Heads up Mendocino County. The onslaught on Class K (the more relaxed building standards for owner built limited density rural dwellings) is well on its way and won't stop now. The spirit and intent of Class K has been breached.
The news of immediate importance is that there were changes approved by the Board of Supervisors March 13th that will go into effect 30 days from that date, April 12th or thereabouts (unconfirmed as of press time). Some of the proposed changes the public was able to beat back. So, under Class K, water sprinklers will NOT be required and a solid perimeter foundation will NOT be required. Good so far.
However some changes that were approved may affect your future planning. The big bugaboo that slipped into the ordinance (seemingly unnoticed) was the "updating" of Class K standards to the current UBC code. This may not seem like a big deal but there are major consequences. Head of Building inspection, Mike Oliphant, acknowledged that there were hundreds of new code requirements that Class K applicants would be expected to follow. Not only might the owner-builder have difficulty understanding these new requirements, but it would be much more expensive for the homeowner. This obviously flies in the face of the intent of Class K.
So, folks, you’ve got less than three weeks to apply for a Class K permit or go for amnesty under the original Class K regs! If you don't apply before the changes take effect, you will be faced with way more, and way more complicated and expensive, regulations. It never should have come to this but here we are.
We hope to hear something from the county justifying these changes and explaining what they are, when they come into effect, and how it's going to cost you more. But pretty much you’re on your own. Call your supervisor, call the building department, and ask what is the NEED for these changes and what does this MORE REGULATION mean to the idea of Class K. Beware of the “happy talk” answers. Learn what these changes mean to you and know that you still have a few weeks to sign up for amnesty or a new Class K home permit under the original rules.
And here's a revelation: Class K is not tied to the Energy calcs, this from Mike Oliphant himself. Apparently Chris Warrick, previous head of Building, arbitrarily said so and we all believed him. Now Mike Oliphant a respected long time and experienced official.
The reasons for the NEED to "amend" Class K still remains a bit of a mystery. When asked, the Supervisors and Building and Planning staffers were not able to bring up a single case where a Class K permitted structure failed. There have been NO reports of ANY injuries, fires, or structural problems caused by Class K buildings! If it ain't broke don't fix it!
So why? What is the reason?
Usually you can follow the money, though how the county will make out on this is not obvious. What with the same charges for permits and with the added costs to the owner builder the county will only be creating more outlaws of people forced to be so regulated (safe?) that they can't afford to HAVE a home approved by the county.
How about politics? Certainly a lot of what created Class K in the late 70s/early 80s was political. But now? There does seem to be a residue of resentment at work. Do the bureaucrats fit in here? The Building Department has never embraced Class K. They are not innovators, they would prefer everything to be cookie cutter, one size fits all. It's understandable, their job is much easier if they don't have to think and can just point to a rule in a book. We could wish for a building department that would assist builders to build safe affordable homes, but the word from contractors and owner builders is that the new batch of inspectors is being trained to follow the rule book to the letter and the 16th of an inch. Mike Oliphant is assuring us all that the new crop of inspectors will be trained in Class K as well as regular code. How that plays out remains to be seen.
Somehow embodying some of all the reasons mentioned above is one guy, Lee Howard, associated with the North Coast Builders Exchange. Over a year ago he caught the ear of Michael Lockett. Who is Mike Lockett? He was head of Building and Planning a year or more ago, he lasted less than six months on the job. They felt that Class K needed "updating." Not because of any failure in the original ordinance but, in the ordinance's own words (chapter 18.23.442 (2), "The amendments proposed by the ordinance adopting this section of this chapter are reasonably necessary to place additional limits on the types of property and buildings to qualify for building permit processing under this Chapter 18.23, update certain building code requirements while still providing for the flexibility of allowing limited density rural dwellings a performance standard of evaluation, and require additional inspections to insure conformance with plans submitted."
WHAAAAAA? Excuse me? What are the reasons again?
At any rate, Howard and Lockett got it on the agenda of the Health and Safety Standing committee made up of Supervisors Hamburg and McCowen (who has NO Class K properties in his district). By the time the public got wind of what they were up to the committee had come up with quite a laundry list of restrictions. It became a struggle not so much of "Hey, there's no reason for this so cut it out," but having to argue each point as if it was already going to happen, the question being how many of their bullet points could be stopped? There also was a question of the state requiring certain regulations that would override our Class K. County counsel finally came up with the opinion that no, Class K COULD STAND AS IS! with the Wildland Urban Interface requirements being very difficult to override but still possible. But the train was out of the station.
The public finally woke up somewhat and began calling and emailing Hamburg and McCowen. Perhaps 20-25 people showed up at the final meeting of the Health and Safety committee. There was the Anderson Valley Housing Association who's argument (along with others) was a plea to maintain one of the few avenues for affordable housing left in the county, as the new changes proposed would increase the cost to an owner builder by an easy $40,000. There were several contractors who supported Class K as it is. They said it brought them work they otherwise wouldn't get.