Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oregon! Measure 63! We're REALLY effing stupid here!

I've been discussing how we seem to have lost our collective minds here in Oregon. I've talked about our messed up tax situation, and about how this year's ballot measures represent the extent to which we've allowed an antitax manic and irresponsible fucknozzle named Bill Sizemore to capture our public discourse.

I didn't talk about the WORST of this years initiatives: Measure 63.

This...this...I honestly can come up with a term bad enough to describe it. This thing proposes to exempt $35,000-per-year worth of "home improvements" from permits and inspections, except for electric wiring.

Always wanted to build that cantilever deck over the ravine? Engineering? Who needs it? That's what Home Depot is for!! That new bathroom? Get your "Plumbing for Dummies" and your plumber's snake and drill, baby, drill! Roofing? FUCK!! MEXICANS DO IT!! SO CAN YOU!!!

I never write letters to the editor; waste of time, especially here given The Worst Newspaper in the World. But this dog? I had to. So:

To the Editor:

This year we Oregonians are presented with yet another in the series of ballot measures presented by Mr. Bill Sizemore; in particular Ballot Measure 63.

This proposal, exempting homeowners from getting building permits when house improvements made each year are less than a self-declared $35,000, sounds seductively commonsensical and moderate. I am here, as a professional engineering geologist and homeowner, to tell you that professionally and personally, these typically deceptive Sizemore claims are flat wrong.

Professionally, much of my business results from unanticipated problems which develop after poorly planned, poorly constructed, usually unpermitted and uninspected “home improvements” are performed by the homeowners or their contractors. Personally, my own house in North Portland was “rebuilt” and “remodeled” by former owners whose incompetence as electricians was matched only by their inability as carpenters.

Building planning and permitting rules are usually crafted by our elected governments as the result of past experience with fires, building damage and financial losses incurred by dangerous and unsafe construction. Measure 63 insists that we should ignore these lessons, instead depending on every individual homeowner to decide whether to spend the extra time and money doing the job safely…or whether to work cheap and just hope that nothing goes wrong.

The electrician who repaired the unpermitted, uninspected wiring “work” done by the former owners of our home summed this up pretty well: “You didn’t have a fire. You were very lucky.” The former owners’ “home improvements” – exactly the sort of thing that Measure 63 means to make legal – forced me and my wife to pay out of our own pocket to protect ourselves and our children. The former owners saved a couple of thousand in permits and inspections. Their “work” could have cost us our lives.

Measure 63 asks us all to roll the dice and hope we all get lucky. We’ve seen this before from Bill Sizemore; he gets lucky and we all pay the price. As a professional geologist I am bound to consider your safety, the public’s safety, first in doing my job. Mr. Sizemore seems to think this is a luxury we can’t afford.

Explain to him why he’s wrong. Please vote no on Measure 63.

F.D. Chief, R.G., C.E.G.
Oregon Certified Engineering Geologist
Portland, Oregon



It never got printed.


We. Are . So. Fucked.

23 comments:

Meghan said...

i did see a letter from John Cunningham in the paper this week giving some of the same arguments you're making - that's some consolation, i guess.

pluto said...

What is the rationale that the sponsors are using?

It is so patently stupid and useless I can't imagine why anybody would suggest it, much less why it should be brought before the state's voters.

If it passes, I'm sure that we will someday be reading about the effects of the Great Portland Fire on the local economy and wonder what the voters were thinking.

Lisa said...

An excellent and sound letter. Is there another paper to which you could post this? What about your local PBS radio station? Most of them have a local issues program.

I think you'd be just grand on the airwaves, and I mean that. We need all the impassioned, informed voices we can get.

FDChief said...

Meghan: JNC and I talked about this - he sent me his letter and I used it as a model. I didn't see it and thought we'd both been slammed. Glad to hear he got printed.

Pluto: Just the usual "gummint is bad! Bad gummint!". Like I said, the hallmark of these Sizemore measures is the Big Stupid. That's the problem - people vote for this stuff with the stupid still attached.

Lisa: We're stuck with just TWNITW. The problem is that there's only so much airtime available to talk about all these measures. ^3 is kinda wonky so most outlets haven't touched it.

Actually, I'm safer in print. I tend to forget myself when excited and drop the F bomb; hangover from 20 years of using The Adjective for general purpose duties. But ta for the compliment...

Ael said...

You have a problem. I suggest you raise Mr. Sizemore's cost of doing business.

Since these measures are clearly ridiculous I further suggest humour.
Set up a web page/blog illustrating the the irony and un-intended consequences of these (and past) measures.

If you have any artist friends, encourage appropriate cartoons.
Given his name, I'm sure that all sorts of (non-libelous) fun can be had.

Build a community of those who have beed burned by these measures. If there are enough victims, the community should assemble itself fairly quickly.

