By: Mark Abrams
It was a day like any other day in 1988 when business was booming and we were outgrowing our office facility. The 3 partners met to discuss how to expand our facility and what was the best route to pursue. Our company was still fairly young and we were for the first time beginning to prosper. Many companies expand, ruin their business and never recover from the mistake. A great example of over expansion was Bun Boy, a restaurant in Baker, Ca. (the gateway to Death Valley and a rest stop on the road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas) and with another restaurant in Barstow. Business was great and when they built their new facility, they significantly expanded their restaurant, built a souvenir store and opened the Bun Boy Motel while significantly increasing their overhead which crashed their business. Today, Bun Boy no longer exists and we did not want Raycom to follow the same path that Bun Boy would eventually follow.
We considered renting a larger place than the one that we occupied and we also considered renting an additional space in the same industrial park, but the unit next door was not available. The unit that was available was several doors away and we felt that the logistics of splitting the operation into two separate spaces in the park was a potential solution, but it was not a great solution. We considered the rent that we were paying for the space and the additional rent we would have to pay to move into a larger space, plus the costs of moving from our existing location to a new location. Ultimately, we felt that we would be better served by purchasing our own facility provided we could find one in the general area. We had selected the City of Paramount as our work home for several reasons which included (1) we had to be close to one or more freeways so that we could head north, south, east or west quickly, (2) we needed to be in an area served by Pacific Telephone because we felt that General Telephone service was so unreliable that it could ultimately put us out of business by preventing our customers from being able to reliably reach us when they had a problem, (3) we wanted to be in the physical center of our customer base to facilitate reaching customers as quickly as possible and (4) we needed to be in an area where we could hear the radio transmissions from as many of the radio tower sites as possible to facilitate the ease of being able to detect problems with our customer’s radio systems. Although we were not specifically confined to Paramount, we wanted to stay in the area since it had worked well for our operation since we first rented space after moving the operation out of the house. We therefore decided to hire a real estate agent to find us a place for us to purchase, hopefully somewhere in the general vicinity of our existing location.
We contracted with a local commercial real estate agent from Lyons and Lyons Properties who had an office about 1.5 miles from our current location. We felt that having a local agent would likely produce a better result than someone from a large company based elsewhere. So, we gave them the job of finding us our new ideal facility that would make us become a beacon in the radio business and be able to show off our success without breaking the bank. Properties in Paramount were considerably less expensive than other areas around Los Angeles and Southern California, so we felt that we could get a lot more for a lot less.
The search went on for months while we viewed one property after another. Each place we visited had some issue that we did not like. Most of the properties were visited by me alone but many of the properties were visited by myself and Len Abrams. A few were viewed by Loren whenever he had time in between various jobs he was running for customers. Each time we visited a property, we discussed the things we liked and the items that we did not like so that the agent would get a better idea of what kind of property we were looking to purchase. Our idea of how large of a facility to have would change with time as our finances continued to improve with time. The other issue was the type of financing we could get which would determine our interest rate and down payment which would ultimately determine how large of a monthly payment we could afford. This made the project of obtaining a new facility a bit of a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of moving pieces that needed to be cornered so that we could ultimately narrow down the variables to be able to come to a solution and a path forward.
One day, I received a call from the real estate agent that a new building had recently come on the market in Paramount that was very different than anything else we had seen, so we made an appointment with the seller to visit that day. We met our agent in front of the building and went inside to meet with the occupants who were also the sellers. I was totally impressed with the building. It was a building like nothing I had ever seen before and seemed completely out of place for the City of Paramount which was considered to be an average or below average economic area with fairly basic properties. This place was like a palace compared to everything we had seen previously. The conference room included a full bar and the rest of the offices were decorated in a traditional décor with a very homey touch. I walked around the offices in awe, completely taken by the facility as I walked from one room to another. The president’s office was strikingly gorgeous and it contained a private and intimate conference area behind his desk. In spite of being so taken by the facility, I recognized certain problems with the property in regards to our operation and how it might be reconfigured to be suitable for our use. There would need to be considerable renovations to make the place suitable for our use and the renovations would need to remove this incredible office and turn it into the service repair shop. There was an existing storage shed in the rear of the property which would need to be removed and we needed to construct a new building that would be storage as well as drive in service area capable of handling large vehicles. My mind was going wild with imagination as to how we could adapt the property to fit our needs so I told the agent that I wanted my partners to see the property, sooner rather than later. So after leaving the property, I met with Len and Loren to go over the pros and cons of purchasing the property. The asking price was within our theoretical budget, but the renovations that I thought would be needed would drive up the price of the property to a range that would challenge our budget. So I dragged my partners over to the building for another visit while I outlined my vision for how to renovate the property to meet our needs. Both Len and Loren agreed with my concept and were equally taken with the property. After being there for an hour, we thanked the seller for their hospitality, indicated that we would be preparing an offer on the property and proceeded to leave.
