On the horrors of getting approval for an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco

The NYT's Scott James recounts the insane red-tape endured by Juliet Pries, an entrepreneur who decided to open an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco's Cole Valley. She had to pay rent on an empty storefront for over two years while the necessary permits were processed, and tens of thousands of dollars in fees (including the cost of producing a detailed map of nearby businesses, which the city itself seemed not to have). If the story sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a notorious Xtranormal-produced Hello City Planner video that used it as an example to lampoon the planning bureaucracy in San Francisco.

Pries's restaurant, the Ice Cream Bar, is a popular hit, and employs 14 people, but “Many times it almost didn’t happen," as she says, due to the incredibly administrative hurdles she faced in opening it.

Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.

The ice cream shop’s travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities.

The matter has also alarmed some business leaders, who point out that few small ventures could survive such long delays.

“Someone of lesser fortitude would have left three months into it,” Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, said of Ms. Pries. “Through these hard times we’ve heard all the rhetoric about streamlining the process, about one-stop shopping. It hasn’t happened.”

The link comes by way of JWZ, owner of the DNA Lounge and the adjacent pizzeria, who notes that, "I started the process of trying to cut a door in the wall between my restaurant and nightclub in February 2011. It is now February 2012, and we still don't have the necessary permits and have not yet begun construction. If we have a door in that wall -- and are allowed to let people walk through it -- before 2013, we will consider ourselves lucky."

Before Ice Cream Shop Can Open, City’s Slow Churn


  1. The Ice Cream Bar is really awesome, by the way. I went there to check it out about a week ago, and they made me a root beer float entirely from scratch, which was just unbelievable.

    I was so impressed that I even brought their menu home and scanned it. Here it is for those of you interested: http://media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/icecreambarmenu.pdf

    1. no offence, but how did they make a rootbeer float from scratch? Did they brew the beer right there and churn the icecream before making it? Seems like it would be a long wait.

        1. Even better than video, can someone find a way to stream the actual float through to my screen?  I LOVES me a good root beer float!  On a serious note, how long does this place need to be open before it turns a profit?

      1. They made the ice cream in house. There were actual chunks of ice in it from when they churned it. They put a couple of scoops of that in a glass, then added soda water from the tap. They poured in a small cup of the root beer syrup they made (they make all their own syrups and tinctures) and then added a few drops of sarsaparilla from a small medicine bottle.

        I had to mix it together myself, because as they explained, that’s part of the fun. As I mixed it, the concentration changed until it became a smooth root beer float.

        I’ll go back sometime and take a video. This place is legit, actually making these things from scratch in a way I’d never experienced before. They even had a large block of ice that they chopped pieces off from for ice for people’s drinks.

        1. space is filled with a network of wormholes. you might emerge somewhere else in space, somewhere else in time…

      2. What do you think Dean meant by ‘from scratch’?  Because my five-year old son was able to work it out without having to resort to the childish ‘no [x], but [snark]’ routine.

  2. Consolidation and streamlining the Rube-Goldberg permit process in SF and other cities with insanely tangled systems is a political issue overripe for a reform candidate to take on. It gets lip service all the time, but has any mayor or supervisor ever been really sincere about cutting those Gordian knots?

    1.  I’m concerned that Homeland Security was not consulted before the permit was issued.  Certainly these tinctures represent some sort of threat.

        1. That’s the California Alcoholic Beverage Control.  The Buckeye Roadhouse isn’t in SF.

          1. Yeah, ABC was all *over* SF with this. Had an interesting chat w/the bar manager at Bourbon & Branch about it at the time – astoundedness all around that somebody had decided that this was a good use of public funds. I believe a bar owned by the same folks got expensively nailed for it.

      1. Before you get all done blaming government consider this, no business, not one ever in reality ever enjoys competition. It ain’t government that desperately tries to stop new businesses opening up, it’s existing businesses.
        When you dig down and get in amongst the dirty dark secrets,  you’ll be surprised how many highly profitable run by right wingers companies are in reality anti everyone’s but their own business, all the while whining why the government they own is so anti-business.
        Not to forget those people that live in extremely expensive inner city residences stick their noses into everything and in their bitter worn out old ways try to stop any change that they can not control or personally profit by.
        It’s always amusing to see the rich right wingers bitterly complain about the governments they own and control.

        1. WTF??? Right wing government IN SAN FRANCISCO?  I want a bag of what YOU are smoking.

          The issue is still Government. If government didn’t pass laws that  favored existing businesses over future competitiors by gatekeeping the entry process, there’d be no issue. Take away governments power to do that and corporations couldn’t do squat but compete fairly.

