By Jack King
Is the building inspections process a necessary evil or a bureaucratic roadblock on the business highway?
Opinions vary depending on a person’s experience and perspective. Some contractors are among the first to defend the process.
Mike Mendoza is owner of Guadalajara Restaurant, 916 L Casillas Blvd. He opened a delicatessen branch called Guad To Go at 2916 N. Prince Street last year. Mendoza said he thinks inspectors sometimes throw their weight around and the process needs to be “loosened up a little bit.”
“When we redid this building on Prince Street, most of the inspections people were great. The only person I had any trouble with was an inspector for the state environment department,” he said.
“I had bought some used equipment. I bought it from a reputable dealer in Amarillo and it had its National Sanitation Foundation approval tag, but I didn’t have the receipts. He threatened me that if I didn’t have the paperwork, I couldn’t open,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said a week before Guad-to-go opened he dealt with another inspector from the same department who gave them a top grade.
Sid Strebeck, one of the partners who remodeled the old Furrs Cafeteria at 810 E. 21st St. into the Master’s Centre, a Christian bookstore with space for other businesses, said inspectors didn’t hinder that project. But Strebeck said there are some parts of the building code that go beyond protecting public health and welfare.
“Particularly when you retrofit a building, you need to know what changes need to go with what use. If a particular aspect of the code is not aimed at protecting health and welfare, we should have some latitude and there should be an appeals process,” he said.
“For example, a smaller sewer line might go with your use. Later on you might have to re-lay it and that could mean tearing up the building, but that should be up to the owner. There should be options,” he said.
Strebeck said code requirements such as those setting the size of corridors could result in wasted space, without directly helping public health and safety. Requirements that parts of the project get separate architects’ or engineers’ stamps cost builders time and money, and may be unnecessary if a professional designer has drawn plans for the building.
“The good of the people is best served by looking at the big picture. If we get too restrictive, we wind up hurting the very people we’re trying to protect, through less business and higher costs,” he said.
David Petty, another partner in the Master’s Centre who has built commercial structures and churches in Clovis and elsewhere, said he takes a neutral position on the process.
“I’m just going to do the best I can and work with the inspectors and try to educate them. They’ve been handed rules to enforce and are trying to do their job just like you or me,” he said.
Dennis Rogers, owner of Suden Inc. builders, said builders in Clovis have problems with the state electrical inspector, but the problem is not with the way he inspects buildings, but the fact that he is overworked.
“The guy just has too much of an area to cover — half the state. If we happen to miss him one week, it’s another week before he comes back to town. It’s not the guy himself. He’s doing a good job,” he said.
Inspections, Rogers added, are a necessary evil.
“Every contractor has be held responsible for his work, especially if it’s a place where people will live and work. It’s like (a news reporter) writing a story. You can read and reread that story and not see an error, because you know what’s supposed to be there. But an editor will look at it and see the error. It’s the same thing with construction. (A contractor) will be working on a job and you’ll know what you’re planning to do. An inspector can come in and see an error you don’t see,” he said.
Butch Dunn, owner of the Towne Crier audio store who does a variety of electrical work, said once inspectors forced him to dig up and reroute a gas line into his building that he had laid under a slab.
“I (complained) and carried on, but they were right and I was wrong, because an undetected gas leak could have caused an explosion,” he said.
Inspections are good for the industry, Dunn said.
“Dorman (Austin, the state electrical inspector) is good for the industry, because he doesn’t let you get away with anything. That’s better for the building owner and it saves lawsuits for the builder down the line,” he said.
“Are we over regulated? No. There was a house in Portales that blew up near a school. As I remember, it killed two people. Regulation that stops that kind of thing is good,” he said.
Petty said he advises those upset with regulation to get involved with the system.
“If we don’t like what we adopt, we need to fix it. Get on some committee and try to fix it,” he said.
He added that working within the system can often be frustrating.
“I’m not sure that everything we don’t like (about the system) can be fixed,” he said.