We met with the real estate agent to discuss the pros and cons of the property along with the offer price, terms, conditions, options and requirements. Part of what we discussed was how to pay for the property and the renovations. We called the lender to find out if they would consider allowing us to purchase the property, perform the renovations and improvements and then roll the entire amount into a new mortgage. It took a little time to work out all the details, but the lender was OK with the proposal. Essentially, we were asking for a construction loan to acquire the property, perform the renovations, dismantle the old storage shed and build the new concrete block building in the rear of the property. The seller was asking for a leaseback on the property because they were moving to Anaheim into a condominium type industrial park that was being built and would not be ready for them to occupy the property until 4-5 months after we purchased the property. This would work out very well for us because we would now have time to work on obtaining all the entitlements to perform the construction while the building was being leased back to the seller which gave us income to offset the interest that was being charged on our loan. So we made a proposal to the seller and after a small amount of negotiation, we came to terms. It seemed what was good for them was either good for us or we did not care about the issue and whatever was good for us ended up being good for them or they didn’t care about the issue either. It seemed like it was a deal made in heaven for both of us. We came to terms, signed the purchase documents which contained the typically contingency for loan approval so now we were in escrow to purchase our new facility.
Now I had to go into high gear working on the financing for the building. We had been working on obtaining an SBA loan and we found out that the SBA rarely loans money directly themselves. Their typical modus operandi is to guarantee the loan which was made by a bank that typically made a lot of SBA guaranteed loans. We were referred to National Bank of California on Fairfax Ave in Los Angeles and began to negotiate the terms of the loan along with the type of loan and the logistics of the loan. We then had to prepare the paperwork for the lender to qualify for the loan. The SBA has some stringent loan requirements and the loan documentation was daunting at best and insurmountable at worst. The more I worked on the documentation, the more I realized that this would take 100% of my time for at least 2 months to complete. There were many portions of the documents that I did not fully understand and it used terminology for which I was not particularly familiar. So it became prudent to hire a professional SBA loan packager to put together our loan package to get our loan approved. The loan packager cost about $15K for his fees and he put together the loan documentation required by the bank including all the special forms required for our particular loan. I knew that the amount of paperwork was far greater than anything I had dealt with previously, but I had no idea that the completed loan package would be over 1 foot thick or about $1,000 for each inch of thickness of the paperwork. The loan package was submitted to the bank for approval, but not without a lot of roaring and screaming during the preparation process. The loan packager was good at his job, but he could not work in a vacuum. He needed financial information from us which required us to do a lot of work, but we managed to get it done with considerable work, blood, sweat and tears.
Many other issues surfaced during the escrow process. One thing that was a surprise was the documentation detailing the ground vibrations that were caused by the forge works that were directly across the street. We were required to sign documents acknowledging the ground vibrations and that we could not get any compensation for the vibrations. Another thing that came out was the toxic materials investigation that needed to be done to purchase commercial property. The toxic waste investigation went into the history of our property and any toxic event that occurred on the property. It was determined that there were underground gasoline tanks previously on the property along with some other minor issues which all had to be explained, considered, mitigated and proven that it had been properly handled in the past. Fortunately, the seller had the certificate showing that the gasoline tanks had been properly removed and that there was no toxic contamination that needed to be mitigated. However, the toxic materials investigation was not just limited to just our property; it extended to the entire neighborhood. There was a property down the street that had been a paint manufacturing company which did not seem particularly obnoxious on the surface, but since the paints were made of many toxic materials, this sparked a major investigation. The company was Cyron Paints which was located 2 blocks south of our new location on the opposite side of the same street. Their plant had caught fire and burned to the ground, but due to the previous use of toxic materials, their property had to be investigated. They were in the process of toxic mitigations of the now vacant land because they were not allowed to sell the property without cleaning up the toxic materials that had leached into the soil. They had to install specialized equipment on the property, drill a well and use the equipment for years to scrub the soil with chemical washes and utilize pumps to suck the toxic contaminants out of the ground. All of this had an effect on our loan approval, property purchase, escrow instructions and compliance issues.
