is what the plan checkers’ fee is for. And you have to pay for it. Then once we get a final version from you that has addressed the plan checkers’ comments and incorporated their corrections, then we refer it to Design Review. They will meet, in public, and address the aesthetics of your project and determine if it your project meets the standards, policies and practices that will promote and enhance design of the City's built environment. And finally, we need to be reimbursed for the cost of holding on to all this paper you just dumped her. So at some future date, if someone needs to review it again, lo! There it will be!”***

“CalOSHA has required that I institute these changes within a very short amount of time. How long is this process going to take? And what do I do about CalOSHA?”
“Not my problem.”
Jeremiah kept his cool, took out his checkbook, and began writing the check...

Autumn turned into winter, and winter turned into spring. And finally, two miracles happened: The plan checkers finished their review, and the Design Review Commission put the Waldimple Project on their agenda. Whoo-hoo! But as Jeremiah read the plan checker’s comments, his heart sank. The devices, which were designed to direct falling apples in towards the trunk, were being criticized for... DOING JUST THAT! Because by doing that, Jeremiah’s Apple Tree Device was in violation of California Agriculture Code, Title 3, Division 9. But what about CalOSHA? Additionally, the devise did not provide sufficient ventilation for the lichens on the tree trunk.

Jeremiah thought about going back to CalOSHA, but decided the battle was fought better with the plan checkers. Besides, he had an important date with three of the most self-aggrandizing, self-important architects in town, i.e, the design review commission. So, off he went.... And about three of the longest hours later, he returned home, somewhat crest-fallen, but still resolute. He was a farmer. This was his orchard. He was a law-abiding citizen, and he would do his duty!

He needed to make some changes in the design: use recycled metals, make the device out of a mesh to allow the rain to droppeth gently straight onto the soil, plus, they wanted to see a half-inch scale model of the entire orchard decked-out in the Waldimple Device. Jeremiah sucked it up, and cut another check to another architect to build the model, while going back to the original “design team” to see about incorporating the plan checker’s idiocy, er, comments....

This went on and on for, oh, about a year. Back and forth and back and forth. And then... He got a letter from the California Department of Fish and Game. It seems, that to be in compliance with California Environmental Quality Act, Jeremiah needed to get an Environmental Impact Assessment (or Report, as in EIR, which is what lots ‘o people call it.) Jiminy Christmas! This meant hiring yet ANOTHER consultant!

Jeremiah’s brother-in-law, Isaac, thought it was time to leave. He loved his sister and her husband, but, well, physics and calculus were much, much simpler than the ins and outs of the bureaucracy of the State of California. And Jeremiah hired a “biologist” to get him his EIR. And after gazillions of sumullions, and another lost apple season, later, the darned thing came back. And the recommendation? Do nothing, let the orchard return to its natural state, and get the hell off Gaia’s land. Secondarily, do nothing, but let someone build 4000 square foot houses at a density of one per ten acres. Thirdly, leave the orchard, but erect no devices, use no pesticides and farm only using California organic farming standards.

Jeremiah packed up his family and all their belongings. He tried to sell the land, but years before, the local agricultural land trust had gotten the county supervisors to sneak through a measure that would only allow agricultural land to change hands if it was donated to... the very same agriculture land trust! So, Jeremiah just abandoned everything. He thought about joining his brother-in-law in England, but that place was crazy, too. Possibly crazier. So the Waldimple family decided to move to... Israel. Sure, they would be in danger of getting blown up by terrorists at a pizza joint or blown up by rockets fired by Hamas but even with that, it is a much saner place to live.

And this is why all our apples now come from South America.

* I know, I know. Isaac Newton was never ever actually in California. But roll with me on this...
** Risk Level 2 because the ditch near his orchard, during a 50 year, 24 hour storm event may occasionally empty into a detention pond, which during a particularly wet winter once overflowed into the Criminy Creek, which emptied into the Santa Basura River, which, during the same wet winter, overflowed its banks and emptied into the Sacramento River...
** Ha! This I know from experience--they CALL it a “storage fee, but it really is a “loosing-it-for-you-so-if-it-is-ever-needed-again-you-will-have-to-provide-us-with-another-set-or-three fee.

CalOSHA: The Occupation Safety and Health Division of the California Department of Industrial Relations which is supposed to “protect workers and the public from safety hazards through its Occupational Safety and Health, elevator, amusement ride, aerial tramway, ski lift and pressure vessel inspection programs, and also [provide] consultative assistance to employers.” Much better, and cheaper, to be on their bad side than on the bad side of the EPA! Speaking on which...
SWPPP: Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan. A burdensome document (and set of requirements) that address the following: potential sources of pollution which may reasonably be expected to affect the quality of storm water discharges from the construction site; practices to be used to reduce pollutants in storm water discharges from the construction site, and compliance with the terms and conditions of the permit.
QSD: Qualified SWPPP Developer
QSP: Qualified SWPPP Practitioner
CASQA: The California Stormwater Quality Association. A private non-profit that charges an arm and leg for access to the forms that the State of California “highly suggests” that you use for compliance with the requirements of the....
SWRCB: The State Water Resources Control Board. A Division of the California Environmental Protection Agency. On the Spawn of Satan scale, not quite up there with the California Air Resources Board for pure Evil, but darn close!