Frustration and outrage at governmental inefficiency, redundancy and piled-on fees often would cause lower Russian River building contractor Rene de Monchy to just about blow a rivet.
Attempting to get a grasp on what it is that a plethora of public agencies and volumes of regulations demand of a person hoping to build or improve a home, de Monchy said in 1994, is “like trying to put your finger on a piece of mercury.”
Though he could lose his cool with Sonoma County officials who handle requests for building permits, de Monchy for the most part held it together. And starting decades ago, he channeled his vexation with a multiheaded planning-and-permit bureaucracy into positive action.
De Monchy took a leading role in advising the county on how to streamline and humanize its construction-related agencies and processes.
“Rene was one of the leaders in the construction industry who really started a revolt,” said Tennis Wick, since 2013 head of the Permit and Resource Management Department, also known as Permit Sonoma.
“Both by degree of effort and span of time, I would say he had the greatest impact (on streamlining) of anyone in the county’s construction industry.”
De Monchy had showed no signs of being ill when he died in his sleep at his Guerneville home early in the morning of Aug. 14. He was 68.
His wife the past 19 years, Dianne de Monchy, said Sunday it was the high value he placed on fairness that drove him to agitate for better treatment of people whose simple desire to fix up an old house might drop them into in a maddening and costly maze of regulatory obstacles.
“He tried to get things changed so (the permit process) wasn’t so difficult and unfair,” she said. “He was a loving and caring person who wanted people to have an easier time.”
Rene de Monchy was owner- operator of HomeWorks, a small construction company that in recent years focused mostly on consulting with property owners who needed help obtaining building permits or bringing homes or cabins or other structures into compliance with local land-use regulations.
The native of Maryland began building homes and taking on other construction projects in Sebastopol, Forestville and elsewhere in west Sonoma County in the early 1970s. Twenty years later, he was steaming over how difficult and costly it had become to obtain a building permit from the County of Sonoma.
He told former Press Democrat reporter Mary Fricker early in 1994 that he prided himself on giving his customers accurate estimates of how much time and money a project would take, but the county bureaucracy made it nearly impossible for him to contain costs and keep to a schedule.
Part of the problem, he said, was that a variety of county agencies regularly issued, revised or reinterpreted construction and land-use regulations, making it virtually impossible for people like him to stay abreast.
In July of 1993, de Monchy authored a petition that urged the county to post in a central location all of its new or revised requirements related to construction. More than 100 construction professionals signed his petition, and in the fall of ’93 the county installed the requested bulletin board.
De Monchy subsequently helped create, and then joined, an advisory board of people from the construction industry eager to see the county make meaningful improvements in how it processed building permit requests, charged construction-related fees and worked with the owners of residences found to be out of compliance with codes.
De Monchy told the PD in 1994, “I’m totally convinced that even if I’m the last man standing, this work has to be done.”
In 1995, Sonoma County merged five regulatory agencies into one, the Permit and Resource Management Department. De Monchy maintained his mission to bring further efficiency and fairness to county processes through his service on PRMD’s Director’s Advisory Group. Director Wick notified his staff of de Monchy’s death with a mass email.
“He cared deeply about the success of our organization and its impact on his business and our common customers,” Wick wrote. He said de Monchy “used his anger constructively” to help bring about the creation of the PRMD, now branded as Permit Sonoma.
Dianne de Monchy said her husband had been thinking of late about retiring. The two of them purchased a travel trailer and spoke about hitting the road.
But the contractor and consultant still was working full time with property owners requiring help to get what they needed from local governments.
“Because of who he was, he was not going to let anybody down,” Dianne de Monchy said.
She said her husband had an aortic valve replaced a couple of years ago and had been treated for an aneurysm, but prior to just a week ago seemed perfectly fine. It appears that while sleeping not long after midnight Sunday night he suffered a heart attack.
A stepdaughter, Shana Barrett of Sebastopol, has opened a crowdfunding account, gofundme.com/renedemonchy, to help cover his final expenses.
In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, de Monchy is survived by a sister, Benigne Roulet of Switzerland; a brother, Pieter de Monchy of Carlsbad; a stepdaughter, Dawn Ramey, of Guerneville; a stepson, Nicolas Whitaker, of Forestville; and three grandchildren.
He will be buried in a private ceremony at Green Valley Cemetery.
A potluck celebration of his life will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 9, at his family’s Guerneville home. Friends are asked to RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and email@example.com.