It did not take very long to get an approval on the loan. The loan packager was good at his job since that is the only thing that he did for a living. When you only do one thing, you tend to become good at it and our loan packager proved his worth. He had prepared the material the way the bank wanted to see it, got the figures to justify our ability to repay the loan, justified our need for the funds and showed how we fit between the lines of the rules and regulations demonstrating how we qualified under both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. In summary, our loan package flew through the loan committee and the underwriting process with flying colors.
Now that the loan was approved, we hired an architect to draw the plans for the remodeling of the existing building and the new construction of the new concrete block building to replace the storage shed in the rear of the property. I met with the architect on site to look at the property and get ideas as to how we were going to accomplish our task. We obtained copies of the building plans from the seller (who was a construction company) and they were able to answer many questions about how things were built since they were the company who performed the actual construction. The original building was a small house, about 1,000 square feet. They had expanded the property 3 times adding to the ground floor twice and adding a second floor. The building was approximately 5000 square feet for the main building (not including the storage shed that we planned to dismantle) which was double the size of our existing facility. We were planning to build a 2 story concrete block building of approximately 4000 square feet to replace the storage shed, a building that was capable of having large trucks driven inside the building so that we could install radios into the vehicles while inside thus making it easier for our people to work on our customer’s vehicles and radios. We discussed the features that we needed in the new building and the areas that needed remodeling in the existing building so that we ended up with a workable facility.
The first draft of the plans left a lot to be desired. Many issues were identified and had to be mitigated or cured. An example of a problem was the staircase from the first floor to the second floor in the concrete block building which was originally a straight staircase which caused problems with taking up too much space on the ground floor thus making the door from the hallway to the service shop and the hallway door to the garage be too far apart and not work properly. It became necessary to put a landing in the middle of the staircase with a 180 degree turn which reduced the footprint of the stairs. We had issues with the layout of the work benches and with the sliding glass patio doors which had to be removed and replaced with a regular exterior type wall. Each of these issues had to be worked out one at a time until we could not identify any more issues.
It was then time to submit the completed plans for approval to the city planning department. The staff prepared a staff report that was submitted to the planning commission for approval of the plans. The staff report identified issues with our plan such as not having sufficient landscaped area in the parking lot and not having recessed roll up doors. There were other issues identified by the staff which all had to be addressed by our architect and the plans then had to be resubmitted. The issue of the recessed roll-up doors was a major issue to us because it meant some serious design changes and we did not have the space to accommodate the changes. So we negotiated with the staff and came up with a resolution that they would recommend that the city waive that code requirement if we knocked down the block wall in the front of the parking lot portion of the property and move the wall back 10 feet with proper landscaping in front of the wall which would eliminate one parking space from the parking lot. We deemed that it was the best trade that we were going to get from the city and decided to accept the trade as it was far less offensive to us than recessing the roll up garage doors by 3 feet. Finally, we had approval of the remodeling plans so that we could get started with the remodel the moment that the seller was finished with the property leaseback and moved out.
One issue that was purposely left out of the plans was our need for an antenna tower. Most cities have stringent rules for antennas and antenna structures. The plans normally need to be submitted to the planning commission and they typically end up with multiple delays and unequaled scrutiny. Many cities find ways to deny simple antenna requests because they consider them to be “unsightly” and a “blight on the landscape” due to being an “eyesore”. Therefore, no mention was made of our need for a radio tower so that our plans would flow through the political processes as quickly as possible. That decision eventually proved to be the right decision.
