Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How bureaucrats harrass business - a case study

The Willamette Week reported today that Geoff Thompson might be "breaking the rules" in trying to re-open the View Point Inn after fighting for a decade with various governmental bureaucrats.

The story is a case study in how faceless bureaucrats, probably grinding a personal vendetta, can basically bankrupt small business owners. Here's the story:

Thompson owns this historic bed and breakfast, but Columbia Gorge regulations prohibited him from using it for the purpose it was built. The regs wouldn't allow commercial activities of that sort on his property, which has a great view of the Gorge.

He fought for a decade to finally get the permission to open it up. All he wants to do is employ people, pay taxes, run a business and offer tourists an historic setting for a meal or an overnight stay. After the Gorge Commission finally said OK, now Multnomah County just needs to get the paperwork done to recognize the zoning change.

The usual process: public notification, comment period, etc. Should take a couple months at most, if the County was at all interested in helping business, and not interested in sticking it to a guy who had ruffled some feathers trying to get the permission to make a living.

By rule, the County has nine months to get it done. But Thompson would sure like to be open for high tourist season this summer. Being open this summer literally means hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue, and after spending a decade fighting, he could use the cash flow.

Is the County going to lift a finger to help him? Expedite the process a little bit so he can open in spring rather than having to wait til the middle of summer when the nine months is up? They claim they are "doing everything they can" but their actions say precisely the opposite.

His target open date is July 1st. The County could help him and move it up if they want, but instead they are just harrassing him further.

What would you do if you wanted to hit the ground running with a July 1 opening for a restaurant/lodge? You might want to make sure you were filled to the brim right away, so you don't lose any more revenue from having your businesses only asset sitting idle. Which means you'd advertise a little and take some advance reservations.

Believe it or not, the County has told him to STOP taking advance reservations! They say doing so is a commercial activity, and his property does not yet have a permit for such commercial activity! I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!

This is the same Multnomah County that is chronically short of funds, can't even open up a brand new jail, fix bridges or prosecute property crimes. Wouldn't you think they might want to HELP a small business get going, so maybe it would start paying some taxes?

Now he has to go argue it out in front of a land use judge. The County is threatening to fine him $100 a day if he doesn't stop taking reservations!

This is just so ridiculous I don't know where to start. It actually strikes close to home for me. I try to open at least one Arthur Academy Charter School each year. We almost always need to get conditional use permits for our school facilities. We regularly adverstise and take enrollment applications for the schools long before they have all their land use approvals. It's the only way we can do it - it is not easy to convince parents to send their child to your school, and the vast majority of these decisions are made in the spring before the next school year.

If the County's interpretation is correct, that means we'd have to wait until we had all the use permits before marketing the school and enrolling kids, which would severely limit first year enrollment in most cases, and probably cause us to delay opening a year in some cases, which costs a lot of money.

The real question is: why is the County taking this position, and who can we get fired?

It is time to get angry, and make these petty bureaucrats afraid.

13 comments:

rickyragg said...

Start with Derrick Tokos.

Don Smith said...

The real question is: why is the County taking this position, and who can we get fired?

Because they can, and no one.

Without a Board who's willing to "Trump" career bureaucrats, I don't see how public anger matters. You need leaders who aren't afraid to shake things up, regardless of the political fallout (like Sam Adams at the city with the tram staff), in favor of small business. But that's exceedingly rare.

I'd like to make it more common, of course, but you're talking about the County. I don't see anyone but Lonnie Roberts being willing to stand up for East County small business.

In fact, I think Lonnie would be the person to voice your opinion to. He might be willing to shake some trees.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the county's position is ridiculous. No reservations? That makes no sense...Except that Thompson is a notorious bully and a scofflaw. He's thumbed his nose at the county for years. You can't be that sort of person and then whine too loudly when the bureaucrats take a hard line against you. No, the county planners are a bit off their bean on this one, but read the archives at Willamette Week and get the backstory: Thompson pushed them first. Now, they're pushing back.

Rob Kremer said...

I understand that Thompson has a history with these people. I don't know the whole story for sure.

But it doesn't matter. I'm guessing much of the history is due to similar harrassment at the hands of bureaucrats.

I don't know the guy. But nothing justifies the county doing this, at least nothing I can imagine.

rickyragg said...

I see, anonymous.

Since Thompson pissed off some bureaucrats at MultCo a few years ago.(http://www.wweek.com/html/leada092999.html)it's now OK for the county to "push back"?

You only choose to present the facts that tend to damn Thompson and leave out the part about the county's treatment of his brother.

