My hearing about my failure to apply for a permit to build my greenhouse was today, Nov 17, at 10am, at City Hall. I walked into that cold, immense, elaborate granite, marble and stained glass lobby, to the father of waters Mississippi sculpture, at 9:30, as a friend called me to ask, "what should we do about ISIS."
For fifteen minutes I wandered upstairs to the third floor in that cavernous hall, talking about what to do about ISIS. I told my friend, we could start by asking ourselves what have we been doing in Syria, Libya, Yemen? What part have we had in the rise of ISIS, starting with the House of Saud and the war in Iraq, eternal war of terror? At the individual level, I said, if you mean to heal from trauma, you have to look within, to see how that trauma is debilitating you, learn to tell a different story. It works similarly on the societal level, not a looking in with vengeance, or throwing people in jail, blaming of the leading actors/archetypes, but something more like reconciliation of social and global intent, a true hearing not just about the creation of ISIS, but going back to 9/11, and all that has happened since, what has become of America, and where are we going?
Lots of people taking sides. Paris feels like a watershed.
The greenhouse hearing was on the third floor. I was waiting for fifteen minutes, going over the few notes I had. I went to the drinking fountains, to discover that neither worked, while the guy seated on a bench down the hall says to me, "It's just City Hall. Why should they work?" When I laughed, he said, "You can buy bottled water in the vending machine down the hall." I laughed again and said it was probably tap water bottled.
A friend showed up to sit behind me in silent support. Otherwise it was two people from inspections, a man and a woman, the woman my local inspector, a court reporter and the hearing officer. With permit violations, people used to have to go to court, to wait for long periods of time, court also being intimidating. Proceedings were turned over to this civil process, basically a semi-informal, scaled down court room, a hearing just for me.
I was instructed in how the hearing would proceed, also my rights, then the hearing officer entered the room and everybody rose as if involuntarily, before the hearing officer told us to be seated. After asking my name, he asked about paperwork the inspector brought, to clarify the case before the hearing. Did I acknowledge receipt of the packet? Yes (seventeen pages, someone wrote in black marker pages 1-16 but skipped the number thirteen (there's still a thirteenth page silly), there was even a copy of my letter.) Inspections was asked to proceed.
The inspector read the report, outlining the pertinent dates and letters, emails etc. I learned that someone did indeed call inspections, to report illegal construction. It's not like I was hiding it. The rest was just recitation of the evidence. I didn't apply for a permit, after repeated warnings and opportunities to apply. When she was finished, I was asked if I had any questions and I said no.
The hearing officer then asked if I had any evidence I wanted to enter for the record. I said no. Then he laughed, and said, "Is there...I assume there is something you would like to say?" He read my letter, I thought. I said yes, there are some things I would like to say.
I was trying to follow my letter, and my notes. I started by saying that I am a builder, I have been a licensed general contractor in the State. That I have collected the material for the greenhouse over time, most of it repurposed old growth douglas fir and sliding glass doors. I said I didn't pull a permit because I wasn't attaching it to the house, that I didn't put a foundation under it - but I also admitted I didn't do my due diligence and ask for a permit, either, and that it did seem to me as far as I know, that I am out of compliance in that regard.
I said I did not pull a permit also, for economic reasons. First of all, I don't make much money, so I don't want to pay for the permit. Second, if I pulled a permit, I was afraid inspections would require outside assessments that could grossly inflate the cost of my greenhouse from $1000 into the many thousands.
Then I talked about how I'm trying to take this 1918 house off the grid/on the grid, that I can't afford the permit regime, I'm still under water on the mortgage and the only offer I've had or am likely to have to purchase it, is someone who wants to tear it down and rebuild - so why invest minimal resources on inspections? And why can't I just take video and pictures of what I'm doing, to show a perspective buyer? But then automation and technology are taking away jobs, which is another thing this culture isn't really talking about, I said. Basically, I don't need anyone to tell me how to make my house more energy efficient and resilient.
Then I read a little from the letter, the paragraph with all the grandiose talk about tyranny and my response to it, and about the predatory nature of institutions late in every empire - we built this infrastructure when we were charging the rich 70-90%, and now their taxes are lower than ever, there's too much debt and government is (like a) starved (leviathan), and I feel like I'm getting it from every direction, I said.
I have to draw a line somewhere. This is my line, I said.
The rest of the hearing was basically a reinforcement of the idea of the eternal nature of inspections, the permit system...it's inevitability. This will never end, the hearing officer said, if I don't pull the permit. The fees will compound, you'll be called before me or another again and again. I told him, the greenhouse works great, it even heats the house on warm days on either side of January and February.
The Inspector said I could keep the greenhouse if I moved it, further than six feet from the house. But then it will not be as affective a greenhouse, as it will not have the house to help shelter and insulate it on cold days. That doesn't matter, she said.
So you are saying if I pull a permit you are going to make me move it or dismantle it? Yes, she said. So I said, but this greenhouse is designed to go there, it is not designed to go anywhere else. No matter, she said. So I think I told the hearing officer that I won't pull a permit, and he reiterated the inevitability of the permitting process.
He gave me a thirty-day stay, to pull a permit, but then he changed it to 90 days. So basically at this point, I realize, if I had pulled the permit when they first told me to apply, they would have already ordered it to be dismantled, and as I won't dismantle it or move it, then it would have been removed by force, which I would have been charged for. But if I don't pull the permit they will charge me fee upon fee upon fee. But if I don't pull the permit they can't tell me to move it?
Here I was just afraid they would cost me more money. But no, they want the greenhouse gone, or made inefficient and out of place. Since when, I'm thinking, did International building codes declare a functioning greenhouse on the south side of your house illegal?
The inspector assured me during and after the hearing, that she was only trying to give me the best advice. I assured her I'm not trying to be antagonistic. She really does seem to believe it. What sort of fear is this, I think, to be so captive to written code, as if set in stone by the father of waters Himself! She could be advocating to save the greenhouse from the codes, or rather saving the codes from themselves. Instead she is trying to convince me to accept the illogical. I find it difficult to take these people seriously, but you can not afford not to take these people seriously.
Sitting at the feet of the father of waters, His security guards nearby, I found myself again talking about the collapse of empire, the inertia and the system and how little there really is you can do to change the course of empire. This is a culture with 5000 years of momentum at least. Just like in every empire, the empire extends so far, "terrorists" eat at the fringe, the center is gutted to pay for the war machine to keep the barbarians at bay, until the empire collapses from within. Here we are, clash of civilization, the wealth of empire flowing to fewer and fewer hands, the war machine gathering momentum...
People have this idea that civilization is a kind of ever evolving path to the truth. In a thing like building codes, wisdom has accrued over time, collecting in this set of tested and true (inviolable) laws...whereas sometimes I'm more like, law is an ever refined tyranny of totalitarian thinking, arranged to reinforce madness and protect accumulated power.
It can't be illegal under International building codes, to build a greenhouse on the south side of your house. These people must be mistaken.
Well, I've got 90 days to figure it out.