Now was the time that the seller was moving out of the building. We negotiated with the seller to purchase some furniture items from them so that they did not have to move them to their new facility. The other reason that they sold us the furniture was that their new office was a totally different décor for which the furniture was not suitable. Again, we had a match made in heaven which worked well for us and for them. We obtained some high quality furniture at a highly discounted price which fit the space and the decor while they managed to unload furniture that they no longer wanted. One piece of furniture that they sold us was a large fire safe that was very heavy and difficult to move. This gave us a place to safely store important corporate documents such as stock certificates, corporate seals, pink slips, general ledgers, etc. So we took possession of the furniture and the safe by them leaving them behind when they left the building. Finally after several months, we had a vacant building where we could start our process of remodeling which was predicted to take about 5 months from start to finish.
The first thing that had to happen was to dismantle the old metal storage building which required a demolition permit which was readily obtained. This took about 2 weeks to accomplish. Then the contractor brought in the heavy equipment to dig up the dirt and repack the soil. The new building was considerably heavier than the old building and the soils report indicated that the ground was not very dense. This required the contractor to dig up the dirt for a distance of 6 feet and repack the soil to make it denser and stronger. This also required us to bring in some dirt because the repacked dirt took up less space than the undisturbed ground. While that process was proceeding, the contractor started gutting the president’s office to create the service shop.
One of the interesting things that I had to deal with was the method of paying the contractor. The bank had advanced funds to close escrow on the building and would advance funds to pay the contractor for his progress in the construction. It was necessary to break down all the processes and create a timeline / construction schedule detailing the various tasks that had to be preformed and assign a cost to each of these tasks. When the contractor completed a task, I was required to fill out a voucher for the determined amount of money, sign the voucher, have the contractor sign the voucher and submit it to the bank who in turn would send out an inspector to take pictures and verify that the work had been done. After that process, the bank would pay the contractor the money for the work. Each time there was a “draw” on the construction funds, the daily interest on the construction loan would increase due to the increased balance. We had the option of paying the daily interest or rolling the interest into the final mortgage which could not exceed the predetermined amount. If we had the contractor change anything from the original plans, we had to pay the difference directly to the contractor since the bank would not pay him for those changes. So with the purchase price of the property and the construction funds, we were allowed to pay up to $540K which was the maximum amount of the approved mortgage including interest on the purchase price and construction funds. This does not seem like a lot of money for purchase and remodeling of a property with building a whole new building, but you have to remember that this occurred in 1989 when the dollars went a lot further than they will today.
The new building required a lot of machinery and lot of work. Once the earth moving and compaction was done, they dug the foundations and started building the forms for the foundation. The earthquake standards made the new building design to be substantial. The contractor indicated that they had never seen such a substantial foundation for such a small building. It was completely 8” concrete block with poured cells except for the areas next to the rollup doors which were 12” block. There was a huge amount of concrete in the building footings and the footings for the steel center support posts for the first floor of the new building. After the foundation was poured, they then poured the floor of the building. After the concrete was dry enough, they started with the building of the block walls building four feet at a time before they would call for inspection.
The construction continued at what seemed to be a slow pace. During the building of the block building, the contractor typically only had 4-6 people working on the job at any point in time once the earth work and the new building was substantially completed. The block walls took what seemed to be a large amount of time to be completed. Then came the office, the restroom, the stairwell and 2nd floor framing which utilized huge steel and wooden beams. Then the roof framing started which brought on new challenges. The building was built all the way to the edge of the property. The utility poles were in the alley with one pole directly behind our building could be touched by anyone who was in the back corner of the roof. There were high voltage power lines that were close enough to be considered hazardous if one was not careful which would be touched by ones head if they stood up fully upright in that corner of the building. The safety standards back in 1990 were far less stringent than today, so this project never would have been approved under today’s standards if anyone figured out what was going to happen during construction. The roofer came out to install the roof on the new building who required supervision to insure that no one was electrocuted from the power lines.
Now that the roof was secure, the interior work of the electrical and the plumbing could be started. At the same time, the first floor ceiling was installed, taped and mudded and the sub-floor floor for the 2nd floor was installed. The drywall needed to be installed in the hallway and staircase and the 2-hour doors needed to be installed. The 3 big roll up doors were installed to close off the huge openings in the new building which then led to the outside walk through door being installed which provided some security to the project so that the new building could be secured after we installed the ventilator fan which provided a 2 foot square opening for the fan that was only about 2 feet above the floor. A security grille was installed on the outside of the building so that it is totally impractical for anyone to attempt to break into the building through the ventilator opening.
