Friday, August 5, 2011

Never Take “No” For an Answer

We found the Golden Ticket! We found the Golden Ticket!

When the Building & Planning Department told my Hubby garage conversions weren’t allowed in our city unless we constructed a paved car port elsewhere on our property (not in front of our house, but on the side where there’s actually no room for two cars) and then told him variances were denied “99.9 percent” of the time (even after Hubby explained the conversion was for his disabled brother-in-law, I felt defeated. My eyes welled up, not believing that after carefully weighing the decision to move Robert into our home, we would be stopped from doing so by a nonsensical city code.

The tears lasted all of 30 seconds and were quickly replaced with anger and a call to action. How can we get around this? What is the best way to be in that tiny, tiny percentage to successfully lobby for a variance? Certainly they can’t make me almost double the cost of a garage conversion with their paved carport requirements (not to mention it being physically impossible to squeeze in a carport where they insist it be located)!

I talked to a few of the attorneys I work with and they came up with a variety of ways to design the garage and our side yard to meet the requirements (leaving Robert with little room) and suggested ways to ask for the variance. The best suggestion of all was simple: start with the basics. What code are they referencing to deny us a variance? The code the clerk handed Hubby wasn’t explanation enough for me.

I found the Rancho Cordova Municipal Code and scoured it from the beginning. Finally, I found the code addressing “Reasonable Accommodation” which provides a process for requesting “reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities seeking equal access to housing under the Federal Fair Housing Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act in the application of zoning laws.”

Hallelujah! “Reasonable” is mandated by code! From what I can tell, this means we do not have to apply for a variance, we can just apply for the permit to convert the garage without jumping through the hoops of building a second garage. This is the common sense provision I was looking for.

The procedure calls for an application to be completed which was no where to be found on the city’s website so I decided to make a personal visit to the Building and Planning Department. Keeping in mind the advice of a friend to stay on their good side, I put on a smile and sweet-as-pie asked them about the application and procedure for the Reasonable Accommodation. (I had already ignored Other Brother’s advice to go ahead and build without a permit but to keep it QUIET – oops, too late!).
Two clerks had no idea what I was talking about when I asked for the application for Reasonable Accommodation.

Being my super sweet and helpful self, I handed over a copy of THEIR code, which oh-so-helpfully had the pertinent parts highlighted.

One of them skimmed over the Code and said she had never heard of this section of the Municipal Code but asked if she could make a copy. No problem (my smile muscles are starting to hurt). She asked if she could talk to the head planner in her division about this and then email me later in the day. No problem at all (I wonder if my dimples will be etched in my cheeks for the remainder of the day). This being super sweet stuff is really painful.

Several hours later, I received a phone call from the clerk who apologized for taking so long to get back to me (hey, she was calling instead of emailing and called me the same day as my request – I’m happy). She then said she would email me the application and to call her with any questions at all and gave me the name of someone else to help me if she was unavailable. She was pretty darn helpful and sweet herself.

She then told me we are the first to apply for Reasonable Accommodation. Granted the city is only eight years old but how is it possible in a city of almost 65,000 people this has never come up before? How many people have accepted “no, it can’t be done” for an answer?

Toeing the line of continuing to be cooperative and nice yet wanting to make a point, I carefully explained that I don’t mind being the first if it helps other disabled people in the community. I may have said something about how happy I am that I found this Code and brought it to their attention so when a little old lady comes in asking for help for her disabled husband, they can help her!

But I made sure to smile while I said it.

We do not yet have a permit in hand so I can’t rejoice too much just yet but I do believe we are a lot closer to our permit than we were earlier in the week.

Before I end, I have to express my deep, sincere gratitude to my family and friends (both new and old) for the outpouring of support, strength and love during this glitch in the process. It means so much to me to know that if we do end up needing to raise a ruckus, we will have numerous people right there along with us!


Heidi Alberti & Atticus Uncensored said...

Trish -- I can picture you with your perma-smile dealing with these city employees. I think at some point I would get snarky - "hey, it's your city code - you enforce it - but you don't know about this variance?" something like that (said with extreme irritation). You are an example of how to handle these situations with good attitude (at least on the outside!)

