A story of encouragement: when DH and I lived in Berkeley, the "People's Republic of Berkeley" as some in the Bay Area call it, we actually WON a zoning/development argument with our next-door neighbor to the immediate north.
We lived on a four-lane divided north/south traffic arterial. These arterials absorb more traffic than they should in Berkeley, b/c in the '70s most of the residential streets had barricades put up so that normal traffic couldn't pass through. It makes navigating the streets of Berkeley in a car, truck, or--YES--emergency vehicle time-consuming. Your gasp of astonishment is correct: response time in emergencies, I am told, was significantly affected for at least twelve MONTHS after the barricades were installed (this was before I moved out here).
The house north of us was originally an SFR. The owner was an absentee landlord who owned a jewelry store a few blocks south and who evidently felt that he wasn't receiving a high enough return on his rental property. So, in the mid-'80s, he tore out his cypress and plum trees
and started to dig everything in his back yard (which adjoined our north property line) up.
We called the Planning/Zoning Board to ask whether there was some emergency going on. We were told, "No; why?" and described what we were seeing. (We had thought that maybe there was something related to the possible installation of a traffic light at the intersection.)
Work stopped and yellow notices appeared. I read the notices carefully and called the phone number listed at the city for "further information." A copy of both his plans and the Zoning regulations pertinent to residential properties were mailed to me.
I read the regs carefully and calculated the square footage of both his lot and the projected expansion. I found an error.
The only person I told was DH. We went to the Planning Board hearing, as written on the notice, and did whatever was required to have a minute or two on the floor.
Next-door Landlord was so certain of his situation that he didn't even show up. THAT is how small our chances seemed.
I waited for our turn; I had dressed the part of "unsophisticated young homeowner new to California and just out of college," b/c at the time, that's what I was. I also failed to suppress
my natural southern accent--something which I do out here almost unconsciously. It's interesting that, even in a supposedly "liberal and enlightened" place like Berkeley, a southern accent takes everyone off-guard: they seem to think that you don't have an education....
So there I was, new homeowner (DH was the experienced homeowner, not I) with a southern accent, being "confused" in public. (Heck, if people are going to assume you're dumb b/c you have a southern accent, why not use it to your own advantage?)
"I know how to do arithmetic," I said, "and it looks like Mr. G's plans will end up about ___ square feet. It looks like his lot is ___ square feet, from the plans. But when I look at Section ___ of the regulations, it says that only 55% of the lot [or whatever it was; not much
] can be covered by development. When I divide the square feet in the house + the expansion by the square feet in the lot, I get something like 74%." All of this, looking earnestly at my notes. Then, looking directly at the chairman of the Planning Board: "Was there an exception for Mr. G that I missed on the notice?"
I waited. And
waited. The silence was interesting. The chairman asked the other commissioners which of them had been the liaison for the project. No one seemed to know anything about it.
What a surprise. At last, one of them, after much shuffling of paper, allowed as to how he had been the assigned commissioner, but had "delegated responsibility" to an inspector; said inspector, of course, not being present.
Well. The owner of the lot--Mr. G--was not present. The relevant inspector was not present. We, the objectors, were
present. According to their *own* regulations, the Planning Board had to find for us on the basis of fact.
Mr. G had to reduce his expansion. He cheated, of course, but he still didn't get to build within 2 feet of the property line!
So it *can* be done. Individuals *can* win, although the odds are stacked against them. They were then, and they still are now.
But I thought my successful experience might be encouraging.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9