Home repairs may get extra fee

Homeowners in San Luis Obispo County who do more than $10,000 worth of home repairs will have to conduct an individual home energy audit under a proposal adopted narrowly by the Board of Supervisors this week.

The audit — which will show homeowners ways to save energy — costs about $400, but proponents say it could save more than that amount by pointing out ways to reduce gas and electric bills.

In addition, proponents said, the audit does not require the homeowner to do anything. It is merely informational and, they said, potentially helpful.

The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Those arguments did not carry a lot of weight with Supervisor Frank Mecham and several people in the audience, who called the proposal, in the words of opponent Laura Mordaunt, “a boot on the throat of the homeowner.”

The proposal was part of a larger energy-saving plan for residential and commercial users put forth by county planners after years of discussions at meetings throughout the county. The plan has been tweaked repeatedly to accommodate the thoughts of architects, home builders, engineers, planners, city officials and “the green building community.”

It applies only to the county, and would not be followed within the boundaries of the county’s seven cities.

The plan is intended to bring local regulations in line with the state, which 2 1/2 years ago adopted a “green building code” known as CALGreen.

The state, however, aimed its energy-saving restrictions only at new construction, not existing buildings.

Local planners objected because making only new construction energy efficient was “missing the bulk of our building stock,” as planner Ryan Hostetter put it in a report to the Board of Supervisors.

Mecham asked the planners who in the county government decided to be more stringent than the state. Nobody answered, but Hostetter, in a later email to The Tribune, said, “The Department of Planning and Building provided the recommendation, which was the outcome of the technical process which created the ordinance language.”

Supervisor Jim Patterson said in an email that it’s “imperative we do include remodels if we really want to make a dent” in improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases.

“When you think about the amount of existing structures (residential and nonresidential), if you only applied the new standards to new construction, it would be decades before we realized a significant improvement from the built environment as a whole,” Patterson wrote.

Although the ordinance is complex and has many parts, the sometimes heated discussion focused on whether the government has the right to tell a homeowner he or she must conduct an energy audit.

“They (energy experts) are going to come in my house and look at stuff,” said Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business.” Let people manage their own business.”

“It makes people nervous,” said Mecham, who added that the regulation might lead to people “bootlegging” or doing construction without going through the county.

“I can see just see a lot of things happening without a permit,” he said.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson retorted that “a lot of things are already happening without a permit.”

Supervisor Adam Hill derided the Brown-Mecham line of thought as “a phantom threat — that people are going to be in your house” with nefarious intent. He called it “the default position of the demagogue.”

He called the ordinance a “useful tool,” resulting from “good tradeoffs,” and criticized Brown, Mecham and others for “an intentional fudging of what’s being asked” of homeowners.

While eight or 10 people opposed the ordinance, half a dozen supported it or took a nuanced position between support and opposition. For example, Jerry Bunin, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast, said he supported the ordinance as adopted, but suggested that the language be clarified later to make it easier for the average person to understand.

The vote was 3-2, with Hill, Gibson and Patterson in suppor t and Mecham and Paul Teixeira opposed. Teixeira did not explain the reason behind his vote.