Adventures in Government Land Use Regulation:

UCLA law professor Steve Bainbridge recounts the following personal experience with the LA land use bureaucracy:

My wife and I wanted to put an addition on our house here in the City of Los Angeles. Our general contractor told us that the first thing we had to do was get up-to-date zoning and property information from the Building Pemits Department. He recommended that we hire a "fixer" who was used to dealing with the bureaucracy. That was 2 months ago. Today, we were informed by the City zoning department that they could not give us the necessary zoning information ... because, according to zoning records, our house does not exist! On top of which, the zoning folks also had no record of the street on which we live.

I was speechless until it occurred to me to ask why, if our house doesn't exist, we have to pay property taxes and so on. The answer? "That's another department." Back to being speechless. I then recovered enough to ask what we had to do to have the existence of our house established, which I thought would be a simple process - after all, you can see it on Google Earth. I was told we would first have to have a hearing to determine whether the street that runs in front of our house is a public street or private road. Given the backlog, it would be about a year before that process could be completed. Then we'd have to have another hearing to establish the existence of our house. Then we'd have to apply for a building permit, geological inspection, etcetera etcetera. At which point, I gave up in despair....

Obviously, we should be cautious about generalizing from a single case. But it is worth noting that Bainbridge couldn't find a way to solve this problem despite the fact that he is a prominent legal scholar with (as he notes later in the post) connections in city hall. Things may be even worse for less well-connected LA property owners. The moral of the story: even seemingly reasonable government regulations may seem undesirable once we recgonize that they will be administered by bureaucrats with little or no incentive to cater to citizens' needs.

UPDATE: I initially forgot to link to Steve Bainbridge's original post. That problem has now been fixed.

UPDATE #2: To my mind, the biggest howler here is not that the City's records were so inaccurate (though that is bad enough), but that this relatively simple problem is likely to take years to fix.