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What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?
5

What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

(OP)
When dealing with governmental agencies, I'm sure we all have easy agencies to work with and difficult ones. We have one particular agency that seems to have gone off the deep end. Not too long ago we had a development client upset a public agency by rejecting their demands to build a bunch of infrastructure for them as part of the developer's project. The arguments even got to the point the agency used vulgarity over a conference call. Obviously, when you have a development project with offsite impacts, an agency might require some improvements to infrastructure. We agreed with our client, and disagreed with the amount of infrastructure being demanded by the agency, verified by calculations. We felt they were being very unreasonable and overreaching their own regulations. Over much deliberation, even involving legal council, our client found it easier to just replace their infrastructure and move forward. Over the course of that project (which is still ongoing), we have argued back and forth on numerous occasions over the same infrastructure. They have also made it their job to look through the rest of our plans with a fine-tooth comb upon every submittal, looking for every single thing they can comment on, or require additional calculations for, even just demanding information be replicated across certain plan sheets, or that some details need to be moved to other sheets. It's an infill project, completely surrounded by dense development and existing modern infrastructure, and the drainage calculations requested to date are near 300 pages and growing. They seem to have taken this all very personally. This has even extended to different clients now. Virtually every project we submit gets flooded with comments, more calculations to provide, more hoops to jump through. Some projects we are on the 7th or 8th plan review and still get flooded with comments, all new or rejecting our previous arguument/response. We almost had another project approved prior to all of this happening, and on our recent submittal, came back with about 100 new comments. We have elevated the issue to senior staff at the agency on numerous occasions but get nowhere (likely made things worse). We have even discussed with colleagues in other departments of the same agency and they hate this department. We are to the point we just may not be able to business in the area anymore. We could request clients pay us T&M, and let the agency go wild, but most developers want fixed engineering fees in this area so it would be hard to find work.

Is this the way things should be? If you argue with the public agency, they force you out of the area by malicious plan checking? Sure, we could hire an attorney, but I'm not sure what to litigate for and how to prove anything. I guess the first step would be to contact an attorney and ask.

Just curious if anyone else has this issue and how they handled it? Maybe this is just a thread to vent and perhaps gain some solace in the fact it's not just us. I would love to get anyone's opinion or even share a story.

Probably comes as a shock to nobody, but we work in California.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Generally, if you are having personality issues, it is time to change the project manager. No offense meant, but changing the people helps to move things along.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

I have some minor issue with one of the environmental agencies for not accepting one of my annuals reports, and we pay to external(certified) company to make the reports, which was with the same content and after that i submit it to the authorities, they approve it, but in your case i'm not sure that would help.

In your case i will probably consult with some professors from universities to analyze your reports or to make a new one, so you can use their analyze/report in your deffence.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Quote (SethWCE)

The arguments even got to the point the agency used vulgarity over a conference call.

This is not professional behavior and should not be tolerated and called out immediately. I cannot speak to California's system but it is against my jurisdictions professional licensing agencies ethical code to act unprofessionally which can be used for discipline. Additionally my company has a similar ethics requirement as do most employers.

I find when discussions get heated that everyone should be reminded that you can criticize the work produced in a business like manner free from emotions.

Quote (SethWCE)

...demanding information be replicated across certain plan sheets, or that some details need to be moved to other sheets

Requesting duplicate information is not a valid comment in most occasions. Not having the information or details produced is the comment, where in sequence should be logical but not required as long as it is produced. The exceptions to duplication include general items such as scales or a note stating all measurements are in millimeter's unless otherwise indicated.

I believe that your stated situation would require legal intervention if you believe that your firm is being targeted by the agency. You would need to prove that the work you are producing is consistent with the standard of practice in your area and sue for damages.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Let's take the opposite side:

Quote (SethWCE)

demands to build a bunch of infrastructure for them as part of the developer's project.
OK, I'm in a field where we have to deal with a lot of developers work. Some is good, a lot is bad, and some is obviously built just good enough to get out the door. No one buys a house or rents an apartment based on a drainage study. Anything the developers don't put in, is on the taxpayers. So without specifics, maybe the municipality is tired of developers running roughshod and leaving them a mess to clean up.

