What, no showers?

David Robert was fighting mad when rules imposed on his business were not imposed on his neighbor.

David Robert was fighting mad when rules imposed on his business were not imposed on his neighbor.

SN&R Photo By Ken Widmann

Ken Widmann writes about the People’s Republic of Davis.

NEXT WEEK: inspector vs. inspector

Last week we spoke with a contractor, Mike Pesola, who learned to navigate Davis’ building codes without a hiccup. Not every small-business owner can relate. Witness David Robert’s experience. In January 2001, Robert, an Air Force pilot and local resident, decided to open a Marble Slab Creamery. He leased a vacant storefront in south Davis and paid an architect who specialized in converting such things to draw up the plans.

The retail space Robert leased was a “vanilla shell”—completely empty, save for a bathroom in the rear left corner. According to Robert, city-planning officials rejected the architect’s blueprints because they provided for only the one bathroom. Two were needed, Robert was told, one per gender.

“The bottom line is we had eight seats total,” recalls Robert with a laugh. “Why did we need two separate, ADA-approved bathrooms?”

The Americans with Disabilities Act approval requires restrooms large enough for wheelchairs to pivot 360 degrees. Mind you—this was an ice-cream store. The front was not much more than a few display cases, four tiny, round metal tables and a handful of chairs. Most customers purchased a cone or a cup and left.

Robert asked if unique male and female restrooms were really necessary for what was essentially an ice-cream stand. Yes, the planner replied, for three reasons: You are a food establishment, you have tables in your restaurant and you have male and female employees. So Robert, a cheerful and amiable sort, shrugged and set to work ripping out the existing bathroom and constructing two new ones at a cost of $15,000 each, including fixtures.

Marble Slab and its two glorious restrooms celebrated a grand opening in late May. One morning a few weeks later, Quiznos opened next door.

“I walked into Quiznos,” says Robert, still incredulous seven years later. “And they’ve got full food—hot food, cold food, sandwiches, seating booths, the whole nine yards. And one bathroom!”

“This is your only bathroom?” he practically shouted at an employee.

It was.

Livid, he drove straight to the city planner’s office and demanded an explanation. The receptionist excused herself and disappeared into the back. Returning after a bit, she said, “Well, the planner’s a little busy right now; he doesn’t have time to go over it with you, but he says to tell you that ‘the rules have changed.’”

The rules have changed? “OK,” said Robert, with the steely resolve of the righteous. “I’m going to work. When I come back later this afternoon, I want you to show me evidence of exactly where and when the rules changed.”

Hours later, Robert returned from work still wearing his military uniform. This time, the tone at the planning office was decidedly more welcoming. A chair was offered, pleasantries exchanged. The planner finally appeared. “What can I do for you?” he said.

“I’m here because I had to put in two freaking bathrooms, and Quiznos only put in one,” said Robert.

The planner began pulling books and technical manuals off the shelves, stacking them high around the table at which Robert was sitting and quoting obscure plumbing codes. None of it had to do with tables or food or male and female employees. Says Robert, “He was just trying to get me lost in this labyrinth of rules and regulations, which I didn’t buy one bit. It was a smoke screen.”

Perhaps realizing it wasn’t working, the guy stopped.

“Well—what would you have done with the space anyway?”

“Storage,” said Robert. “But I don’t care about the space so much as the $30,000 you cost me.”

The planner chewed on this last remark. “Well,” he said. “I can’t officially tell you do to this, but if I were you, I would just make one of the bathrooms unisex and use the other as a storage closet.”