Glendale Building Department Revisited — Wow!

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By PETER ROSENTHAL, President
V.I.P. Trust Deed Company

In a previous column I complained and expounded on the “hidden Glendale tax.” The bottom line of that column was that local professionals, contractors, builders, architects, engineers, property owners, etc. were beside themselves with frustration in dealing with the building department in Glendale.

Though I authored a column on the same subject about five years ago, this column really has made its way around Glendale. Since I know many, many people in Glendale, my “antenna” is pretty good. I have received phone calls or e-mail from an ex-mayor, an ex-city manager, contractors, architects, etc. I am aware that my previous article has been passed around the building department, Glendale Water and Power, builders, etc. There is only one other subject I write about that strikes this common chord around local citizens: “lending money to friends and relatives.”

In my previous column, I purposely omitted actual stories of the unbelievable bureaucratic crap that takes place. I have now decided to spotlight a few of these absurdities from time to time and ask that you contact me with horror stories of your own when trying to open a business, remodel your property, build a house, etc. I assure you this is not a crusade to single handedly change this problem, but it should shed light on a problem area that needs illumination. What follows is an actual horror story. Again, I solicit your personal experiences.

As I said in the previous column, I have not personally suffered from this problem but have witnessed the suffering of many others. Though today’s horror story is a DESIGN REVIEW BOARD PROBLEM, it is indicative of the crap that one faces.

Approximately seven or eight years ago, a retired lady built a beautiful house in Glendale. The house was virtually complete, including roofing, stucco, electric, windows, air conditioning, etc. All that remained to be done were interior drywall, carpets, cabinets, fixtures, etc. Unfortunately, during the real estate crunch in the mid-1990’s the house was never finished and the permit EXPIRED. Because the permits had expired the owner, now over 80 years old, was unable to deal with the huge obstacles necessary to finish the process. Remember, it was 90% complete. The woman sold this property unfinished to a Glendale broker who then went through the hurdles of finishing the project. Those hurdles included a variance for set-backs and a conditional use permit for a zone change, as both the set-back requirements and the zoning had changed (lot size) after the permit lapse. That should have been the hard part, but it wasn’t, and there were no real problems at this point.

Now comes the real problem. Since the permit had expired, it was necessary to go back through the Design Review Board. Imagine the new owner’s horror when the Design Review Board didn’t like the look of the “finished house.” Trust me, it was gorgeous. They didn’t like the gabled roof and wanted it changed to a hip roof. They then wanted a balcony put on the master bedroom, which required putting in a new wall, new windows, etc. Then they didn’t like the gorgeous arched windows in the front of the house and demanded a change in the already installed windows. This would necessitate tearing out the windows and surrounding stucco. Too bad. Then the Design Review Board required the installation of many cypress trees for the neighbors’ privacy. When this eventually went back through the Planning Department, it was discovered that cypress trees are a fire hazard and the rules required that the whole thing be sent back to the Design Review Board for further consideration, i.e. further delay and another fee. At the time I heard about this, I was so incensed I offered to “make a few phone calls.” After all, if the light of day had fallen on this fiasco, it would have made front page news in the local papers. The new owner begged me not to expose this, as he was petrified of retribution from the city.

Can you imagine ripping apart a gorgeous house for the whims of a few? Frank Lloyd Wright would turn over in his grave at the mere mention of a Design Review Board. Is there an end to this whole story? Yes. The new owner ripped apart his house, ripped apart the roof, ripped out most of the air conditioning, most of the electric in the second floor, put in the new walls, changed the windows and then had to restucco the entire house (color match). The end result was a lot of real “pain and suffering” and approximately $50,000 in ridiculous costs to satisfy the power and whim of a few. Trust me, the original 90% finished house was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS.

Some other time I will tell you about a Design Review Board that spent 20 minutes discussing whether exterior earthquake plates should be square or turned 45 degrees to look like a diamond.

Are you still planning to build or model in Glendale? Good luck, and remember to send me your personal horror stories.

Peter Rosenthal
VIP Trust Deed Company