Who knows, there may already be such a community. Join it, and give it a push forward.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to sue the state government for failure to safeguard its citizens?

Essentially get a court to declare the measure unconstitutional?

FDChief said...

ael: The Oregon Federation of Teachers wo a multimillion dollar suit against this rat. He went whining to the court claiming he was broke and refused to pay. Just last week he was hauled into court again where it was proved that he had looted the "charitable foundation" that Loren Parks had set up for him of millions. For a man who claims that we Oregonians have to cut our taxes and cut our state services to "live within our means" he's livin' pretty large on OPM...

Believe me, his name is pretty much mud here except in the expected GOP places. But what's irritating is that lots of us keep voting for these damn measures because they promise us a free lunch and waaaayyyyy too many people refuse to believe there ain't no such animal.

anon: see above - we've already hauled his deadbeat ass into court. It's like shoveling water.

Lisa said...

Chief,

And as for the "gen. purpose adjective" -- you are a former military man, so that is expected. It adds a certain saltiness, which as you know is one of the necessary 4 tastes (5, if you add umami, which I suspect you will in the name of broadening the palette.)

NPR needs a little spice, and I for one would take no offense.

Publius said...

Well, Chief, I think this is a little more complicated than the way in which you present it. If I'm reading you correctly, you're denying much of our American experience wherein the owner of the house does what he can do to fix and improve his dwelling on his own, in favor of "licensed contractors" who charge $75 per hour and up to do what American men used to grow up knowing how to do. One might ask how people managed to actually live before there were contractors and inspectors. You're also telling us that there is no need for Home Depot or Lowe's and that all of us homeowners should just chill out and watch football on the weekends.

Fixing up and improving the home is ultimately a common-sensical deal. Part of being an adult is knowing one's limitations. One notes that electrical wiring is addressed in Measure 63, something that tells me the authors are actually using some common sense: bad electrical = fire, so bad electrical is not good. I don't do electrical. Pluto talks about the fire; well, it seems they covered that.

Over the years, in various homes, I've done decks, patios and patio overhangs. In my last POS house, I totally replumbed three bathrooms, while also installing new vanities, tiling bath surrounds and installing new countertops. Also redid the kitchen, which involved refacing cabinets, plumbing and new countertops and sink. At no time did I feel the need to have a contractor do this work, nor did I believe a permit and inspection necessary. In fact, I don't think a license or inspection were necessary (this was in California). If they were, sorry about that. In that same POS house in the SF Bay Area, I also had a new roof put on and had the swimming pool resurfaced and re-tiled. These latter jobs, clearly out of my competency league, were done by professionals, along with the necessary permits and inspections.

When I lived in Germany years ago, the Huns working for me and the ones with whom I interacted were amazed that I tuned up my own cars, changed the oil, and had actually, as a kid, rebuilt engines and did body work. That is something that was never done in Europe. It always took an "expert" to do these things. Yet another thing to like about our traditions.

Sure, some people will screw up stuff when they do it themselves. But so long as they pay the freight and they're the only ones affected, why should the rest of us care? How much Mommy government do we need? How much of our heritage as Americans should we get rid of?

Lisa said...

Publius,

I am impressed. I knew Chief wore Carhartts and did manly stuff, but I envisioned you in plaid trousers on the greens! :) You certainly are most handy and capable around the house, and your argument seems a good one.

That is a nice things about America (not yet being regulated to death.) That is, when people are responsible, and know and respect their limits.

Publius said...

Lisa, don't get too carried away with my prowess here. I'm not a particularly gifted person in this area; it's all about my age and the circumstances of my birth. I was born in the 40s, the child of a guy who'd grown up during the Great Depression, served throughout WW2, and who, when the war ended, had to build a life in booming America, all without a pot to piss in.

America was very different in those days. The Depression background forced my father and mother, as well as millions of other Americans, to learn how to do all kinds of neat stuff without resorting to "expert" assistance. This carried over into the post-WW2 years. All of the kids I hung out with had parents like mine; all of us learned how to take care of ourselves. It was because we were poor. Much of what I learned how to do around a house, I learned from the old man and my uncles. I learned how to figure things out and, importantly, also got the courage to go ahead and try something new. That my uncles were engineers and that I worked for them as a kid didn't hurt, either.

I grew up in Southern California, land of cheap suburban homes, where self-home improvement was a given. Further, it was home of the car culture. We all got $100 cars when we turned 16. And of course they were pieces of shit, needing much mechanical work. We kids couldn't afford professional mechanics—our parents couldn't either—so what do you think we learned how to do? You want to drive this POS, kid, then fix it. When I was a teenager, we used to do group rebuild work on our cars, often with our fathers participating. Had to have that car for the hot chicks, you know. I have many fond memories of my '49 Ford, my '51 Ford, my '51 Chevy, and my '56 Ford.