        2.  Yes! And when you peel back all the layers of the onion and reach the stinking, rotten core of the problem, who do you find? The Koch Brothers.

          1. I like seeing the word “leftist” in a  post. I know I can safely ignore it without missing anything of importance, quality, humor, or intelligence.

          2. Tim in SF is right.  All the actual leftists I know are both too old to “learn the internets” and aren’t terribly fond of it’s wild west capitalism.  But, hey, if you somehow come across an actual American leftist, I’d be interested to see one in the wild.  (When is the last time anyone here sat in the same room with someone who genuinely,  earnestly advocates nationalizing the entire banking/finance system in the US – you know, an actual leftist position?  hmmm… crickets.)

          3. Are you from away yonder?

            There are quite a few socialists sitting in this room right now.

        3. So you think that “rich right wingers” own and control the San Francisco municipal government? What planet are you living on? It sure ain’t this one.

    1. You know I hear people say that a lot, but not really. It’s politicians placating people with lies while acting, typically solely in the interests of their corporate allies, who tend to bog things down in a lot of red tape so that projects with *a lot* of money and lawyers to spend time sorting the red tape out have more opportunity over working class schmucks who’d like to start a restaurant. Then they can use that to get more people to say it’s a bunch of anti-corporate leftists who made it that way and get more votes. It’s so… funny. Best way to shut down development so you can put a walmart in where it wasn’t legal a month ago? Have some “environmentalist group” find a rare animal and freeze development, then wait… and in about two years you can have your walmart right where you wanted it small businesses be damned. Saw this game over and over in Austin. why? because while dumb people get bogged down in “left” “right” football thought, smart people are making money off of screwing them over royally.

        1. I’ve lived in a commune of 75 people and served on it’s board of directors. It was (supposedly) an egalitarian organization.

          All I ever needed to learn about politics I learned there. If you think quasi-governance by anarcho-syndicalists would significantly more “fair” you are kidding yourself.

          1. I think you missed their point by a few thousand miles.  Call it what you like, but it’s not a “leftist” government.

          2. I imagine the problem with positions of power and responsibility is that they attract people who like to exercise power, and can game/alter the system to make sure they can keep on doing so.

          3. “I’ve lived in a commune”

            Well that was your first mistake…

            “If you think quasi-governance by anarcho-syndicalists would significantly more “fair””

            There’s your second one…

      1. There absolutely is a corporate influence. It’s not often so direct and obvious as many on the Left think. Corporations have money and are more able to communicate their ever so reasonable concerns and needs to the politicians. We saw this in the Health Care Act where insurers had a prominent place at the table (granted it was also a political calculation to mollify them).

        Politicians aren’t always that bright and sometimes pride themselves on listening to experts. When you have most experts in the field (however self-interested) saying what is and isn’t possible, the politicians are going to pay some heed.

        It’s less that corporations are running government via campaign donations and insisting upon onerous laws. It’s more that government seeks to implement onerous laws and corporations (or any special interest group) are able to insist upon exceptions and different standards for themselves.

        Conservatives call for smaller government and detest the kinds of scenarios as depicted in the video. Liberals think bigger government (run by the right kind of people) can drive corporate influence out – even if it means banning books or movies (well, those made more for political, rather than entertainment purposes, anyhow).

        The question to ask is whether ANY business needs to be under such onerous regulations as exist in San Francisco? A lot of good intentions were probably behind the laws in question (not corporate shenanigans), but are they necessary? Those laws might have been implemented for the very purpose of burdening larger corporations – note all the talk about qualifying as a fast food establishment. Trying to make life even more difficult for larger corporations doesn’t help the small business person, nor the American economy.

      2.  It is also possible that local residents sincerely don’t want to see every scrap of open land around them turned into a parking lot.  If that helps some business in the process then so be it.

        1. That’s a big problem in SF.  Many SF residents want to live in the Big City but have all the amenities of a charming country village.  As a result, the costs here are getting insane.

          For example, the primary way to fix the housing shortage and make affordable apartments is high density housing — build upwards.  But the NIMBYs with their “I don’t want that building there” block high-rise developments for years on end and then complain that monthly rents on apartments are $2,500 to $4,000 due to the extreme shortage they’ve created.

    2. City governments will do anything to placate real estate developers, WalMart and multinationals. They’re only hostile to small businesses.