On the surface, this looks like a slam-dunk for you -- I hope I'm right! You definitely need to get word out to the disabled caregiver community in your city about this variance. As you said, how may had just been denied without knowledge of this provision?

Heidi & Atticus
"commentary to give you paws..."

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Heidi, People must be getting denied and then just doing the conversion without a permit. I agree about getting the word out and as soon as I get my permit in hand, I think a letter to the editor of the Bee, letters to the city manager/mayor/council or some other way is in order. It seems like this is a slam dunk but, sheesh, sometimes you never know!

Fiona Stolze said...

Wow, Trish! What a turnaround this is. Going through everything with a fine-tooth comb has really paid off. I could really visualise you standing there with that big smile etched on your face. Imagine you allowing them to make copies of documents that they should know about but don't. And being the first, when you share this around, it could change things big time for others struggling with similar issues.

I'm so pleased for you Trish. Well done. And it really pays off to be persistent and search until you have exhausted all possibilities. There is always a loop-hole. Big congrats to all of you. And a big hug for great work! x

Fiona Stolze
Inspired Art and Living

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

There is always a loophole, isn't there? I do want to spread the word (but I'd feel a lot better about doing so once I have the permit in hand!). Hopefully, now that they are aware of their own code they won't turn others away asking for similar accommodations. Thanks for the support, Fiona!

Judy Stone-Goldman said...

What a great success story! I did have a laugh at your pasted-on smile and uber-nice attitude, but you are so right about the benefits of a pleasing personality in this kind of situation. You offered a balanced energy instead of a hostile one, which would have only escalated things in the wrong direction. That took some discipline on your part. Congratulations!

I'm excited that you seem close to a solution here. I know you can't celebrate until the approval is in hand, but you've come so far, and I believe you are going to make it all the way.

Judy Stone-Goldman
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing

Julie Labes said...

I always love a good "beat the system" story not because I am an activist or anti government or anything like that. But just like your story, many times the folks in the system don't even understand it or are not familiar with it. I think these days everyone must be more pro active in going after what they want, and never presume that because the "newly hired 19 year old will probably be gone by next week after being offered better pay someplace else", clerk says "No", that that is the end of it.

Good for you for doing your due diligence

Julie Labes: The Fun-Loving, Feisty, Fearless, Frisky, Fierce Over 50 Traveler

jemmer58 said...

I love your "take no prisoners" attitude towards getting what you want. It explains in part why Robert is so lucky to have you advocating for him. How wonderful it must have felt when you got a phone call back from the department in charge the very same day! I continue to be amazed and so proud of you, Trish! When do you anticipate the work will be done so that Robert can join you permanently?

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Joan, Once we settle on a contractor and get the permit it will take about 4 weeks for construction (of course, barring any other unexpected issues). I was shooting for September but it may be closer to October. I can't wait to get it done! I was pretty shocked to get an actual phone call -- I was expecting an email so was pleasantly surprised to get a call and then an email with the proper paperwork to complete. I'll keep you updated on the progress.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Julie, I have found it's best to ignore the first few times "no" is said. :-) This time, it was two clerks and a supervisor who originally said no! Happy to have found the code that appears to be just what we need to get it done.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Judy, You are so right about having the right attitude. Luckily, I could get my frustration out first in the blog. :-) I do think this will work but don't want to count my chickens too soon.

June Sockol said...

I'm glad you didn't take no for an answer. I've learned the hard way that you have to keep on pushing and you have to do it with a smile. We've gone through similar things with my teenager's school.

Hopefully you've opened the door for other ~ Keep on pushing and smiling! You'll have to post before and after pictures once you start construction. Can't wait to see how Robert's new room turns out.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

June, I'm sorry you have to go through this at the school. It is frustrating that we have to work so hard to get things done when we're already dealing with "extra" stuff. I will definitely post before and after pics. I can't wait to get to the decorating phase. He loves blue so that will be a major theme. :-)