Quote (SethWCE)

the agency used vulgarity over a conference call.
While this is not ever excusable, some people talk that way. I'm old school and sometimes a bad word slips out when I'm frustrated or it's a necessity to make a point. I'm not proud of it.
I guess what I'm sayin is on your end it might seem malicious, but you admit it's a development in a densely populated area. If the drainage isn't spot on, the neighboring developments might flood. And your developer will be long gone.
I'd consider this a lesson learned, and next time put in more money for your work.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

years ago encountered this once, a particular agency had it out for my boss (and a few others).
We started working on a major project. The owner ran press releases, met with local politicians, and generally talked it up very nicely.
When Dept X began demanding things outside of their scope my boss and the owner talked. The owner made a public announcement that he was relocating his business because the local governance was refusing to follow state and local laws on building permits and approvals.
The waste collided with the rotating oscillator and it became a public stink. Other engineers and builders in the area were willing to go on record stating who was the problem. And it scared off nearly all development in that municipality, not something that even Pols can ignore. It just so happened that the trouble maker was a PE, and once the State Board got their teeth into his back side the song changed.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
P.E. Metallurgy, consulting work welcomed

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

most public agencies are immune and cannot be sued. one reason that some of these agency folks get away with bad behavior. unfortunately, sometimes city management is poor and allows these things to continue. about the only effective way I have seen things change is to go way over their head to the top (city council, mayor, city manager, etc). realize that it may also create more enemies.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Had two pre development staff review calls last week. It can be like a night and day difference between the jurisdictions.

ie town of ### north Carolina has a lengthy, land development code. They're making us donate 75' of right of way on frontage with main road, donate 25' of right of way along secondary frontage, install a turn lane, modify the existing signal & possibly upgrade a single pole to steel strain pole(currently wood poles), and install 10' sidewalks. no alternatives allowed and they will not take this cost from the impact fee's they'll charge. they rattled off code compliance issues in rapid fire manner.

last week ### Tennessee is requiring only what is necessary per their land development code, a decel lane along the main frontage(TDOT road) and a smaller decel lane along secondary front of a city road. they were friendly, accommodating and offered advise for anything they saw we were not in compliance with on our concept.

i recommend that you go up the chain of command until you get to council members or the mayor. present emails, call logs etc that support your concern that the staff is "not development friendly". mention that you wouldn't want to direct developer clients to a jurisdiction that was difficult to work with. politicians want that tax money . IDK hope this helps

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

I’ve had this happen when I was working for a large construction company. I was young, but I recall my boss documenting everything, all the additional hours and resources. Our corporate lawyers looked it over, and we sent a massive invoice. It took 3 years but we got our money and the government agency had to pay our lawyers.

You could also file a complaint with an Inspector General or equivalent if California has one but you may die of old age before they review the complaint.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Do they also have a history with this particular developer? I used to work for a government agency and there were a few developers who over a period of 20 - 30 years had screwed over or gone back on their word in some way against the staff at the agency so many times that they began to found it impossible to get anything done. They made their bed so I guess they had to sleep in it. In that particular case the developer had to resort to essentially using shell companies and hiding who was behind the development to get anything done. Hiring a consulting firm with staff on good terms with the agency also helped.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

The best advice I can tell you is ... if there is any way possible, work with them, never against. They will take every opportunity to make your life difficult and expensive for a long, long time. Try give and take, if you can. Nothing more than that until it becomes a go/no go situation. Then and only then, pick your battles wisely and only fight the fights that you can win. Learn from it and submit your next bid accordingly.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

I've had similar situations. I was on a recent conference call where the prime civil consultant and one of the agency PM's almost dropped some vulgarities on each other. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. In the end, the PM rejected the entire 150 million dollar highway realignment project and sent it back to be redesigned. We were at 100%! That hurt since we were subcontracted by PM.

There is one particular branch within a governmental department that we deal with all the time that absolutely detests my boss. Whenever he sees my boss' stamp on any plans it automatically triggers volumes of comments, demands, and outright questioning the validity of the design. If someone else stamps it, then the comments subside. Is that an option or is your company logo on the title block? We have learned to deal with it by trying to provide real curt responses to the questions and stating that the "design is acceptable, additional calculations not necessary." Otherwise, you get drug down a rabbit hole with no end. I'm sure this is not an option for you but it is for us since we don't actually need his buyoff to proceed with the design. But it still delays the design process and costs us time and money.

In addition, we have 2 particular agencies that make everyone's life a living hell. They are notoriously slow, unresponsive, and make minor comments at the end of their allotted review timeframe which basically resets the clock for them as they can review it as many times as they want before signing off on it. Nobody has been able to do anything about it.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Winning is only possible from outside the toxic relationship. A buddy got dinged by an inspector because his 6 foot fence was, in some places, 6 foot 2 inches because of irregular ground, and was installed by a regionally recognized fence company, who had words to say about this turn (because they would be the ones to replace it.)

Filling that gap was unacceptable as it would change the drainage, which was not allowed.

So he contacted a buddy whom he had gone to high-school with and had since been elected mayor, who informed the inspector that slavish attention to detail might best be used if taken elsewhere. Apparently the inspector was new to the job and looking to make a splash. No idea what happened to the inspector. Fence is still there.

RE: What do you do when you have a malicious plan checker?

Is there a board of appeals. Also, do they provide page and paragraph on their decisions?

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