    3. Blaming “leftists” for insane regulation is like blaming “space industry” for a dude who put a fuel tank on fire.

    4.  Most likely it is a combination of time and the usual curse of trying to create iron-clad laws in place of judgment calls.  So you have neighborhoods that want to limit local businesses from being too big and clogging up their streets, fine, but then how do you define what a “too big” business is?  Then folks don’t want McDonalds or Burger Kings everywhere and they want to encourage independent businesses.  Ok, but you can’t make a law that says “No McDonalds” so you try to create a definition that describes those sorts of places only.

      Over time these laws start to become entangled, like computer code that has been used and modified for too long.  Eventually you just have to bite the bullet and spend time rewriting all the logic and rules into a new and cleaner structure.  Sadly almost no one wants to spend time or $ on fixing existing structures.

      1. You nailed it.  I work in municipal gov’t and this is absolutely the case.  We just had two projects (one quirky small business, one large developer) fail for exactly these reasons.  When you muddle together a bunch of unrelated regulations that individually might have great merit (walkability! transit-oriented development! community involvement!), you end up with an unmanageable cluster eff.

        1. It also becomes very difficult to revise or reduce the bureaucracy because so many people and departments have a stake in the system the way it is.  Each government department becomes a little stakeholder in the system that will dig in its heels and oppose any change that would reduce its importance and power. And when you add government unions into the mix the end result is an incredibly powerful inertia that makes any real reform very difficult.

    5. At the municipal level, a large slice of the regulations you have to deal with are direct responses to building/business owners doing things that are stupid/harmful/illegal.  I’ve been dealing with building permits in Chicago for more than a decade, and the forms get longer, more signatures are needed and more things have to be checked – and the added requirements are clearly responses to developers and building owners sinking to new depths in cutting corners and building what they know they shouldn’t.  On the main building permit application, the building owner basically has to sign 3 times over and over promising to only build what is included in the building permit.  This is a response to owners and contractors building without permits and building off permits over and over.  If people acted responsibly, as they are expected to in the unregulated Ron Paul fantasy land, we never would have needed half the permits, forms or regulations in the first place.

      1. Why should a developer need “permits” to build on land that he owns in the first place?

        The land belongs to him, not the city or his neighbors.

        1. Then you won’t have any grounds to object if someone builds a prison next door to you.

  3. I’m a little skeptical of this story. The journalist appears to have taken the shop owners word for it. Is this story true, as depicted? Is this a typical experience for an entrepreneur in SF? If not, why was this case different? If so, what parts of the process actually the problem? The story in the paper doesn’t ask any of these questions.

    1. The journalist spoke to two city supervisors as well as the business owner and a representative of the local Improvement Association. The article goes so far as to acknowledge that the specific case under discussion was exceptional due to the length of time the relevant papers sat waiting to be processed, but nobody denies that the bureaucracy faced by small businesses is a real problem.

      Disclosure: I know Scott James and he’s a good guy.

      1. I haven’t dug too far into this story, but as someone who helps small business owners through the regulatory process as part of my job, this all strikes me as someone who dove in without researching the process, and is then upset that it’s taking longer than expected.  Generally, when you understand the process ahead of time, it goes much faster and more smoothly.

    2. Go read JWZ’s blog, http://www.jwz.org and the one at the DNA Lounge web site, see just how much he had to go through to simply switch ownership of an existing night club. He was closed for a long time to do the required remodeling, for starters.

      He is in San Francisco, he did it in the past 10 years, and he took over a place that had been a nightclub since the 1970s.

    1. Went last night at 8-ish. It was PACKED to the gills!

      I got two scoops to go. The scoops were smallish, but I guess I’m used to the obscene portion sizes at Humphry Slocombe and other places like that. Butterscotch, and buttermilk-something.  Absolutely delicious. 

      I would have liked to have gotten to the bar for a drink, but the wall of bearded douches was impenetrable. Next time. 

  4. Once again I will point out a simple fact; There is no Free Market in the United States today.

    Instead there is a patchwork of laws intended to place bars against entry for new businesses. These bars to entry benefit existing businesses, which support politicians who protect their interests.

    1. I will point out one simple fact: there is no such thing as a functional pure free market. A regulated mostly-free market will always outperform one that is purely free simply because corruption is a major problem is purely free markets.

      That said, there is a purely free market in the US. It is called the black market.

      1.  I thought you guys referred to the purely free market as “Congress”.  But I’ve been out of the country for a long while so I’m missing out on current slang. Maybe “black market” means the same thing.

      2. I think  general public would prefer a regulated, mostly-free market then a purely free one.
        Example, using this ice cream shop, if a competitive shop opened and started using cheaper products that are dangerous to one’s health, it would be much quicker to shut it down in a regulated market.  A non-regulated one would have to depend on public’s awareness to not do business to shut it down.

