Is clearly, clearly, the exit of the department of Building and Safety. Every guy who comes out of there has just finished having his livelihood messed with by an ignorant municipal employee, and paying for the privilege.

I remember the first time the permitting system was described to me; I was about eight years old, and it still sounded insane, even at that level of ignorance. I kept asking questions about it, hoping to discover the underlying reality that made sense of it all. “Well, does the inspector help?…Well, then does he like show you how to do it? Well…does he know a lot? Does he give you something nice if you pass inspection? You can’t be telling this story right, why would that even happen??” And I got back the not very satisfying answer that that’s just the way it is.

Now that I’ve learned far more than I ever wanted to about permitting and inspection, I can safely say that my uncle was telling the story correctly. The building department provides nothing of value, and collects money for it.

The largest jurisdiction that I commonly deal with has its permit desk on the fifth floor of a fourteen-story, plush, air-conditioned edifice of government. Little bit of background: This is a county office, covering a vast territory. Perhaps because of economies of scale (har har) they have been for years notorious for slowness in processing permits. More recently, some activism stirred up the elected officials in the county to do something to “help.” So they legislated in a 30-day maximum for their employees to process a permit, which, believe it or not, would have been a major improvement in the speed with which these people check your papers.

So when I walk in there I’m handed a notice about permit processing in my trade, which mentions the above statute (so that we know what they’re retaliating against) and says that they have imposed stricter requirements to enable them to meet this goal. Now in the abstract that makes sense, what doesn’t make sense is the actual requirement: All plans must be drawn up by licensed engineers and stamped with their official seal. The same kinds of engineering firms that jurisdictions sometimes outsource their plan check duties to. Real experts in the fields in which these public servants try to muddle through. The kinds of outfits you might hire if you wanted to make sure a complex building would stand up instead of fall, quite independent of the question of codes and rules. In other words, the new requirement is that you (the contractor) must find somebody else to do 100% of the county’s job, pay them to do it, then bring the plans to the county so that they can NOT check them…and still pay the same fees. The already light burden of checking plans has been shifted in full to private engineering firms, so that the officials can focus on their true purpose: Collecting money using threats.

So yeah, if you’re looking for the right spot to stand to hand out copies of Power and Market or some little tract explaining the strict liability system and the benefits of dissolving regulatory bodies, so as to convert regular people into Libertarians, go down to the county offices and ask for Building and Safety.