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Mr. Jeffers Builds His House

 By Mr. Toy

"Mr. Jeffers?"


"I'm Noel Itall from the Monterey County Planning Department. May I ask what you're doing?"

"I'm building a house for my wife and I to live in."

"A private residence?"


"Single family or multiple?"

"Single family."

"Good. Now, Mr. Jeffers, may I see your building permit?"

"My what?"

"Your building permit. You need to have a building permit to build a house."

"What for?"

"We need to be sure that you house conforms to local building codes."

"What are these building codes for?"

"Well, Mr. Jeffers, they insure that your house meets basic safety, sanitation and design standards."

"That sounds reasonable. How do I get one?"

"You have to fill out an application and turn it in to my department. I can help you fill it out now."

"OK. We can do it on my workbench."

"Perfect. Now, Mr. Jeffers, I need to ask you a few basic questions about your construction. First of all, will this be a one story house or a two story house?"


"OK, since it is a two story house you'll have to erect story poles to show how tall the building will be."

"Story poles?"

"Story poles are simply poles stuck into the ground with bright orange netting strung between them. The netting represents the outline of your proposed roofline showing your neighbors how tall your house will be."

"But I don't have any neighbors."

"I understand that, Mr. Jeffers, but your house will be the only house on this point, so it will be highly visible. Many of the folks in Carmel will want to know how your house will impact their views."

"I'm not going to hit them in the eye, Mr. Itall."

"No, you misunderstand. They will need to know how big your house will be before the public hearing."

"There will have to be a public hearing?"

"Yes. It's nothing to be concerned about. Members of the public will be allowed to comment on your design and we'll make appropriate adjustments to your plan based on their input."

"But I don't yet have a final design. I'm adding elements as I go."

"I'm afraid you can't do that, sir. Your completed design must be submitted with your application before the hearing. We can get the process rolling by answering a few more questions. What materials will you be using to build your house?"

"Rocks and stones."

"That sounds very nice, but our design guidelines generally favor wood over masonry. Where will you be getting the stone?"

"From the beach right down there."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Jeffers. You can't do that. You see, you'll need a permit from the Coastal Commission to excavate and remove coastal resources, and they usually frown on such things unless it is used for resource dependent purposes."

"I'm dependent on that resource to build my house, Mr. Itall."

"Well, you might be able to squeak by. But you should have an alternate source of materials, preferably wood, in case they turn you down."

"I see."

"Now, Mr. Jeffers, Will there be any additional structures on the property, such as a detached garage?"

"Well, once the house is finished I'm planning on building a tower over there."

"Oh, dear. You can't put it there. It's too close to the property line."


"We have setback rules which require that any structures be at least twenty feet from the property line, so for all practical purposes it will have to be attached to the house."


"To insure adequate open space."

"But I plan to have plenty of open space. In fact I'm planning a beautiful garden in the open space between the house and the tower."

"Mr. Jeffers, I'm sure you understand that these rules were made to protect others. The planning commission is very strict about these things. Now, how tall will this tower be?"

"About three or four stories. I'm still not sure."

"Well, Mr. Jeffers, Four stories is out of the question. It's well above our height limits. We might be able to grant you a variance to allow three stories, provided you can convince the planning commission and the coastal commission that it is necessary, and won't obstruct your neighbors views."

"But I have no neighbors."

"Well, you don't yet, but your future neighbors on the inland side of your property may be disturbed by your tower which could block their views and lower their property values. I suggest you hire a qualified consultant to conduct a proper environmental impact study. Just what will you use that tower for anyway, Mr. Jeffers?"

"My studio."

"Studio? Are you an artist?"

"I'm a writer, a poet."

"Why do you need a tower to write?"

"It will be a place to retreat, to provide quietness and isolation."

"Then all you really need is a fenced patio. I think we could get that past the planning commission pretty easily."

"But I want a tower."

"I'll tell you what. Once you've completed your house, we can work out the tower issue in a separate permit process."


"Now, will you be doing any writing in the house before you build your studio?"


"OK, For that you'll need a home occupation permit."

"A what?"

"A home occupation permit. If you work at home, rather than in a designated commercial zone, you need a home occupation permit. It insures that your neighbors won't be disturbed by business dealings in your home."

"Why would anyone be disturbed by what happens inside my home?"

"Well, this is a commercial activity. It is not technically compatible with residential use. You need a home occupation permit to allow you to conduct business activities in your home. You don't want to disturb your neighbors, do you?"

"Of course not. But how does writing disturb my neighbors?"

"It doesn't really which is why writing is about the only type of commercial activity that we allow in residential areas. But you still need a permit if you are to do any writing which you may be planning to sell. That's a commercial activity and is considered incompatible with residential uses. Therefore you need a permit."

"Mr. Noel Itall, I just want to build a small house for my family that I can write in. Is that too much to ask?"

"Oh, no. But what you are proposing goes well beyond what we normally allow. The tower is a particularly serious problem. Your lack of completed plans is disturbing. The stone removal issue also raises serious concerns. We really need more information before we can proceed with your application. I think it best if you reconsider your plans and build a traditional one-story wooden house. You know, something more in keeping with Carmel traditions. We want to make sure your house fits in. Don't get me wrong, we encourage personal creativity in Carmel, as long as you conform to our rigid standards."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you Mr. Jeffers, that's all we can ask. Good luck."

"I don't need luck, I need a lawyer."

Disclaimer for our humor impaired readers: The preceding was not intended to be an accurate representation of historic characters or events. It is a satire, a parody, intended to stimulate thought on the appropriateness of local regulations which have piled up over the years.

Foggy Day On Carmel Beach by James B Toy. Click to view or purchase.

"Foggy Day On Carmel Beach"

The Frank Lloyd Wright house on Carmel Point overlooks the south end of Carmel Beach. This and many other images of Carmel are available from Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop. Framed or unframed prints may be purchased, along with a variety of matching home decor and gift items.