        Of course the main problem we are dealing with today, I think, is monopolies.  Governments are not doing much about them.

        1. The government is not doing much about monopolies because their regulations are essential to creating most of them. Established businesses have the money to afford compliance departments while new entrants generally do not. 

          1. Government can promote or dismantle monopolies.  But it’s silly to say that government is essential to creating monopolies.  There are natural monopolies, like roads, transit systems, utilities, etc.  There are “network effect” monopolies, like operating systems, social networking sites, etc.  And there are obvious advantages to a company that drives its competition off the field or colludes on prices.

            “Monopolies require governments” is something I keep hearing libertarians claim, but no matter how they explain the sentiment, I can’t make it make sense to me.

        2. The choice between anarchic unregulated markets, and fascist hyper regulated markets is a false dichotomy. Taking 2 or 3 years, and tens of thousands of dollars in permits and legal fees to put a door in the DNA lounge has nothing to do with preventing unhygenic food from being sold. There are health codes already in place for that, and it needn’t take years of hearings, inspections and bribes, sorry I meant fees, to insure new eateries comply with them. Let the local code and health inspectors come by once before opening, and then again every few months to insure compliance. End the job and business killing multi-year delays.

    2. There is no absolutely-free market anywhere. However, that glosses over the point that some places actually encourage job growth and business creation, and other places say they do but are captured by rent-seekers, entrenched business interests who fear competition, environmentalists, and NIMBYs.

      Unfortunately, California and New York are overrepresented in the latter category.

    3.  A truly “free market” is utopian, like a truly communist society.  Both depend on people not cheating or taking advantage which will never happen.

  5. I have to save this to show locals just how easy it is to get up and running in our small town, where inevitably people complain anyway. 

    The downside of an easy path to opening a business? A “pole-dancing studio” in the  heart of the business district (thankfully short lived), and a gun shop down the street from the elementary school – nice.

  6. Wha, what? A confusing, expensive bureaucratic government that has no idea what it’s doing because the people are inept and the system screwed up?

    Doesn’t sound like the government I know.

    1.  Go get involved in local government yourself and you will suddenly feel a lot more sympathy for them after your first public meeting.

  7. As far as the door for JWZ’s place, I wonder if he just went ahead and did it and paid whatever fines resulted wouldn’t wind up being cheaper in the long run.

    1. It doesn’t actually depend on the fines themselves, but on the likelihood of being caught. In Italy, for example, you’d just go ahead and do it, because the chances you’ll ever be caught are incredibly small (unless somebody wilfully rats you out), and there are all sort of periodical amnesties anyway (government is broke => let’s ask for money in exchange for forgiving crimes we’d probably never be able to punish anyway).
      Obviously it also depends on honesty and integrity, which I think better explain JWZ’s choice.

      1. I owned two retail shops next to each other in San Diego, years ago, and put in a door. I didn’t ask, I just did it. Never had a problem.

  8. The old saying that people get the government they deserve appears to be alive and well in San Francisco.

  9. On the other extreme you have “gorgeous” cities like Houston, where this SF ice cream shop would more likely be knocked down and turned into a McDonald’s with a big adjacent parking lot.

    1. Sooooo true. I love people who blah blah blah about “big gubbmint” and then whine about how Texas looks.


        1. Yup.  i’ve been to houston.  I’ve been to LA.  Houston’s in better shape.  Far more people are employed too.  

          1.  Gotta love the public sector and McJobs!  And anybody who thinks that Houston is a more pleasing lo0king city than SF(or almost any other comparably large city) is completely insane or lying.

          2. Fewer homeless people in Houston as well.  I live in SF, but all the people who yammer on about “how beautiful it is” should come live in my downtown neighborhood.  Watch where you walk and try not to step in the human excrement on the sidewalk or trip over the sleeping people two or three deep before you get to the door…

    2. I live in San Francisco.  I make a good income.  And I will never, ever be able to afford to own.

      SF is a temporary stop for ambitious young people, and a city of, by and for the wealthy.

      Houston, Austin or Dallas might not be as pretty, but they have a thriving creative class who can actually afford to own homes and start businesses.

      The rest of Texas, you can keep, but the big cities are undoubtedly more economically vibrant, culturally vibrant, and economically diverse than San Francisco.

      Heck, with Prop 8 in place, the average gay guy gets along about as well (rights-wise) in Austin as in SF these days too. But his rent is $750 a month with parking included, not $3,750 a month.

