City could shut down Hacker Dojo
Original post made
on Jan 26, 2012
City officials say that the popular classroom and open office space for computer programmers, Hacker Dojo, may be red-tagged and shut down on Jan. 31 if the non-profit does not meet some potentially pricey city code requirements.
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posted Thursday, January 26, 2012, 12:08 PM
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Posted by Jeff Lindsay
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm
It's true, there might be more blame on the city than they deserve. The nature of this community is heavily biased against bureaucracy. However, we've made a pretty strong effort to make progress with the city from the very beginning. Although we'd never opened a business in an improperly zoned building, we knew to go to the city and look into a change of use permit.
Yes, a fair amount of what we need to do we knew had to be done after the first few months. But our revenue then was below $8k/mo, so we tried to work with the city to see what was *really* important from a safety standpoint, with the intention of doing the rest as we could.
Now, perhaps what started a bad attitude towards the whole process was their understandable attempt to use this change of use event to bring every little thing into code. They looked at our building at said "you need x% of the *property* to be landscaping." Really?? So we worked with out landlord to see if we could improve that. And we did! In fact, we've been doing a lot of the things that we *can* do to bring everything up to code. But there is A LOT.
And yes, there's a lot we don't know, which you would think the city would be more helpful with. For example, one item on this long list was handicap parking. Hey, sounds reasonable! Talked to the landlord and it was easy enough to do. So we did it. Later when we went back to the city (which we do quite a lot), they said "oh, well you needed a permit before you could do that." Now we work with an architect that knows city code (because we can afford one now).
So while some of the codes are superficial, some are reasonable and required by state or fed laws but not necessary to maintain the health and safety of occupants, and some are very obviously for health / safety. It turns out the biggest cost ones are in the last category. However, there are different requirements for different levels of government. For example, in initial conversations with the city, they said "hey, we require sprinklers, but the state only requires a detection and alarm system. We'll cut you a break and not enforce our city requirements and let you get by with state level codes." Yes! Excellent! It's still expensive and a lot of work, but sounds good. Then with the expansion they came back and said, "Okay, nope, you need sprinklers. Now."
Anyway, my point is that I think our *frustration* with the city is reasonable, and it's hard to say whether it's frustration with Mountain View or any city government. But it's this frustration that leads to comments that sound like we're being victimized or that the city is screwing us. When we're told we need to spend money we don't have in order to keep operating, it *feels* like we're being screwed.
However, we have always made an effort to make progress. But we're also practical. We're not going to spend money we don't have before our business model is validated. Then we'd have gone through extra effort to raise money just to spend it, potentially for nothing, on top of what could be a failed venture. This is why we had to try and negotiate with the city or say we'd love to but we can't right now. And now we're reasonably validated, we're growing and doing pretty well. But that doesn't mean we can suddenly meet every requirement. Only in the last few months have been able to afford our first two employees.
Nevertheless, despite how hard it is to interact with and get a straight story, we believe the city *is* looking for progress and *does* want us here (we've never doubted that, but desires and actions are very different). Fire alarms are being installed as we speak, and we're looking at ways to raise money for the rest.
If I sound biased or frustrated, I am. And I also understand the city's side of the argument. But I'm glad we have Jon talking here because even though he's involved, he hasn't dealt directly with the city like I have. This seems to be how he's been able to not color things the way some of us have.
As a side note, none of us, not even David Weekly, are rolling in cash. Think of entrepreneurs as starving artists trying to make it big. Until they do, they are eating top ramen, keeping a tight budget, and giving up a social life. That's part of the reason why Hacker Dojo is here.