The point to this, and my first post is that a lot of this stuff is kind of second nature to me, and to millions of men and women around my age. My wife is the same way. We've saved considerable $$ over the years doing things ourselves, plus we've gotten the satisfaction from doing something tangible for yourself. That's priceless, IMO.

I'm well aware that things are different these days, specifically that we've failed to pass a lot of skills on to those who've followed (although I would note that my daughter is renovating a POS house in the SF Bay Area and is doing a ton of the work herself and with the help of friends). However, I'm also aware that a lot of this permit stuff local jurisdictions have come up with over the years is really all about a revenue source. It wasn't lost on me that, when I had the new roof done and duly paid for the permit, no inspector showed up while the job was actually being done. The guy turned up after it was done and looked all pretty, and spent five minutes before he blessed it. I thought it looked pretty, too. So that was my value added from a local jurisdiction looking out for me. Right.

So, with all due deference to my old buddy, FDChief, and unless I'm missing something here, I think I'd probably vote for Measure 63. I have no problem whatsoever with Harry Homeowner doing stuff around his house. If he does something spectacularly stupid, well, then maybe he can get a Darwin Award.

FDChief said...

Publius: I too, have done a lot of work around the house, and I have no problem at all with homeowners or their unlicensed pals or contractors painting, sheetrocking, putting up small, low decks, fitting new windows.

But M-63 doesn't restrict me to any of this stuff. AND it specifically exempts everything BUT house electric from inspections.

Want to put a deck on your second story twenty feet over the ravine in your back yard? No oversight over that.

Plumbing? No permits, no licenses, no bonds, no inspections. Foundations. Nope. Structural walls? Nope. Roofing, siding, watersealing around windows? Nope. Gas piping? Nothing.

Hey, if all this did was exempt homeowners from having to employ licensed/bonded contractors I'd be fine with that. The inspections would hopefully catch any major fuckups like backflow valves installed backwards (see that) or downspouts dumping directly into the crawlspace (seen that) or sanitary sewer pump connections improperly joined so the pump pumped raw sewage all over the crawlspace (jesus wept THAT was the worst I saw...)

But like I say, these damn Sizemore measures never apply any real thought. They're all just "kill the beast" anti-gummint buckshot, and this one is no different from what I can see.

FDChief said...

I should add that much of what this measure wants to make "legal" is the kinds of things that people here do all the time anyway, they just don't get caught at it.

Technically we're in violation of city ordnance with the work we're doing on Maxine's bedroom, especially the new windows. But we're not replacing or construction a structural wall, we had a contractor do the electric, and we're using all certified materials (from Home Depot, I should add!).

My folks are Depression kids and taught me the value of working with my hands, and doing things for myself. And I'm not going to argue that part of the perit/inspection process is both a pain in the ass/expensive/more nuisance-revenue generator than value. But to just give the sort of peope who fucked up our house electric and carpentry (and their plumbing doesn't sound like it was a patch on yours, Publius) a pass on inspections?

Mmmmm...not so much.

Anyway, we'll see who makes their case 11/4/08...

Lisa said...

Publius,

Sounds like we have similar backgrounds. My father is a also a child of the depression, and I learned "thrift" from him, for sure. I, too, had pos cars.

My first Volkswagon was a '73 beater -- all four fenders knocked in from it's previous life as a grove buggy. And I learned to do body work on that baby -- fiberglass AND Bondo. And, it threw a rod the day I finished the body work!

So I know what you're saying. When we pay for building inspectors, how nice, they show up to rubber stamp after all is said is done, and I know of cases where even they have gotten it wrong, giving their imprimatur to something which should not have met code.

{Now you know, Chief, where misplaced sense of slogging it out comes from!)

Publius said...

Damn, Chief, never thought you were a big government guy.

Seriously, I know what you're saying. Note I prefaced what I said with "common sense." The fact that there are numerous yahoos out there who don't have any common sense does nothing to alter my fundamental belief that I should be able to do work on my house without governmental interference. I know my limitations; why should I be penalized for those who don't?

I mentioned the Germans who worked for me and I'll give you a good example of government in action. In 1976, in a city in Germany, where I was commander of an intelligence office, Werner, my college-educated German investigator, built a house at a time when the German government was pushing home ownership. He got a low-cost loan guarantee from the Bavarian government. He told a government inspector that he intended to use a landing on the second floor (about 70 square feet) as a reading area, with a chair, light and bookcase. Oh, no, he couldn't do that because it was not authorized. He asked me what I would do. I said, "shit, Werner, just lie. Keep your mouth shut and do whatever you want after you move in." But did Werner listen to me? Noooo. Werner, the good Hun, actually complied. "And that," I told him, "is why we won the war."

Actually, it wouldn't matter to me whether this measure passed or not. I would still do whatever I felt necessary. But I think I'd vote for it.