  10. San Francisco is amazingly dysfunctional and uneven in the application of its laws.  I live about a mile from that store and I can hardly throw a rock without hitting a zoning violation.    We had three pot stores  open practically overnight with no planning process.  We’ve had several major building fires that would never occur in a properly built and inspected  structure, including one which took out the major retail in the neighborhood (and the only ice cream store).  We even had a building burn down due to a meth lab.

    The city concentrates enforcement on those most able to pay rather than those most in need.  

    1. Are you talking about the fire at Haight and Fillmore? That took out the three twins ice cream and the only big walgreens around.  I’m still bitter – I had an unused groupon for the ice cream shop. :-(

      That was cused by bad zoning / zoning violation? I hadn’t heard that. Do you have details? 

      1. The major fires were all wood frame structures 50-100 years old, which escalated from minor fires in one unit or in a garbage chute to five alarms, with the entire roof of the building destroyed.  Most of these would have been limited to one alarm if they had sprinklers or even just fireblocking.  It’s not hard to imagine much of the city burning up again in the next earthquake if they need five alarms just to put out one fire.  

        I don’t know of specific violations (old buildings are not subject to retroactive code changes), but when you see several of these structures go up like this you start to wonder where the system has failed.  

    2. Wait, what? There places where the government goes in and inspects every building for anything that could cause a fire? I mean, the fire department comes out and inspects my building’s fire alarms once a year, but I’m pretty certain we pay them to do it so that our insurance stays low.

      1. The business I work for in Chicago gets pretty thorough inspections that go way beyond fire alarms.  Not like the good old days (not that long ago) when you could just give gifts and envelopes to avoid such city worker hassles!

    3. “The city concentrates enforcement on those most able to pay rather than those most in need. ”

      Bingo.  The inevitable end result of a government which only exists to make sure it keeps growing.  All it wants is MORE MONEY.  MORE. MORE. MORE.  

      So then all the pretty little regulations which supposedly make life soooo much better are only applied to those who can PAY for both the regulations (permits, etc.) or those that can PAY when they’re caught violating them (and there’s so many of them, you’re going to get caught if the authorities choose to check – and they tend to only check carefully on those who can PAY).  It’s all about the dinero when you’re a big governement.   Ironic – isn’t that the critique of eeeeevil corporations and capitalism?Here’s a good article on what it’s like in the non-wealthy, non-white, non-urban California, where the people don’t have the money to pay the fines and the permit costs which extravagant, bloated big government requires:http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/286354/vandalized-valley-victor-davis-hanson Where are the authorities?  They’re in the wealthy parts of the state hassling those who can pay the fines (and can pay the permit fees).   Sitting at red lights in LA and San Francisco waiting for someone to pull out a cell phone, etc. The authorities are where the folks who have the time and the money to jump through (and PAY for) the  many hoops required to set up a business.  They’re where the easy money is.  

      1.  “non-white” how did you manage to pull that out of your….

        Where are the authorities?  They’re in the wealthy parts of the state hassling those who can pay the fines (and can pay the permit fees).

        You know that cities have individual governments that those citizens elect….right?  

    4. Yes.  San Francisco is incredibly corrupt and incompetent.  This is a city that has a budget that spends over $10,000 per year for every man, woman and child in it, yet had to borrow money in a recent referendum to repave the streets.  Apparently, they couldn’t allocate money from the $10K per year per resident for something so basic and simple.

      Yet we have city-funded committees, with salaries, that send dispatches and “city supervisor recommendations” on such vital city government topics as Israel-Palestine relations and banning puppy mills in stores that only sell tropical fish.

  11. I am currently building a restaurant in San Francisco and this echoes my experiences. It took 9 months to get through the planning department, 3 months to get a building permit, all while paying rent. I will be lucky to be open by the summer.

  12. I’m sure the process is screwed up, but I do believe planning is essential to properly maintain character and quality of life in a city. The Free Market doesn’t care about aesthetics and, unchecked, will happily produce one Detroit after the other.

    Maybe the answer is as simple as hiring more people in the relevant department and train them to be faster.

      1. You’re right. Detroit is the result of a government which thinks it can do better than the free market.

        1.  There is no free market, outside of your dreams and fantasies that is.  There are some failed states that come close.

    1.  Detroit, free market? HAHAHAHAHA! Unless free market=black market, as suggested above. That we have. Anyone want to buy an authentic Bolex watch?

  13. I’m guessing another part of the problem here is connections.  I’m sure if you knew the right people and greased the right wheels, you’d have all your permits taken care of in short order.  Which means someone else is getting screwed and put farther back in line.

