I’m not building a house, really. More like a giant pile of paper. Papers like subdivision maps, soil test results, perk maps, applications for minor subdivision, biology and geology reports, well water tests, botanical diversity analyses, and proctology reports. Sorry, not even my joke. But all of those things are required before we can subdivide, which is the precondition for applying for a permit to build.
Of all of these, the biggest hurdle is the dreaded California Tiger Salamander. Known as simply “CTS”, the California Tiger Salamander has been used as a lever to slow development. Any port in a storm, I suppose – people rightly object to these horrible McMansions appearing in what used to be cow pastures. Sadly, family projects like ours are what really get stopped. The builders can afford to get involved in “mitigation”, or the purchase of wetlands for preservation, typically at a ratio of 2:1 or 4:1. That is, for every acre of habitat they destroy, they buy two acres of wetlands from some clever hippies who DID take that deal to buy swampland… The cost of all of this is passed on to the buyer (at a 20% markup), who has some savagely complex loan to pay for all of this, and everyone makes money… right? We all know how this ends, but I’m not going to get into a diatribe about sub-prime loans.
Everything is controlled by the county, who stands to profit quite a bit from our project. $10,000 for the permit application to subdivide, and about $20,000 for the house permit. $30,000 if I build a larger home. The county would love to approve our permits. However, the CTS decision is in the hands of California Fish and Game. Fortunately, the biologist took a quick look at our land, mumbled “Give me a break” and dashed off a quick report saying, “Ain’t got none.” So now we wait… and wait. The most recent word is that Fish & Game is re-writing the standards for CTS in Sonoma county, and they’ll make a decision about our parcel only after they’ve done so. Holy ex-post-facto, captain! We’re told that, typically, it takes the state between 8 weeks and 6 months to make a decision. In exceptional cases, it can take more than two years. Of course, since they’re rewriting the policy, there’s no telling when they’ll get around to it (our biologist was told by the state: “We’ll get to it when we get to it.” Oh, we’re also told that a verdict of “no salamanders” from a state licensed biologist can mean a mitigation ratio of as low as 0.2:1. Apparently, you can’t PROVE you have no salamanders. It’s exact opposite of math – an example provides positive proof.
In the meantime, I’m getting my septic system designed and doing soil testing, choosing building sites, and refining my designs. It’s nice to not be in a hurry.