BLVD Sign Comes Down: What Went Wrong?

Burger shop owners fell into the cracks between the building and planning departments; they've dimmed their bright lights over Castro Valley -- at least for now.


The once-bright lights above Boulevard Burgers have been taken down, after Alameda County planning department officials said the sign violated rules prohibiting displays that rise above roof lines.

What caused this confrontation between business and bureaucracy that Patch wrote about Tuesday?

And what does the Boulevard Burgers affair have in common with the story of Muzo's -- the hot dog stand that can't open because it doesn't meet the standards for establishments on Castro Valley Boulevard?

The simplest answer is that county businesses must deal with two departments, building and planning, that don't always know each other's requirements.

Moreover, these two departments work in different agencies, Public Works and Community Development, respectively. So they have no common boss, other than the elected Board of Supervisors.

In writing this story Patch interviewed Gordon Galvan, partner in Boulevard Burgers; Bill Lepere, Deputy Director of Public Works; Albert Torres, Planning Department director, and Bob Swanson, aide to Supervisor Nate Miley.

Here's a distilled version of what thos interviews revealed.

The owners of Boulevard Burgers got a series of permits from the building department to open their restaurant.

But what they didn't know is that the planning department must approve all signs in advance.

This is especially important on Castro Valley Boulevard, which has special rules that prohibit signs that rise above roofs. Had the restaurant owners applied for a permit, planning officials would presumably told then that their sign did not pass muster.

So it's a mess and there's plenty of blame to go around:

  • The building department apparently did not tell the owners they needed to apply for a sign permit.
  • The restaurant owners assumed that, since their architect's plans showed their sign, and they got a building permit to open, that they were okay. We all know what happens when we assume, right?
  • And the planning department -- which rubber stamped each building permit issued -- apparently failed to ask whether a new sign was being installed; instead officials waited until 90 days after the restaurant opened to order the BLVD taken down. 

A similar confusion between building and planning occurred with Muzo's. Owner Marc Michieli is still trying to get the proper approvals and recover from his own mistakes (unlike Boulevard Burgers, he made improvements without a building permit; tsk-tsk).

The public can't get involved in the details of such disputes. 

But it is our job to step back and ask:

  • Do building and planning work hand in glove, or does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing?
  • Is there one page or or place where a prospective county business owner can go to find out what approvals they need and where to get them?
  • And if county officials can boil all this down to a checklist, how is a citizen supposed to navigate the system?

Are you a business owner who's gotten tripped by red tape? Sound off in the comments or email reporter Tom Abate.


Ron January 18, 2013 at 12:20 AM
Keep in mind Bob Swanson with the County of Alameda and a Castro Valley resident works his heart out night and day, even weekend all to support the residents and business of Castro Valley. He really dose care as dose Nate Milley
Ron January 18, 2013 at 01:07 AM
I learn from a very reliable source the County of Alameda has a planing department that almost hold your hand through the review process and provides a list telling the business just what permits are required. Blvd Burger was made aware there was a sign permit required. And the owner was totally aware of the requirement for and he also has other business in Alameda and was in a position in San Leandro that provided him with the knowledge there was a permit required. Unfortunately we, including myself jump to conclusion without all of the fact. Alameda county has a one step planing department that provides any owner a complete guide to what is required in the permit process. In essence they hold your hand in the process. The county really work hard to get the right conclusion. The County of Alameda, along with Bob Swanson and Nate Milley are all business friendly. They want to see old and new businesses succeed because that is what generate tax revenue. So it's wrong to jump to conclusions without all of that facts. I did and that is wrong. Ron Braun
Katie Drake January 18, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Thank you Bob, that is good to know. I will find out how to let the MAC know my thoughts.
Fred Eiger January 31, 2013 at 03:46 AM
This whole scenario is retarded.
Ron January 31, 2013 at 05:15 AM
I find that statement retarded. Do you only want regulations that suite you? Regulation are necessary. Without regulations anybody could put up whatever they wanted, anywhere they wanted. There would be no safety as to how a sign (just an example) is mounted mounted to a building. It could fall off or be blown over in a gust of wind killing or injuring people. I'm sure you read about the fire in Brazil. The club where 240 or more young people were killed this weekend in a fiery inferno . Every regulation there was was ignored. Regulations are a necessity of life. Ron B


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