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Location: Northern California

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Backyard party: status report 7/21/05

We're one giant step closer to a beautiful backyard!

I had a great experience Monday at the offices of the San Mateo County Planning and Building Division. It's so often that we (you, me, and everyone else) have horrible experiences with government agencies that I thought I would tell you about my positive experience.

Last week we received the letter from our arborist verifying the sizes of our trees and that they are diseased and dying, yada, yada, yada. By the way, this was a $90 letter. Monday morning I filled out the five page Application for Permit to Trim or Remove. Even though most of the Planning and Building Division's literature is poorly-written and hard to understand (I can say this because I have a degree in Technical Writing), this particular form was easy to understand and fill out. I attached my $90 letter to the form as instructed.

When Thomas woke up from his afternoon nap I knew the time had come, and I forced myself to gather up my papers, put them in a folder, make sure the kids had clean diapers, grab the diaper bag and keys, and hustle myself and the kids out the door and into the car. I didn't feel like doing these things so I almost didn't go, but my desire for a backyard with grass and a deck from which I can drink strong cocktails while watching children frolicking on the aforementioned grass is strong. Very strong.

We arrive at the County offices, find a parking spot, and feed the meter. I'm hauling Thomas out of his seat and into the double stroller when the aroma hits me. Shit. Literally and figuratively. I try and put him in the stroller to see if maybe he doesn't know he's sitting in poo but his plaintive wail (and I thought boys didn't care?!) tells me he knows and he's not happy about it. I take off my chaueffeur hat and put on my poop cleaner hat, pop open my hatchback, and change his diaper. And THAT'S why I drive a car this size, thank you very much.

Back to my story. We hustled up to the Planning and Building Divisions' offices and signed in with Reception. Did I mention that Emily fell asleep in the car on the way over and I was able to transfer her to the stroller without her waking up? When you have two kids and one is sleeping it's like having just one kid. It's very cool. So with only Thomas to entertain I waited for the next available Planning Department worker. As I looked around it was clear that I -- a mom with two babies in a stroller -- did not belong here. This was the domain of Men. Contractors, sub-contractors, developers, most of these people are men and this is where they come to get things done. Oh, there were women in the office, too, but they were the quintessential secretary/receptionist type, the mom surrogates of any office. I could tell in the first five minutes that these were the women to have on your side and the contractors knew that, too. These ladies knew each of the contractors by name and they knew exactly where in the queue their applications were. I used to be one of these women (but in another beauracratic industry, Insurance) and I had a flashback to the feeling of power a job like that can give you. And also to the feeling of horror because those jobs tend to be underpaid and you typically are overworked and underappreciated. But when you're good, you're good, and I could tell these women were good.

Luckily I didn't have to spend all afternoon admiring the competence of the staff because my name was quickly called. I brought my paperwork, my two kids, and my checkbook up to the counter and $629 later all of my hard work to date paid off. They didn't send me home to type the form in triplicate; they didn't request that I sacrifice my first-born son; they didn't hassle me at all! I had done everything right!!! You know, I had started this entry intending to send kudos to the Planning Division when it's now clear I should be lauding myself! I'm the master-of-fine-print mama. I can dot my i's and cross my t's with the best of them. Damn, I'm good. Plus they told me that my kids were cute and well-behaved. Can I do no wrong here?! Basically, I left that place floating on air, clutching my two yellow signs and my yellow caution tape, contemplating a career in the building industry.

Here's our $629 sign displayed prominently on our house:

And a close-up of our evil plan to destroy our little piece of this green Earth:

Next up: Will our permit be approved after the neighbors catch wind of our evil doings? Or will we be forced to hire a hit man to come and off our trees in the dead of night? Only time (approximately 4 to 6 weeks) will tell...