    1. As stated so elegantly by P.J. O’Rourke, when government is given control over the process of buying and selling, the first things to be bought and sold are politicians.

      1.  Except of course in the less neoliberal countries where regulations on campaigning and elections are strict.  Sorry, to sink the fallacy of that “used to be” and “never was”.

  14. Well, you could always do what my land lady (Anne Wong) did and just start building and gutting without permits at 177 crown court (94114). I turned her into the dept of building inspectors and they never even fined her. She must have paid them off I guess? Now we have brown outs and blown fuses, sewage coming in our sinks and the city doesn’t give a hoot. Either side of this coin is bad, in other words. The Dept of Building inspectors is way way WAY corrupt. Start there.

    1. Troll bait, I know…
      Recently we have seen what the deregulated free-market paradise costs, and it isn’t cheap either, (for MOST of us).

  15. The problem was in not bribing the right officials.   That’s how it works.   Unless someone gets caught.   About 25 years ago I worked on a kitchen remod in SF, and the building inspector solicited a bribe from the client…flat out solicited it.   Unfortunately for the inspector, the client had a pal who was an assistant DA, and he went in to a meeting with said inspector wired.   Caught, busted, end of that inspector. 

    Municipal and county bureaucracies are the worst.   They’re staffed by petty civil servants who have more incentives to say “no” than “yes” because they can get in trouble for yes, but no means that you just have to wait or appeal.   Meanwhile they sit on their asses and get paid while you, the homeowner or business person bleeds money.   They’re a bunch of sad-sack power trippers and they make the DMV staff look like Eveready Bunny genius types. 

    And don’t get me started on the County of Sonoma…   The planning department there nearly turned me into a raving anarchist after my house burned down…

    1. A friend in Bolinas in Marin County was only able to rebuild their burned home because one of them is an attorney. Took them a year to get the required permits and approvals to rebuild. Town of Bolinas was in favor of the rebuild but Marin County was not.

      1. If you cannot rebuild your home after it’s been burnt, or put a new door in without government permission, that’s more like being a tenant than an owner.

    2. Municipal and county bureaucracies are the worst.   They’re staffed by petty civil servants who have more incentives to say “no” than “yes” because they can get in trouble for yes, but no means that you just have to wait or appeal.   Meanwhile they sit on their asses and get paid while you, the homeowner or business person bleeds money.   They’re a bunch of sad-sack power trippers and they make the DMV staff look like Eveready Bunny genius types.

      Sounds like the problem is the system, rather than the people, who are acting within that system to preserve their livelihoods. Perhaps your vitriol would be better directed at those who created or who currently maintain the system, or those who have th power to change it but who do not.

  16. Quite. It’s government that is the problem not the solution.

    Even with the banks, its the same. If I ask you for 100K, and you give it to me, who is the idiot? Me for asking, or you for saying yes?

  17. Wait. That video is posted by the SF planning department? It’s not the ice-cream shop owner trying to lampoon them?? I rate the SF planning department thusly:

  18. Not too long ago a local distillery (Valentine Vodka) tried to set up shop in Detroit. 3 months later the city was still jerking them around about what locations they were eligible to set up in. Fed up, they crossed 8 mile (yes, it’s a real road) into Ferndale. The city planning office was showing them buildings within the hour.

    I’ll be damned if they don’t make a fine beverage too.

  19. All these regulations and permits were set up by City Council so they wouldn’t have to make case-by-case decisions. They were meant to be a “mechanism.” Instead they have become a Rube Goldberg machine. And because so many interests either want unfettered “change” or no change at all, ever, the process of sorting these regulations out and rationalizing them will, probably, require a strong-arm politician with benevolent intent, rather than a collective, messy political process.

    What I hear in the video is a process hemmed in by ontology: it seems pretty straightforward if you want to open a business that very clearly fits one category, like a Burger King franchise. It would not be hard to figure out where you are zoned for. But if you are “squishy” in your ambitions, or if, like the ice cream parlor, your business crosses boundaries (it’s a self-serve, frozen-dessert, large-seating, I’m-going-to-toss-my-zoning-dictionary-out-the-window establishment), you’re screwed. To me that’s the point: making all businesses fit categories means you will only allow businesses that fit in pre-existing categories. In a community like SF that prides itself on boundary-crossing innovation, what a stupid way to run a city!

    1. I bet that they were quoting official SF municipal literature that the city wants to encourage unusual businesses. If you want that, ditch your zoning code and stick to the structural issues. 

    2. require a strong-arm politician with benevolent intent

      Suggested fixes to social and economic problems which require the presence of a disinterested philosopher king rarely, if ever, work out as desired.  DSK’s are just too few and far between.

