Confiscating your ice cream cones

Hey, remember that awesome Hello City Planner video about how the Government is going to have to come and confiscate your ice cream cones? I thought the best thing about it was that it was actually created by the SF Planning Department, but I was wrong. It gets better: it turns out, it's a true story!!

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

The Ice Cream Bar opened Jan. 21 in the Cole Valley neighborhood -- an homage to the classic parlors of the 1930s, complete with vintage soda fountain and lunch counter seating. It has become an immediate sensation, packed with both families and the foodie crowd, savoring upscale house-made ice creams and exotic sodas (flavorings include pink peppercorn and tobacco). The shop also employs 14 full- and part-time workers.

But getting it opened wasn't easy.

Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city's morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.

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.

"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."

Even the planning department itself is calling for reform. "Hello City Planner," an animated cartoon produced by the department and posted on its Web site, depicts a litany of farcical city hassles faced by a woman applying to sell ice cream.

Cases like Ms. Pries's inspired the video, although some believe her runaround was exceptionally absurd. Even after she acceded to all the city's demands, her paperwork sat unprocessed for months. Ms. Pries would not say exactly how much it all cost, including construction, but smiled and nodded when asked if it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And let's not forget:

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.

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14 Responses:

  1. Brian Van says:

    Walk between a restaurant and a nightclub? You damn hippies want EVERYTHING don't ya?

  2. The San Francisco Vacant Lot Preservation Front has powerful friends in the highest reaches of city and state government.

    (Alternate version: Who knew that Ed Lee and Chicken John shared so much common ground?)

  3. Juan Quintela says:

    Are you considering building delays on that estimation? O:-)

    • phuzz says:

      I'd be tempted to just go at the wall with a sledge hammer as soon as I got the permits. Just pretend that the wall is made of faceless bureaucrats and go nuts!

  4. Nick Lamb says:

    A really good way to increase a delay is to add consultation periods. The time needed to make copies of paperwork, send them to dozens of neighbours, and then wait while those neighbours most likely do nothing (because they don't care) but might, hypothetically, be organising a major protest against the plans, can easily be several months. If a well-meaning person adds such consultation periods to a few different steps in your process, suddenly it takes a year to achieve what previously just required one civil servant to read a document and then stamp it.

    You can see this near me. Building a supermarket on the ex-bus station required several years of such consultations, during which numerous local groups demanded arbitrary things (affordable housing, yet another medical centre, lots of extra parking, I forget the rest of this long list) be built on the site instead of or in addition to the supermarket. Sometimes months passed in which literally all that happened was they had paperwork up on walls in various public buildings in case you wanted to look at it. Finally the various appeals and hearings were exhausted, the supermarket company's contractors demolished the bus station late last year and they'll be done in a couple of months. From "that's a good idea, let's do it" to "New supermarket opens" is 90% consultation period.

    Whereas, yet another enormous chain coffee store bought a lot that it so happens was already authorised for take away food, they paid the fees, showed up with trucks and had remodelled and opened within 10 working days. Almost without a doubt they have neighbours who'd have loved to drag that out for a year and demand they turn part of the building into an art gallery or something, but there wasn't an opportunity. Yet. I await the next elections local manifestos promising "more consultation".

  5. victor bogado says:

    Well, on the other hand, here in Rio de Janeiro we don't have this kind of overlook(*), so if you wanted to have your door you would probably just do it. For your door it would probably don't really matter, but what if you wanted to knock down a whole wall? What if you have an entire floor to fit an office and you want to knock every wall?

    There was a TI company here that did just that, it simply hired people to do the work, no structural studies were made, and the building, a 20 floor building, fell down on top of two other buildings. The building administration forbid maintenance during work hours and for this reason alone only about 20 people have died, but if those walls had been knocked over during office hours there would be a huge number of deaths.

    We also had a restaurant that blew up, only a few months before that building collapsed. Turns out the restaurant didn't have a permit to work on that place, and used an underground storage to keep gas cylinders where they leaked for a long holiday. The gas is heavier then air so it accumulated and turned the whole room into a big bomb, that exploded when the staff was opening the restaurant on Monday.

    *) we do have a large bureaucracy, but by large people simply don't go through all the hoops.

    Links :
    Traffic camera that caught the restaurant exploding
    Security camera on a building near the collapsing building

    • Pavel says:

      Huh. So apparently Portuguese sounds like German to me.

      • victor bogado says:

        ;-) German similar to Portuguese? To me German is very different from German, but then I speak Portuguese so I probably don't count. :-)

        • Pavel says:

          Oddly enough, before I watched these videos, it sounded like Spanish mixed with French. Maybe it's a regional thing?

          • victor bogado says:

            Spanish mixed with French makes a lot of sense to me, but there are a lot of variation on the "musicality" of how we talk. I believe that in Rio we, for instance, we have R's that are closer to the french R, while in São Paulo they talk the R more closely to the english R. In Portugal they usually give more emphasis to the consonants while in Brazil we have more sounding vowels.

            I would guess that the journalistic intonation of the videos could sound more Germanic, but this is probably a stereotype talking :-P.

        • victor bogado says:

          "German is very different from German" <- silly me. :-P

    • jwz says:

      Safety regulations are great. The bureaucracy we have here goes far beyond that into attempted cultural engineering.

  6. Jae Kwon says:

    Are these regulations tagged with a commit message by the legislator that links to the ticket that explains what the rule is for?
    Otherwise, how do you know whether a seemingly bad regulation is due to (a) ignorance, (b) anti-competition, or (c) actually necessary?