Now that the new building was secure from the outside, it was time to “connect” the old building with the new building which included the hallways between buildings, sealing off the separation between buildings and connecting the 2nd floor of the old building to the 2nd floor of the new building. Additionally, it was time to “gut” the president’s office and his private conference room to build the service shop. Everything inside the rooms were removed to the wooden studs and the sliding glass patio door had to be removed and replaced with a stucco solid exterior wall. Then the electrician had to be brought in to provide the changes to the electrical wiring which included new circuits for the test benches, closed circuit TV, alarm system, computer networking switches, telephone system and all other electrical requirements. It is easy to take care of these items while the walls were open, so a lot of thought went into considering all of the requirements prior to closing up the walls with drywall. One of the things that were of concern was the sound level in the shop. We had a hard floor utilizing industrial floor tiles, but we needed to be certain that we did not create an echo chamber. We found “wallpaper” that had a fuzzy cloth material integrated into the paper which had sound deadening properties so that the room was reasonably quiet, but it had to meet the fire retardant code requirements so that we were allowed to use the material. Once the room was substantially complete, we needed to start installing the custom built in work benches. Loren’s brother Darrell was a carpenter as a sideline and had his garage set up as a wood shop, so we gave him the contract of building the massive amount of work benches, cabinetry and storage shelves that we needed for the service shop and the parts room. His work was professional, exceptional and has passed the test of time since it is all survived the past 30+ years and is still in good shape. The furniture has had some wear and tear, but is substantially in as good a shape as it was when it was originally built and installed.
The contractor continued to work on completion of the building when he arrived for work on a Monday morning to find out that someone had broken into the building over the weekend and stolen a bunch of the contractor’s tools. He had a contractors secure tool bin that had been pried and cut open. Also, the fire safe that we had purchased from the seller that was sitting in the building had been pried open. It was apparent that the thieves had spent many hours trying to open the safe. There were pry marks on the hinges, drilling of the lock, peeling of the metal that was part of the safe door, saw marks, torch marks and sledge hammer marks on the same. They put a huge effort into getting the safe open to discover that the only thing that was in the safe was air and empty shelves. This gave me a lot of pleasure knowing that their massive effort was for naught. The insurance company paid us for a new safe and for the damage where they broke into the property, but unfortunately the contractor did not fare as well because his insurance company did not cover a lot of his losses.
Now we had another task that needed to be completed which included repairing the window that was used to break into the building and installing a security grille before we installed the shelving in the parts room which would make it impossible to secure the window. We needed the shelving in the parts room for the move to be successful and have a place to put all the parts that were being transferred from the old building. This put a crimp into the schedule which we were attempting to be done with the construction by September 1st so that we could move into the building by September 15th. However with a lot of planning and pushing of the envelope, we managed to keep our schedule going without any significant delay.
Once the building was substantially complete, it was time to start working on the parking lot. A concrete apron was poured outside the new block building on the sloped surface from the building to the main parking lot grade. Then we needed to saw cut some of the asphalt and remove it to comply with the landscaping requirements of the parking lot. Next we had to knock down the wall at the front of the parking lot and rebuild it back by 10 feet to comply with our development requirements. Next we had to saw-cut the asphalt to install power to our electric gate and to get power to the rear corner of the parking lot for the new pole we installed for lighting the parking area. The automated sprinklers had to be rewired to accommodate the new configuration of the parking lot along with some new plumbing of the actual sprinkler heads. A slurry coat of the parking lot was done to finish off the remodeling along with restriping of the parking spaces. In all, there never seemed to be a lack of things to get done on this project.
While the building was being completed, I had to plan the move from the old building to the new building. This required figuring out the logistics of moving all of the equipment, parts, tools, test equipment, test fixtures, etc. The plan was to be working from the old location on Friday and working from the new location on Monday. The move was scheduled for Saturday and in order to be able to move such a large amount of stuff, we had to hire a moving company. We found a mover that specialized in moving industrial companies. They had many cabinets on wheels that had multiple shelves that could be rolled over to where the equipment was located, load the shelves, close up the cabinet and roll it onto the moving van. We obtained the cabinets several days ahead of the move and loaded everything that was not nailed down or in use at the moment onto the shelves and had them ready for loading onto the moving van Saturday morning. The entire crew came into the office on Saturday and continued loading the shelving which were then closed and locked, then taken over to the new shop to be unloaded. Part of the crew was at the new shop unloading the shelves and placing the equipment into the correct location. The office machinery was taken upstairs to the office area. After working a long day, we had almost everything moved from the old shop to the new shop with few exceptions. We had managed to get some basic setup put together so that on Friday afternoon we were still servicing radios for customers at the old location and on Monday morning it was possible to service most (but not all) models of radios at the new location for customers, thus having an almost seemless transition from the old location to the new location.
