The Hot Blond Returns
Oh hell, I thought. Here she comes again, but I did a double take. She didn’t look hot. She looked bedraggled and distracted. She was trying: tight jeans, heels, and a thin blouse with spaghetti straps. And it was at the same restaurant, The Lumberyard, the same barkeep Jean, and the same gin martini. But her face was sunken, empty.
She saw me, half-waved and half-smiled. She walked slowly; her heels did not clickedy-clack as she made her way over. It seemed an effort for her to put one foot in front of another.
“Hi,” she said, “You’re Mike, right?” Yes, I replied, and, “You’re still Petra, right?” She nodded, saw Jean and ordered a double martini.
“I need a stiff drink. It’s been a lousy few months. I tried Newport thinking it at least has some action. Yeah, right. Everyone there is on a hustle. God, it was depressing.”
Her drink had arrived, but she just stared down at it. “Hey,” I said,
“Bung ho” and raised my glass to hers. “Have a sip.” I paused, then asked, “Petra, what’s really wrong?”
That got a long slow look as she decided whether to answer. Finally, “I wanted to find a place I can call my real home. New York wasn’t it. San Francisco wasn’t it. L.A., Seattle, the flyover states, Newport; none of them is it. I thought Laguna would do the trick. The people here are friendly, well-educated, and well….you know, the beach.”
“So I leased a tiny house here in Laguna, a shack really, but it is close to the beach and I thought I’d give this town a try. Okay?”
“Have you met some nice people?”
“Yeah, sure of course. This is Laguna, but the day after I moved in an obnoxious women showed up unannounced, told me she was from something called code enforcement, and demanded to inspect the house for violations.”
“I don’t know. Something to do with building code violations. I told her to get a damn search warrant. The nerve showing up like that.”
Now I knew what she was talking about. There is a whole division in the city dedicated to “policing” random homes looking for code violations. Simple things usually, like windows that were installed 30 years ago without a building permit. Almost all older houses have some sort of violation and the code police are widely feared. Not merely feared; it is more like a primeval dread. Their demands can cost you tens of thousands.
Also, it turns neighbor against neighbor. What are normal neighbor complaints, such as parking, always a problem, escalate into conflicts fueled by “anonymously” informing code enforcement about code violations at another house. Then when code enforcement barges in with its heavy hand, neighbors really start hating each other.
It sucks and the city doesn’t care. It’s stupid laws encourage it.
Let me state that again: the city’s own laws pit homeowner against homeowner and the city does not care. The city creates the disharmony.
Individual council members acknowledge it is a problem, but they just shrug. Hey, it’s Laguna.
Petra wasn’t on a roll, but she leaned into me anyway. That is her style. Get into the other person’s face. Grab their arm. Invade their personal space. Tonight, though, she was halfhearted.
She slowly shook her head. “I talked to a guy who owns a home next to Coast Highway. His six-foot fence there was old and rotted and he replaced it with another, duplicate six-foot fence. Then someone from code enforcement wrote him a letter demanding three things: 1. That he get a demolition permit to tear down the old fence. 2. That he get a building permit to build the new fence. And get this, 3. That he get a permit from Caltrans, a huge state bureaucracy, to re-build the fence because it is next to a state highway.”
“Can you believe this? For replacing a fence?”
She sighed, paused, seemed lost again in thought, and then wistfully said, “This city had this reputation. It was known for artists and gay clubs and freedom and surfing and Timothy Leary, openness, really, and it sounded like a perfect Utopia to me, but the truth is that city doesn’t exist anymore.” She was speaking slowly, “It just does not exist anymore.”
Petra had finished her drink and was staring straight down. I patted her on the shoulder and left.
Local Michael Ray is a real estate investor and developer and founding board member of several Orange County nonprofit initiatives.