Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Heading to Oroville

The Oroville House (Before).

Sunnyvale, CA - Please indulge me. This is less a post about pictures and travel and more about an epic tale that began late last April and somewhat ended late last Wednesday. It's about Oroville, CA and a place my brother is working on up there. It's about trying to help and having to bail. To be consistent however, I've also added some travel pictures to the the end of the post.

This whole story started for me with a phone call from my brother last April. He had bought a lovely piece of property with a house on it up in Oroville, CA and had my mom's cousin, Paula, up there working on renovating the place (a deal they had worked out. He would fund the work and she would run the project). What started out in the fall as a quick paint and clean up job had, six months later, morphed into a major renovation. Kevin had been a little distracted by the birth of his first child in January and had not been checking in on Paula as often as he would have liked. When he finally did take a trip up to the property, things were quiet a bit different than he expected. That's when he called me.

What he found was a completely gutted house. He found piles of garbage and debris. He found Paula, strung out on red-bull with wild plans and dreams about what this house could become. She had boxes of receipts mixed in with old video tapes, cleaning products, and some DVD's about how to "get rich quick", but no record of where the money he had given her had gone. There was a storage unit in Oroville with tons of old paint, six toilets, a bath tub, more old video tapes, drywall, flooring, and gas fireplace in it. The project was a complete mess that he needed cleaned up.

After talking with him, I agreed to drive out to California to take a look at the place. I agreed to spend a week or so putting together a cost estimate and advise on how best to proceed. The idea was to get Paula back on track. Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

A big part of the problem was that Paula had very different ideas for the project than the budget would allow. Another big part of the problem (although probably a good thing) was that by gutting the place, she had exposed many problems with the house including dry rot, structural issues, leaks, and infestations. It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a bit of a money pit, and just to put it back together was going to bust the budget in a big way. There would be nothing left over for added frills. Another big part of the problem was that Paula took this news poorly.

Here is a link to a complete set of "before" photos that I took of the house when I arrived:  http://picasaweb.google.com/somehowlost/OrovilleHouseBeforePics?authkey=Gv1sRgCMvz2fLz_dOJjwE#

I was asked by Kevin to come in and help him and Paula out, but I ended up stirring up a major shit storm. Paula immediately thought I was there to take the project away from her and that I intended to undo or change all of her plans. There was obviously a disconnect between what she wanted to do and what Kevin wanted to pay for and I pointed it out. While they discussed matters I went home to Colorado.

By mid-June, one trip to Alabama and a canoe trip later, Suwei and I were back in California and ready for stage two of the Oroville Adventure. Kevin, Paula and myself had come to an agreement. Kevin, being the owner and only investor in the project would take complete control. Paula would be compensated for her work if a profit was realized. And, I would take over the day to day management in order to put the house back together for the minimum amount of cost. The idea was to slam the place back together in about 2 months. Get in, patch it up, get out and go home to Colorado.

Well... the very first day we started work, the county building inspector showed up and shut us down for building without a permit. Now, both Kevin and I are aware of the permitting requirements and I am not going to go into detail here why we chose to proceed without one. However, I will say that in that one afternoon the project scope changed significantly. What was once a quick flip, a little painting and patching, now was a full blown renovation needing engineered plans, county and state inspections, much more money and much more time. I had no idea what Kevin was going to do next.

This all happened at the end of June. By that time Suwei had accepted a new job in California and had picked a start date in mid-August. So, I packed up my stuff boarded up the house, and got out of dodge. In July Suwei and I flew back to Colorado to pack up and rent out our town-house. In August we stuffed the bare necessities (burning man supplies) into the VW and went on a two week road trip to avoid reality for a while.

When we got back to California, we learned that Kevin had started the process of getting permits for the house. He had hired an Engineer and had obtained engineered plans for the renovation. He also asked if I was still interested in working on the project. I wasn't.

Here's the problem. Oroville is 3 1/2 hours north of Mountain View, where Suwei was just starting work. Suwei at that time was about 1/2 through her pregnancy with our first child. I was out of time and I needed to be close to her. I told Kevin I would help him get things started again, but would quickly have to remove myself from the project.

Which brings us pretty much up to date. In September I went back up to Oroville for about two weeks to get things started up again. Kevin and I have been working with Brock, a local carpenter whom we both feel we can trust to take over the day to day stuff. It's been a few days now and things seem to be working out.

Anyway, that's the Oroville epic in a nutshell. There have been a lot more twists and turns to the story that I have omitted for both the sake of simplicity and the fact that I'm just not a good enough writer to make it interesting.

Here are some photos from my first trip out to Oroville, CA last May.  These were just about all taken just outside of Salt Lake City, UT.

You can see more photos from my trip in the slide show. Just click the link below.

Heading to Oroville

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