MultCo "pushed" first, got called on it and now is trying to "get even". Sounds professional.

The idea that a bureaucracy like the county's planning (controlling) arm feels it has the right to act this way is frightening. If they don't like you they just won't play with you and it doesn't matter who pays. MultCo is misusing taxpayer's money and perverting a process to try to make a point.

Never mind that his business is overwhelmingly supported in the community. Never mind that its success could lead to jobs and additional tax revenue. Those concerns are secondary. When bureaucrats feel threatened by someone who won't bow down before them they lash out.

Just like an insecure bully would.

Torrid said...

Did you leave out the part where the County was in the wrong? It sounds to me like someone wants to put a business where there probably should not be one--in one of the most scenic corridors of the entire state, if not the country. After hectoring officials for a decade, now Thompson wants a FAVOR? Please.

Taking reservations is a business activity. If nothing else, stopping that activity prevents residents and tourists alike from making travel plans to stay at a lodging that very possibly will not exist when they plan to arrive.

I would say if you want to open a restuarant/lodge somewhere on July 1st, obtain the necessary permits and okay before doing so. Thompson wants a special favor, one he seems quite clearly not to deserve.

rickyragg said...

Did you read the article in WW?

Your attempted justification of MultCo's behavior is beyond a stretch - it's a contortion.

By your convoluted logic the county should check everyone's bookings to make sure existing businesses look sound for the coming season.

We entreat you, in your infinite wisdom, to save us from ourselves. O great County of Multnomah!

What's clear here is that your beloved "nanny county" is harassing someone out of pique.

Hardly becoming for such an august entity.

Torrid said...

One doesn't have to justify that which is clearly delineated, I don't think. Kremer admits MultCo has 9 months--end of story. Asking for a waiver is fine, but it baffles me under what circumstances a refusal to bend the rules becomes "harrassment."

Your example about checking all properties for advance bookings makes little sense--all properties currently open are presumably fully licensed to operate already. Thompson's is not.

Don Smith said...

Torrid:

Yes, the county HAS 9 months. But if they can issue in 3 months (I don't know if they can or can't, so please take it as hypothetical), that would seem logical to expect they would try to serve the customer. The business is the county's customer. Arthur Academy is a client, too. But the bureaucrats don't see it that way. Business-friendly towns bend over backward to get permits and licenses issued. Business-unfreindly towns bend over backward to raise hurdles wherever possible. Portland's not quite the latter, but it's much further in that direction. Some would argue it IS that extreme.

I do know that the city and county permitting and licensing agencies DON'T treat businesses as their clients. And I think that's Rob's point. Why hurt a business by taking the maximum amount of time and extracting the maximum amount of development charges when dealing with businesses?

Rob Kremer said...

Torrid:
The "necessary permit" in question is the occupancy permit. I spoke to Mike Beard, spokesperson for Diane Linn, today. He confirmed that the interpretation is that there can be no business activity until an occupancy permit has been secured.

I'll guarantee you I can find dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of apartment buildings, condos, restaurants, hotels, etc., which commit the same sin of conduction this kind of "commercial activity" before the occupancy permit has been granted.

It is ridiculous.

rickyragg said...

torrid,

Not to flog an equus mortuus, but:

If the county has the awareness of, legal option and physical ability to expedite the processing of the permit for Thompson and, if, as asserted, there are documentable instances of the county's arbitrary and capricious application of its "rules", then the inescapable conclusion must be drawn that a choice has been made to screw with Thompson for reasons that are unprofessional at best.

P.S.

My "advance bookings" example was ironic in nature - to point out the absurdity of your argument in support of the county's position re "business activity". Your example - my corollary. Do you really think the MultCo uses your (protection of the the poor, unsuspecting tourists) line of reasoning in justifying this rule?

Oh, please.

Torrid said...

Don--whether they CAN expedite or not, is not really the point. Asking them to, and then getting pissy and calling it a failure of bureaucracy when you don't get what you want--ESPECIALLY after the way Thompson has treated officials up til now--is simply poor form IMO.

Rob--the "but THEY'RE doing it!" defense rarely works, because it is so fundamentally lame as an excuse. Here again, the rule is clear, and complaining because you can't break the rules does not earn any sympathy from me.

da_judge said...

TORRID

your opinion of what "the point" is - what "is bad form" - what is "a lame excuse" and your assumption that anyone is trying to "earn sympathy" from you all define you as an employee or toady of Multnomah County. who else would need to use such tortured, defensive words to defend those jerks.