The next task was to remove all of the improvements from the warehouse building and return it to the state in which we had rented the unit 10 years earlier. We had built 3 offices on the ground level, plus we had built storage cabinets, 4 technician bays, and upstairs office and upstairs storage. All of these items needed to be removed since they were not wanted by the landlord as it would impair his ability to rent the unit to the next tenant. This took another 30 days of work about 6 hours per day to accomplish for one of our men which he did after completing his normal 8 hour work day on radio equipment.
The move continued for another 6 months as we had numerous “little” items to accomplish. We were working on decorations for the office including the upstairs office area and the downstairs hallways. We continued to wire up the test benches to be fully operational instead of having some basic temporary wiring to get the bench functional at a basic level. We were also converting the slanted built in desktops upstairs in several of the offices that were used for handling blueprints by the previous owner to flat desktops for our type of work. We had Loren’s brother Darrell build an entire room of custom built-in furniture for our upstairs file-fax-server-office supply room. So after all these projects were completed, we finally had our “dream” office which provided an efficient and great work environment for all our staff.
Under most circumstances, we would be done with the project by mid 1991 and that would be the end of the story. However, we had elected not to include the tower in the original plan with the City because we knew that it would cause significant delays. We could not wait any longer than we had already waited for the new office, so now it was time to start working on getting our new tower permitted. So now it was time to get a tower design from the tower manufacturing company and engage the architect to design the tower foundation and installation. After numerous conversations with the tower company, they supplied a viable tower design which was handed over to the architect to design the tower foundation. The architect then drew up the plans for the tower and the tower application was completed and then submitted to the City. It did not take long before we found out that the City was going to give us considerable trouble over the installation of our requested tower.
The City regulations regarding commercial antennas were minimal. It did not prohibit antennas anywhere in the City. The codes did establish a maximum antenna height for all structures of 85’ which we were considerably below. There were few restrictions which we did not cross, but it did require that we obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), so our plan was to apply for the CUP. We prepared the permit application and submitted it to the City. We were not sure what kind of response we were going to get from the City, but whatever the response, we felt certain that it was not going to be good.
The City staff reviewed the permit application and then produced a staff report. However, they exceeded my expectations by producing an absurd report that suggested that the tower lay down horizontally behind the parapet on the roof of our building so that it could not be seen instead of being installed vertically to provide the required antenna height to make the radio tower useful to provide good radio reception. We had applied for a 60’ tower which was not tall enough to receive signals from all tower sites, but it was tall enough to get reception from most tower sites. It was a good compromise between cost, performance and size, but the City felt that anything that we installed would be obtrusive. Our office is 2 blocks west and 2.5 blocks north of the intersection of Paramount Blvd and Alondra Blvd which the City considers to be “Downtown” Paramount. They felt that any radio tower that was installed at our office would be obtrusive and create an ugly eyesore for the residents of the Paramount. The staff report indicated that it would be highly visible from downtown and would ruin the ambiance of the downtown area. It was clear that this was going to require a significant fight.
To prove the City wrong, I decided to install a push up mast with an antenna on top of it to simulate the tower height. I went around the neighborhood to see where the push up mast and antenna were visible. I went to every intersection in the neighborhood and to the middle of the blocks in between the intersections and took pictures. (Back in those days, the City required that all pictures be taken as color slides that could be shown with a slide projector at the hearings as evidence which they kept and refused to return so none of those pictures are available.) The pictures clearly showed that the antenna and mast were rarely visible in the areas of concern. In one picture from the prime intersection where the City expressed its concern, I took a picture of the antenna with a 300mm telephoto lens to enhance the view of the antenna which was very difficult to see. When I showed the picture at the planning commission, I asked the commissioners to point out the antenna in the picture. After giving them at least a minute to find the antenna, none of them could point out the antenna. I proceeded to rub their noses in the fact that they could not point out the antenna and then proceeded to point out the antenna in the picture. “This picture was taken with my 300mm telephoto lens at full magnification and you could not point out the antenna! How could it be obtrusive?” They had no answer to the question.
