please may I build here?

Working through the Portland building permit process has been a shock, frankly. I’m not through it yet, 6 months later, so this isn’t the story of how it went. I’m still understanding whether the process is a good and thoughtful one, carried out in cautious detail by intelligent city employees who, in exchange for a modest if steady income and eventual retirement security are willing to battle the forces of development that will cause their city to be lessened. Or these are a cadre of frustrated can’t do-ers who hide behind their officiousness covering their ass in every way while taking one way shots at their charges from their seat of enormous power.

Really, that last sentence was fun to write, but I don’t believe it. I have found these people to be far closer to the first sentence, and have more than once leaned forward in the low conspiratorial tone and said, “y’know, even while I’m being stonewalled, set with fees beyond my imagination and asked to give information that reaches towards the insulting, I find you guys polite, funny and caring.” Generally. I really do think they have a self image of the protector. If asked, they would say that yes, Portland is one of the most sought-after places to live in, and much of that is due to us.

I wonder if I could argue against that and win. Much of what makes Portland and Oregon special is the zoning, not the building code, so I could win at least partially. Then another shot of excellence comes from the people, both established and immigrant. (Doug Murray tells the story of watching two homeless types get into a real knockdown screaming match, and not one cuss word was exchanged. Interesting barometric.) People here care more about their world than I would have guessed, and are smart about it, too. If nationally we could wager that more people can name the 5 Simpsons than can name the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, this may be a city where that isn’t true.

I’ll get this darn permit. And I’ll use the foundation system made from de-fiberized recycled wood, and I’ll make the pitch of the roof what I want it to be, and I’ll get to use my SIP panel in seismic category 4 without a full ICC ES report… But I’ll admit it, they’ve had me up against the ropes, and we haven’t even gotten out of this early round to start the actual build. It will be interesting to see who comes out of what woodwork when the inspections start.