      What is needed is a system that assumes (1) any politician can become corrupt and (2) any bureaucrat will come to see job protection and silo growth as core values, and then minimizes the damage that they both can do.

  20. Try to start a dairy in California..this is exactly what they are talking about when they say that regulations need to be loosened in order to stimulate jobs and the economy.

    They SAY they want to stimulate the economy and support entrepreneurs, but in fact it is just the opposite, throwing ridiculous and unreasonable barriers in front of any start up.

    Good job California!

  21. You know what? Anyone who even uses the word “leftist” is an idiot, plain and simple. Replace “leftist” with any other random unqualified group of people and you’ll see how stupid you sound. No one using this word has actually managed to say anything that is remotely “left wing” about it. In fact, it’s a basically a big burning straw man. Do you think of yourself as a “rightist” or something? No, you’re just stupid. Stupid isn’t even  political ideology.

    1. For clarification, I’m not even “left wing” but for socially liberal values. I just really really really HATE the Dunning Kruger effect. I also hate easy scapegoats like “Jews” “Gays” “Leftists” and whatever else is easier than cutting into complicated problems with any kind of savvy. Because people who think like that are roadblocks to problem solving. 

      1. First of all, anyone who thinks the Democrats are a “left wing” party can go sit down in the first place. We don’t *have* a functioning left wing party in the US.  I don’t care whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing. The fact is, it’s not there.

  22. In Central NY the problem seems to be the countless city hearings that take place so that community associations (ie. 12 people who claim to represent the majority) can complain about the color of the suggested roof, the fact that a work crew will have to dig new lines and it will disturb them, that the area already has one of something and we don’t need another, etc. Sometimes they bring up good issues, but the majority of the time they slow down permits and can cause years to pass before a new business can open its doors.

    1. Which is why I roar with laughter when I hear politicians talk about massive new energy development (carbon based -or- carbon free) and huge infrastructure projects.

      In the United States of NIMBY, a couple of hundred naysayers with a good lawyer and a mailing list can pretty much keep any such project from happening, effectively forever.

      In 2010’s America, the TVA, Hoover Dam, the interstate system, the transcontinental railroad……..fuhgeddaboutit!!

  23. Toronto is similar.  I took possession of my house in June 2011 and began the process of getting two permits – one to knock down the existing 80-year-old firetrap garage, and another to build a new 2-car garage.

     It’s now February 2012 and after 3 revisions to my plans to get rid of the driveway – because I didn’t have enough “green space” in my backyard, so now I’ll have to drive across grass (!?) – and to move the garage .4m (1.3ft), I’m finally allowed to submit my garage design to the planning department.  That’s right, all this time just on the approval to apply process!  So it might be another 6 months before I might get an actual permit to perform any work.

    After that, though, I have to apply for an “intent to harm” permit for the *tree* on my lot.  That’s right, I can’t cut any branches on my *own* tree without a permit from the city, and paying an arborist to deem it “safe”.

    All this for a 2 car garage, which is about as simple as a shed!

    People are fooled into thinking they *own* their property.  They are merely renting it from the government, and like any rental, you aren’t allowed to modify it without permission.  It’s pretty sad.

  24. I mean I get the point they’re trying to make but honestly it doesn’t sound that complicated. Sure, there are some rules and technical terms but it’s not like it’s impossible to follow or something.

    1. Sure, not impossible. Just time consuming and expensive. Paying rent on a vacant space for two years while everything is held up in the permit process? Don’t you think that would tend to deter an independent small business owner just starting out?

      1. oh, yes! the paying for an empty space thing is definitely worthy of frustrated outrage…

        …but there’s an element to the video that is also “can you believe all these cuhrazeeee rules and regulations!?!?” and i’m just making the point that they’re not really all that crazy. i felt like the video was over-reaching for a reaction… y’know?

        1. I don’t know if you noticed, but the article explains that the video was produced by the PLANNING DEPT. in an effort to illustrate how dense their own rules are in order to bring about reform.

          So, if anyone was reaching for a reaction, it’s the bureaucrats themselves who are seeing the problem from within, every day.

          Personally, I found the stickiness of the rules and regs presented in the video to be laughable. At the very least, it would seem that an entrepreneur’s idea of the business they want to run might be unrecognizable once they had compromised with the planning department on every detail, down to the toasting of bagels or not…

  25. Right Wing, Left Wing, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Repluplican. They all seem to blame the other side for every problem. Partisans are small minded fools who seem to have permanent political filters on everything they encounter.
    These sorts of red tape stories are about systems that develop organically and have little to do with partisan politics, evil corporate greed, or any other tin hat explanation.
    You get local business owner on your chamber of commerce, competition comes knocking, and a small hurdle is placed in front of the new comer. Nothing big mind you, just to give em a kick. Repeat the process over the years and you get SF.