The next thing that I did was to point out the various antennas and towers around the City. I took pictures of the Edison power line towers that dwarfed our tower and gave them a drawing of how our proposed tower compared to the existing Edison towers. I showed pictures of ham radio antennas, CB antennas, commercial antennas and TV antennas and how they compared to our project. All of these items had been installed without any permits from the City. I then proceeded to supply evidence as to why we needed the tower and how it was necessary for our operation.
The next subject that I addressed was the issue of the overhead utilities. The City claimed that it had an active utility undergrounding program and our tower request would fly in the face of their extreme effort to clean up the City from the blight of the overhead utilities. So before the next planning commission meeting, I decided to drive around the City and count the number of utility poles and number of miles of utility lines. I then took my notes and prepared a spreadsheet detailing my findings taking into consideration the City budget and the cost per foot (approximately $500 per foot back in 1991) and the number of miles of overhead utilities that needed to be converted to underground utilities. It showed that at the rate that the City was spending money to underground the utilities, it would take approximately 180 years to finish their undergrounding project. This blew away their argument after I stated that I would take down the tower after 180 years when they completed their underground project.
After much consideration, the planning commission decided to issue the tower permit over the objections of the City staff. You would think that this would be the end of the issue, but no it was not the end. The City codes allowed for the Mayor of the City to appeal any decision from the planning commission and there was no fee for the appeal. Any other person who appealed the decision would have to pay a $500 fee (in 1991 dollars) which stopped most people from filing an appeal unless they felt very strongly about the issue. However, the City manager did not like the planning commission decision so he got the Mayor of the City to file the appeal for no fee.
The appeal went to the City Council who would review the decision of the planning commission. The City Council was totally against the project and would not listen to any reason. They considered enacting a moratorium and changing the law to keep us from getting the tower, but eventually decided against that route. They finally decided to send it back to the planning commission with a requirement that we hire a consultant to validate our claims.
Now we had to go on a search for a consultant who would look at the situation and give his professional recommendations as to whether or not we actually needed the tower and what effect the tower would have on the City. The consultant was from another state, but he was willing to perform his analysis by having me take pictures around the City and send him the pictures. I also sent him a map of the tower sites that we were trying to receive along with radio propagation maps that showed which tower sites the tower would be able to receive and which ones it could not hear. The consultant performed an analysis of how the tower would affect the visual “blight” of the City and compared it to other items such as utility poles and how the power lines and telephone cables would draw your attention from one pole to the next, thus creating a significantly greater visual “blight” than the tower. He compared our proposed tower to the 500KV power lines that bisected the City numerous times and dwarfed our proposed tower. He pointed out how the tower was hardly visible from the downtown area. In short, he reinforced all of our arguments and presented a professional report that substantiated all of our claims. The planning commission proceeded to approve the tower, but with shortening the tower from 60 feet to 50 feet to demonstrate that they had accomplished something to mitigate the problem of our radio tower. This outcome was better than not getting a tower at all, but was less than desirable. We appealed the decision to the City Council who rubber stamped the decision of the planning commission.
Now it was time to sue the City of Paramount. We filed lawsuit claiming that the City exceeded its authority by the processes that they required us to follow, that their decision was not based upon the facts, that their decision was arbitrary and capricious, that we incurred numerous attorney’s fees and professional fees that we should not have had to endure and that the City needed to issue us the permit for the taller (60 foot) tower. The lawsuit took 3 years to be adjudicated and in the end, we won.
Now it was time for the City to process our permit for the tower. However, due to all of the problems that the City had put us through which was a significant detraction from our regular business, I decided that it was necessary to pay the City back for what it had done to us. I applied for the new tower, but made the request to be the full 85 feet (including the 3’ foundation, the 70’ tower and the 12’ of antennas sticking up above the tower) instead of being 60 feet tall as originally requested. The tower was approved with little or no fanfare or problems from the City.
Payback can be a bitch . . . . . . . .