Tuesday, August 18, 2009

things done, happening, coming, and random

It's been a little while since I've been able to find time to write a blog entry, but I've had some really interesting days lately, and I wanted to communicate some things before they slipped my mind entirely.

First, and most momentous...

I had made the ride several times before, riding my bike down Market Street, through Uptown, City Center, Old Oakland, Jack London, the Embarcadero, lower Alameda, and out to Bay Farm Island - to the Alameda County Health Department. This time was a bit different than the times before - I was carrying what I hoped would be final plans, and hoping for the approval which would allow me to submit plans to the City of Oakland building department. This, in project management speak, is the critical path of the Cafe project. Every day spent on getting these permits is another day that I can't start construction, and another day later that I open.

The Health Department plan check is supposed to take no more than four weeks. Mine had taken five - they had come in last Thursday. I had the bad luck to submit plans just after lots of other people had. I like to think this is a good economic indicator - more plan reviews means more restaurants and cafes and such soon to be open in our fair city. Which is just fine, honestly. But it was slowing me down.

The comments from the original check were pretty straightforward - Sarah, my friendly draftsperson, had updated drawings for me the very next day. We had to get them off to the printer first thing yesterday in order to get them signed and back to me in time to meet with the plan checker for final review today. My plan checker was about to embark on a week-long vacation, so if approval didn't happen today, I would lose another week. The plans looked good to me. I dared to hope.

I arrived at the appointment, unrolled my plans, and started to go through the comments. Reviewing item number one ("Provide proper equipment for making hot sandwiches and warming the meats for sandwiches per proposed food menu"), I discovered that part of the equipment schedule had been truncated from the plan. The equipment reference numbers, make and model number information had fallen off. I know that these were OK in one version of the plans that I reviewed with Sarah on Friday, but they were gone now. This was a problem. I asked the plan checker how I could address the issue - could I email him something, fax something? He said he needed a new set of plans. I proceeded to cover my head in my hands and walk around in circles, saying "no...no...no..." for several seconds before I got hold of myself.

I proposed writing the information on the plans. He seemed skeptical. I said, "let's review the rest of the issues, and see if there's anything else." He agreed. We did. There wasn't. Everything else was totally clean. I asked again. I begged. I didn't want to leave without this approval today. He relented.

Relieved, I stood over the table for almost an hour, drawing lines with the edge of the folder I had brought my documents in, and hand lettering thirty-one reference numbers, thirty-one manufacturers, and thirty-one model numbers, three times - one for each submitted plan set. My hands were splotched in ink. They cramped. They shook. I hadn't written so much by hand in years. The first time through, I made a bunch of mistakes. The second time, only a few. The third time, just one. I put the third plan set on top, the second in the middle and the really messy one on the bottom. I called the plan checker back. He glanced at my work, and said, "I can't believe you wrote all that...OK - I trust you. You're done."

This was a good moment.

An hour later, I had plans in hand, stamped and signed, and ready to go to the building department. I would have dropped them off today, except I'm waiting for Title 24 review and certification.

Let me tell you about Title 24. It's about energy conservation - all new construction is required to minimize the energy consumed by lighting and heating. Basically, I'm allocated a certain amount of electricity based on the size of my space, the size of my windows, and some arcane math. This, on the face of it, is fine. But, in actuality, it's a pain in the butt. The math has to be done by a certified Title 24 consultant, who takes my plans for a week or so, charges several hundred dollars, and either provides a certificate of compliance or asks for adjustments. The certificate of compliance is required in order for the building department to begin review of my plans. And, the Title 24 consultant my architect is using is out of town. Figures.

Also, in the past week, I've spent an inordinate amount of time meeting with lots of different city officials - getting permits for all sorts of things - signage, lighting, sidewalk encroachment, grease interceptor waiver, and (the biggie) alcohol.

Let me tell you about alcohol in our fair city. In Oakland, we have a surplus of alcohol-selling outlets. The city code is written to minimize the number of new permits issued. It's difficult to transfer permits from one address to another. It's impossible to get a brand-new full service permit for either off-sale (liquor store) or on-sale (bar) sales - you can only buy an existing one. For beer and wine, it's a little easier, but still not easy.

I had been talking to city planners for months - I was worried about getting a beer and wine permit from almost the first day I started thinking about the Cafe. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what the issues were going to be. I was wrong.

The biggest problem for me is that, since I'm not actually cooking food (just assembling and warming it), the city doesn't consider the Cafe to be a full-service restaurant. Because of this, we're subject to a much closer review, and additional variances, and findings. All of which add up to money, time, and more uncertainty. There's no planner assigned to my case yet, so I don't know exactly what I can do to improve the odds of receiving the permit, but I've already been contacting neighborhood associations and other neighbors (St. Columba's church across the street, the local schools, the senior center nearby) to get their written support. I don't know what more I can do, except keep my fingers crossed.

More exciting things:

Tomorrow, I start working with Gerard, who's a furniture maker, and helping me with tables and such. We're going to start with tables - cutting, sanding, refinishing, etc. Then, service counters, customer bars, booths, and planter boxes. I'm excited to see what we end up with. I think it will be interesting, and I'm really happy to be doing a bunch of the work myself.

Have I mentioned yet that almost all the seating in the Cafe will be communal? There are some outdoor tables, which are little two-tops, and a couple booths inside, but otherwise it's big tables and some bar space. I'm interested to see how customers react to this.

I've been working with a graphic designer for a couple weeks. Up to now, I've done all the design work for the Cafe myself. Now that I'm getting some professional support, I'm looking forward to being done and unveiling the updated logo and website. Will post updates as they happen.

Oh, and I found out recently that the city is scrapping our beloved Oakland tree, and replacing it with a new (and much lamer) one: http://www.abetteroakland.com/things-that-are-lame-about-oakland/2008-10-01. Which sucks, honestly. That tree has been great to the city. Someone should organize some opposition.

OK - enough for now.

-sal

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