A Dolorous 'Via Permita'

Yossi Sarid wanted to build a balcony and ran into a wall of red tape. Did he call Omri Sharon to take care of things and make his life easier? No, he did it the hard way. The Yossi Sarid way.

Since the scandal that met the first performance of Jean Genet's play, "The Balcony," there hasn't been such a commotion about a balcony. About a year ago, my wife got the frivolous idea of closing part of the balcony and adding 10.83 square meters to the area of our rooftop apartment. I have always hated having builders come into my home and fortress, but all my protests were to no avail. As it turned out, even my wife, with her optimistic energy, could not have imagined what the bureaucracy had in store. For my part, poring over the documents and papers now, I shall have great difficulty in reconstructing the Tel Aviv route to a permit, which is long and arduous and misleading.

As a first step along this "via permita," my wife hired the services of an architect to come and go to the municipal permits and supervision division. After that, we received and then returned a document at the land registry; we opened a file at the engineering authority; we prepared a sketch; we got the signature of the fire department and the civil defense engineer - after an inspection of the building's air-raid shelter; we got signatures from the other tenants of the building;

We had to search all over the country to find neighbors who had changed their address; we received permission from the city architect and the "information department"; we completed a "pink file"; we sent copies to eight neighbors, out of 26, who had not signed; we changed the sketch to adjust it to the general plan of the building; we were asked to trace someone who appears in a document as a tenant, but whom no one knows. At a later stage, and to our surprise, it turned out that our architect was registered as a practical, engineer and could only deal with registering buildings up to six storeys. We were registered as the seventh floor (this was a surprise to the architect too). We hired a new architect. Every move meant going back and forth, meetings, lines, having to wait, losing and finding documents, clerks being away, odd reception hours, telephone calls that went unanswered and e-mail that had not yet been provided, and endless other things.

Then, finally, about a month ago, the permits authority held a meeting and decided "to approve the request." The permission was granted "on condition that it is in accordance with the directives and demands of the city engineer" - a long list of demands that we found hard to understand even in the original Hebrew in which they were written (such as "noting the designation of the existing rooms and of the additions" and "bringing an autonomous bank guarantee, to ensure that the conditions of the permit are fulfilled, which is 10 times higher than the rate of the taxes according to regulation 19") and certainly do not bear translating into English.

Who can possibly follow them or understand them? We have given up, surrendered. We merely wanted an addition of 10 meters, and we wanted to build it according to the law. Even the Tel Aviv municipality cannot get suckers like us to stray from the path of the righteous, but if others, in their misery, do stray, we will not be the ones to blame them. Let the mayor, Ron Hulda'i, get up and do so.

That very same mayor who a while ago wrote us, "dear residents of the city," a nice letter: "We have recently set up a new system of services with a view toward easing and simplifying the process of issuing building permits which was [previously] clumsy and [involved a great deal] of bureaucracy ... We hope that with the improvement of the service, we will make it easier for a resident, that the waiting period will be shortened, that we will make the process more user-friendly and concentrate it in the hands of one person - one address for a client." Thanks to him for his letter - well done!

It's not so terrible. We will manage without the balcony. But what does someone do for whom the building permit is vital and urgent for his family life or for his business? I know what he will do after all the hazing: Either he will not care and will go ahead and build, or he will bribe someone. That is the inevitable outcome wherever decrees are imposed that the public cannot abide by. It is not for nothing that a system of "machers" has developed here. Together with an architect, you hire a macher who will carry out his mission, under the table if necessary.

The truth is obvious: I could have "organized matters" by making a telephone call. In the worst case, I would have approached Omri Sharon; he would have arranged it, and I would have been written down in his diaries. But I wanted to prove empirically the third Sarid Law. (The two previous ones are currently in the process of receiving permits and we shall see how much time elapses until they are approved). This is an iron-clad law - a law which shall be transgressed - when you go unto a vile bureaucracy, take your purse with you.