As an Architect it seems that my job in the last ten has become the bearer of bad news to each potential client, which are mostly homeowners. Between Zoning Ordinances, Fire Codes, Seismic Requirements, Neighborhood Associations, Energy Codes and recent changes to the Plan Check Process the cost of getting a permit and construction here has become the highest in the Country. The process has become so distasteful that many folks feel that it is just not worth the hassle to improve their property.
The result of this kind of thinking creates a lose-lose situation for all concerned. I figured out that any one of my typical projects (addition and alterations), depending on its scope of work, will create as little as 10 and as many as 40 jobs for engineers, contractors and the array of tradesmen to complete the work. Think about this statistic. This is one project in a small two-man office. Multiply the possible jobs created or not by 10-15 projects a year in one office and then factor in the hundreds or thousands of other professional offices, which are usually larger firms, the result of discouraging these permits becomes a staggering loss of revenue for the Cities, the Professionals, the Contractors and all the hard working Craftsmen (the back bone of our Country and Economy).
With that being said I have to strongly object to the adoption of the new Pacifica "Green Building Ordinance." The last thing we need in the worst economy in 50 years is more expensive regulations and more government intervention in our lives. People are really fed up with having the Building Department in their living room. I guess "Green" is the appropriate term for the money it takes to implement all these sustainable practices and systems. Now don't get the wrong impression about my viewpoint. For those that have worked with me and know how I live, they will attest to the fact that you will not find a person who is more concerned about the environment, waste, passive/active design and alternative energy.
Five years ago I had the opportunity to add on and alter my own home. I incorporated solar energy, better than code values of insulation where possible, energy efficient appliances, fixtures and finishes. For the past five years my electric bill has been under $500.00 and that includes a home office with radiant heat. The irony for me is that I have been studying and practicing "Green Building" since 1976, when I took a course in grad school called "Alternative Energy Design". My professors, at that time, called all these newly renamed principles of sustainable design "Good Architecture".
I also grew up in a family with parents that were born during the "Great Depression". It was considered a sin to waste anything and in 1960 (I was 8 years old) I assisted my Dad in bundling up paper, plastic and aluminum, loading up the trunk and driving several miles to the newly opened recycle center. He was truly way ahead of his time. So you see that you're preaching to the choir when it comes to "Sustainable Practices". The difference for me is that I CHOSE to do all these things because I believe it is the right way to go and I set my financial priorities to pay for it all. Human nature is an unpredictable variable, but it is my experience that the more you try to force (legislate) behavior, the more people resist. Anyone who has raised a child knows this to be true.
Regulations create an antagonistic atmosphere between the public and private sector. If you really want people to change or do something different, then give them incentives (monetary ones are a bit hit) not penalties. By the way, P.G. & E. paid for 1/3 of my photovoltaic system. That is the way to motivate people and bring about change. More government is not the way and its result is usually an erosion of community.
The above article was also a Pacifica Tribune letter-to-the-editor, printed 12/8/10.
Submitted by Neil Sofia, Principal Architect, Small Buildings, Inc.