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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: What is going on at the Planning Division?

We would like to share some experiences about the Planning Division of El Cerrito with the people of El Cerrito. We think that the people of El Cerrito have the right to know the truth.

A new neighbor started a second level construction in April. As a neighbor, we were given a notification by the El Cerrito City about the first permit under Application No 5939. After reviewing the preliminary plan in the City Hall, we did not object to the construction plan that was disclosed.

However, to our surprise, subsequent construction activities are not conforming to the preliminary plan. The roof top has been raised much higher than original disclosed plan. As a result, the view of the Bay is blocked from our house.

When we inquired at the Planning Division, we were told in an unfriendly way that the purpose of the Planning Division was not to protect views for individual houses. What is more, we were told that public notification is not required for the second permit to change the pitch of roof top.

We did the research for the permit issuance and reviewed the building codes of El Cerrito City. Below is the list of issues we discovered.

Issue 1

City code 17.01.106: No building or structure regulated by the code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved upon, converted or demolished without first obtaining a separate building permit.

• Based on the city records, the first building permit was applied on 09/20/02 and then was cancelled on 01/06/03. The second building permit 03-0017 to 621 Bonnie DR. El Cerrito, was applied on 01/06/03 and issued on 05/06/03 (see attachment).

• On 4/23/03, my wife, Grace Yu, went to Planning Department because our neighbor at 621 Bonnie Dr. started constructing the new roof that blocks our view.

• The owner started the construction in the beginning of April before a permit was issued.

• When Grace inquired at the Planning Division, Ms. Carman told her that the second permit had been issued for re-roofing.

• No zoning clearance was issued prior to a permit being issued.

• City Planning Department sent us a notification on 3/04/03 to review the building plan that was cancelled on 01/06/03 There were no permit issued to the property on 621 Bonnie Dr. El Cerrito on 4/23/03 and no public notification was sent out. The second permit 03-0017 was issued on 5/6/03 after receiving public complaint. It was issued without public notification and zoning clearance.

Issue 2

City code 94-7 Table B: Location of Inclined setback plane and height limit indicates that the maximum height for ground slope <10% or less is 15 feet.

• The Planning Department provided to my wife, Grace, on 5/30/03, the East side vertical wall is 16 feet high. The West side vertical wall is 28 (16 + 12) feet.

• Therefore, the both sides of vertical wall of 621 Bonnie Dr. are taller than the City’s building codes allow.

• My wife discussed the slope issue and vertical walls with Building Official, Brian Fenty on 6/02/03. He did agree that the owner should change her plan to meet the City’s building code and he did offer to talk to the owner regarding this issue. Unfortunately, we have not heard anything from the Planning Department yet.

• Ms. Keimach told Grace that the slope of 621 Bonnie Dr. is greater than 10% on 5/30/03. In fact, the ground slope for 621 Bonnie Dr. is only 10%. The difference of the slope has a huge impact on the permit issuance.

Issue 3

City code 19.40.165 requires Public Notification of Submittal of Design Plans for Certain Single-Family Dwelling Construction

• No public notification was sent out for the second permit. We filed a complaint with the City of El Cerrito on 5/16/03 for unethical practice of the City Planning Department. The Director of Planning Department, Ms. Keimach did not address our questions as we mentioned above in her letters, just responded that “we are sorry you do not like it”. Since the critical issue is not how we dislike the roof pitch at 621 Bonnie Dr. but whether the law is followed. Ms. Keimach has not established any proof in her two letters that the construction at 621 Bonnie Dr. meets all City Planning and Building Codes.

We also sent several letters to the El Cerrito City Manager and copied to the City Council, but we have not heard anything yet. In our letters, we would like to know why the permit applicant for 621 Bonnie Dr. received special treatment from the Planning Department. We request that the City Council conduct an investigation to determine if the City Building Codes have been violated in this case. We think that City Council should direct the City Attorney to conduct an investigation for the abuse of using building permit for the house at 621 Bonnie Dr. and the cover-up.

Grace Yu and John Guo
Run dates: 2003-08-01 - 2003-08-15
 


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