Lisa, if a '73 car was a "beater" to you, you're just a kid. I bought my first NEW car in 1968, after returning from Vietnam. It was a Mercury Cougar and I wish I still had it. Also bought a new one in '73, a Pontiac, and a true POS. Got rid of it two years later. But then you mentioned Bondo. Shit, I forgot Bondo when I was thinking about old cars. When I was a kid, Bondo was an essential. Nasty shit.

And I threw a rod in my '56 Ford doing about 110 mph on I-10 outside of Phoenix, near Gila Bend, AZ, to be exact. That was a great car, but the oil pump failed. It ended up in the bone yard.

Lisa said...

Thank you for your car tales, Publius. A bit of a speed demon, eh?! As for age, Ranger and I span the Baby Boom generation, your alpha and omega ('46 and '64).

I really am far too delicate to be doing things of that matter (Bondo), but as I say, I had the confluence of a somewhat miserly father, and an a friend who was taking auto body class, so the two were an unfortunate match.

Never again.

FDChief said...

I'm almost embarrased to add my automotive history here: a '74 Pinto station wagon which lasted me through college in 1979, and then an even older '72 Super Beetle that finally died at Ft. Bragg in 1983 from excessive road salt. Even Bondo wouldn't have saved that one.

My real dumb move was a 1981 Volvo 264 bought to replace the Bug; the biggest dog in the Volvo barn, with a Renault engine (trust a car executive to think that Swedish styling and French drivetrain technology was a good idea). Bought with a re-up bonus. What a dumbass. That lasted me until 1989, at which time I was able to afford a new econobox, whch is what I've driven ever since (until Bob the Subaru!)

The only ones I could do any work on were the Pinto and the Beetle - everything else was blackboxed to hell and gone - no hope there of doing anything but oil changes...

As for inspections...well, I will have to admit that I'm not going to change your minds on this one. Part of me will get a kick out of this if it passes. I will bet you money that I'll get some good little jobs cleaning up the messes that people will make throwing their foundations down on crappy fill or on old swamp.

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing your car, tales, Chief! Coming from my parsimonious upbringing, I do relate to holding onto autos as long as they operate reasonably well.

Ah, you had a Pinto. One step up from the most abysmal spin-off of the revered Mustang name IMO, the Maverick! But I had an even worse car -- the AMC Matador: the most hideous car of a stable of hideous AMC cars!

The Matador was a faded medium blue and had a wide, white vinyl stripe down the side, and I recall a friend thankfully throwing it into reverse at 50 mph in an altered state, hence hastening the end of the Matador days.

(I can remember wanting a Gremlin, or even a Pacer -- absolutely revolting vehicles. Then again, I wore checkered stripes down my jeans like the Bay City Rollers. What can one say?)

Lisa said...

p.s.: on the inspector thing-- Jim recently built a house, which the inspectors o.k'd (both the plans, and later the execution). It turns out the house actually failed on numerous significant counts, after Jim hired a forensic engineer to substantiate concerns.

What does one do when the inspectors need to be inspected?

FDChief said...

"Then again, I wore checkered stripes down my jeans like the Bay City Rollers. What can one say?"

One can say that at least you had the good taste to avoid parti-colored maroon-and-white corduroy bell-bottoms! And I'll spare you the vision of the powder blue tux I wore to my senior prom. Sweetbabyjesus but the 70's were a fashion train wreck!

As far as building inspectors go, I'm far from thinking that they're a panacea. It's like speed limits - I don't think they're going to keep the goober with the lead foot from doing 85 in the slow lane. But hopefully it'll give MOST drivers a minimum standard to meet. One real problem is that building inspectors often need more experience and better training than the contractors they're supposed to supervise, and yet they're paid much, much less. It's a wonder that get anyone given the payscale...

Lisa said...

Chief,

Alas, the 70's were a fashion train wreck. Yet today, I wear red corduroy bell bottoms, so something's old are new again. Re. the prom blazer: I was much too shy to attend dances or proms, so I never did have formal duds.

FDChief said...

Lisa: On you, I'll bet they're a melody. On me...fingernails on a blackboard!

And I have to say that my senior prom was a disaster! I was 18 and an idiot (but then, I repeat myself) and asked the wrong girl and we both managed to make ourselves fairly miserable. I SO wouldn't want to repeat those times. For all the aches and thickenings and tiredness...I'm so much happier at 50 than at 20.

I am sorry that your shyness kept you from the siren songs of the disco ball and the platform shoe. Could I turn back the clock I'd wish you the warm admiration of a young fool such as I was, to lend you an arm and a smile to make you feel like a dancing queen...

Lisa said...

Chief,

You give me a broad smile (pun intended.) I certainly don't miss high school days and all the cliquishness. I think I would have done quite well, though, had I a gallant chap like yourself :)