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Tangled Los Angeles permit process has restaurant owners howling

Could there be simpler means to a similar end, especially for small restaurants? City Councilman Eric Garcetti thinks so.

February 18, 2009|Jessica Gelt

And if a certain amount of inflexibility occurs, that may be understandable, given the sheer volume of cases they deal with. The Bureau of Sanitation's Bond says his agency regulates all 10,000 food-service establishments in the city. And that agency is just a small cog in a giant machine.

Still, there are times when restaurateurs feel as if they're caught in some kind of Kafkaesque comedy. Bigelow says that one time, the plumbing inspector made her go to the industrial waste unit of the Department of Public Works to get approval for the restaurant's decorative water wall. ("I printed out the definition of 'industrial waste' and said, 'What part of this is industrial waste?' They finally begrudgingly said they didn't care about the water wall.")

Another time, the city insisted that the restaurant, in the heart of downtown, was located on top of a landfill. After much time and energy, she was able to prove that there had never been a landfill underneath the restaurant.

There were more last-minute issues: fire safety, plumbing and electrical. But what pushed the situation to the point of absurdity in her eyes was a health department inspector's demand that she tear out an already completed bathroom because, after eyeballing the dark-brown tiles, the inspector decided they didn't have the required reflectivity ratio, meaning a health inspector might not be able to tell whether they were clean enough. To avoid wrecking the bathroom, Bigelow had to remodel a bathroom on another floor of the building for the staff to use.

"How can a government agency pick your color scheme?" Bigelow asks.

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jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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