  26. You know, there are entire cities and states that get along fine without city planners and without the government regulating everything to the nth degree.  

    Once you give government the power to make decisions for people, to pick the winners and losers and to regulate everything then they naturally use it to reward their allies and punish their enemies.  Warren Buffet is ecstatic that Obama killed the Keystone pipeline since he owns the trains that will have to be used to move the oil now.  He made a very wise investment in Obama.  The economy will suffer and trains are much worse environmentally but all that is important is that Obama’s cronies get theirs.  It is not an accident that money is being pumped into solar cell companies owned by Obama bundlers that are not viable and were never intended to be viable. 

    There are only two ways deals can be made… amongst free men who each willingly engage in trade that they think is beneficial as determined by the economic realities… or by force where a few bureaucrats decide what is best for their allies.  The latter is called fascism and is the blue model practiced by failed states and municipalities around the nation and failed nations around the globe.

    You can bet if the mayor had a buddy with a rival ice cream business this new shop would have never opened.  But the problem isn’t that politicians can be bought.  It is that they are worth buying.  At the national level the entire purpose of the Constitution was to prevent the federal government from having such power. 

    The Tea Party and the OWS crowd have the same gripes.  The difference is that the Tea Party understands the cause.  They are economically and historically literate.  The OWS group knows something is wrong but are completely clueless as to what it is.  It was never in the interest of their teachers to let them in on the joke.  As much as they like to think they are standing up to “the man” they are actually doing the opposite running around in Che Guevera t-shirts and destroying private property.

    1. “There are only two ways deals can be made… amongst free men who each willingly engage in trade that they think is beneficial as determined by the economic realities… or by force where a few bureaucrats decide what is best for their allies. ”
      Yes, because all the farmers and citizens whose aquifers and waterways the Keystone pipeline will cross are free to make deals with the Canadian tar sands companies. 

      1. You’ve only noticed recently that there are pipelines being built in the US? This has been going on for a long time. Keep importing that ME oil America, we know how well that’s worked out. Geniuses…

  27. They still sell ice cream in SF? With all that sugar and fat??????? I’m shocked, shocked that they could allow such an unhealthy option. It’s practically child abuse! Only non-fat yogurt with raw honey for sweetening should be sold! /sarcasm

    1. In SF, we are in the midst of a hand-made ice cream boom! High end donuts and cupcakes are also on the rise. Perhaps economic recessions and increased sugar intake are related.

  28. Another case in point- “Burger Urge” at the corner of Haight and Clayton. In eight months the owner was able to combine two existing storefronts (a former tattoo parlor and the adjacent retail store) into one large space, get it approved for food service and kitchen space, demo/completely remodel it, and open a restaurant. It cost nearly $2M, according to him, but it got done.

    There was also a private fundraising event held in the space for Mayor Ed Lee two weeks before the election in November (and prior to them opening for business.) It’s not really hard to figure this out, after all.

  29. And repeat a million times all over the country, and now you know why our economy has lost it’s dynamism.  More regulations, yeah, that’s what we need.

  30. not surprising and absolutely the norm, unfortunately.
    we were planning to open in an existing business a coffee window (similar to dynamo on 24th in the mission) for high end coffee in the style of italian coffee bars. but a new regulation is in place since last year that regulates coffee as FOOD! therefore the maximum size of the coffee window can be only 20″x20″. planning dep signed off our original plans, now health dep comes and says no!
    i just heard that a grease trap is required as well in a coffee beverage business (wtf! ?????).
    those are just a few examples of regulations for regulations sake with now actual reason behind it. or are there coffee poisoning cases piling up?
    we will take our business somewhere else…
    in another case here in SF, friends of mine moving an existing establishment within a district. they got approved at every level (cu at planning comm., supervisors, police, etc.). now it’s hung up on state level because the ABC (state liquor board) is involved. the paperwork is on their desk untouched since last august (!!) waiting to be forwarded to sacramento. the business owners now are going for a temporary license, but the process for the demolition permit is moving at a snail’s pace because of one changed rule issued by the, you guess it, health dep!
    they are paying rent for a year now without being able to do anything with the space!in NYC though the implemented a fast track system in late 2010. a friend opening a restaurant last winter in queens got all his permits (health, building, fire, etc.) within 2 weeks!! can you believe that??

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