Opinion Columns & Blogs

Businessman enters ‘The Twilight Zone’

I’ve been trying to remember the way Rod Serling started off all those old “Twilight Zone” episodes. As I recall, he faced the camera and said, in a clipped, carefully modulated voice, “Presented, for your consideration, the story of ”

Then the camera would introduce some ordinary bloke or gal and Serling would explain how he or she was about to enter “The Twilight Zone.”

I bring this up because I was watching the government channel last week and thought I had accidentally clicked onto Syfy.

But no, it was Channel 21, and it was the county Planning Commission. So, to borrow from Serling, “Presented, for your consideration, Jose Mendoza, a local businessman who wanted to place a recycling station in Oceano, but soon found himself in The Twilight Zone” — aka the San Luis Obispo County Building and Planning Department.

Mendoza is a member of that endangered species, the small-businessman. He and his family have placed recycling collection stations in Arroyo Grande and Guadalupe, and they want to put another one in Oceano.

When you talk with him, as I did, he gets enthusiastic about his operation, especially when contrasted with others of its kind.

“It’s a whole different concept,” he said.

It’s a family-owned and run business, for one thing. For another, he has set it up in a way that will make it easier for people to recycle, he says.

He will landscape his space and have a place for drivers to pull over. He will have a man on duty during the day and padlock the place at night.

Well, heck, it sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

Guess again.

Enter the planners. They had Mendoza revise his plan twice and ultimately recommended to the Planning Commission that he not be allowed to install his business in Oceano.

The chief reason why? It’s within 100 feet of an intersection.

Or is it?

What’s that, you say? Who cares?

Planners, that’s who.

When Mendoza went to the Planning Commission, asking them to overturn the bum’s rush he got from the planning staff, they spent an hour going over his proposal. They touched briefly on safety and other real-world issues. But their chief topic of discussion was whether an alley that dead-ends on a street constitutes an intersection.

Planners and commissioners agonized over this question like philosophers trying to discern the nature of God. They clawed over state, federal and county definitions of intersections, like orangutans combing each other for fleas.This matters because neither Mendoza nor anyone else is allowed to put a recycling station within 100 feet of an intersection.

When commissioners finally voted, they gave Mendoza the go-ahead, on a 3-2 vote. But they told their planners to go ahead and add conditions that Mendoza must meet.

And did they ever. Since July 14, when the Planning Commission overturned their staff’s original recommendation, “The Chief Building Official has determined that the project requires a building permit,” according to an amended staff report.

In other words, if Mendoza is going to get the green light over their objections, he is going to have to meet more conditions, which is another way to say he is going to have to spend more time and more money. Planning Commissioners have scheduled a final vote Thursday.

Remember, this is all about a small-businessman who wants to expand into Oceano with a small recycling collection operation. This simple question has consumed pages upon pages of staff reports, taken hours of discussion, cost the businessman —and taxpayers, who foot the bill for these metaphysical discussions — thousands of dollars.

Which raises the question: Is it a good idea during a recession to make it this hard for small businesses? And a corollary question: If a guy and his recycling bin are facing this much trouble and expense, what are those proposing more complicated projects having to endure?

Am I the only one who thinks this is a good example of planning run amok?

Reach Bob Cuddy at bcuddy@thetribunenews.com