Following up on a discussion from a meeting last month, council members at their May 1 meeting held a public hearing over a proposed ordinance that would require homeowners engaged in any home remodeling projects over $15,000 to install either a seismic gas shut-off device or an excess flow shut-off device. Both mechanisms are designed to automatically shut off the gas supply to a building in the event of a disaster. Installing the devices is expected to lessen the chances of explosions and fire after an earthquake.
At their April 3 meeting, members of the council were largely in agreement that the ordinance should be put into place; however, there was additional discussion over expanding the ordinance to include change of ownership as well as building permits. Because it was an amendment, the council had to continue the issue to May in order to give any opponents time to weigh in with their arguments.
Danville Chief Building Official Mike Leontiades addressed the council, explaining that adding the transfer of ownership to the ordinance would increase the number of homes required to add the shut-off valves.
"Total transfers of ownership is a lot more than building permits," he said.
While the council was basically in agreement over the need for installing the devices, there was some division among them regarding the specifics of the plan.
Councilman Newell Arnerich said he felt the excess flow shut-off valves were not sensitive enough to register a change in gas pressure before an accident could occur.
"There's equal concerns of valves getting tripped without a quake," explained Leontiades.
He added that it could take PG&E from two to nine days to get the gas valves turned back on.
"The excess flow valve only activates if there is a break in the line," Leontiades said. He advocated giving homeowners a choice between the two valves.
"I think they're dangerous," Arnerich said. "I think it's a false sense of security."
He said that as an architect he would not incorporate excess flow valves into a building he was designing.
Arnerich again questioned whether it made sense for the provision to include change of ownership of properties.
"How can we put the real estate industry in as our enforcement?" Arnerich asked. "We would have no authority."
Town Attorney Rob Ewing said he felt that once the real estate community became aware of the ordinance, it would lead to a higher rate of compliance.
Bielle Moore, Governmental Affairs Director for the Contra Costa Association of Realtors, disagreed. Moore said the burden of making sure the valves were installed would fall on the owners, not the Realtors. This could lead to dangerous situations.
"Everyone is assuming that it's being done at point of sale and it's being done well, but that is an illusion," Moore said.
Moore spoke of an incident where a valve was placed at point of sale and done incorrectly. It was months before the residents realized their new home had a slow gas leak.
Councilman Mike Doyle said if the point of sale requirement is kept, that Realtors could easily recommend a contractor to get the job done.
"I don't know a Realtor who doesn't have a number in his hip pocket of a roofer, a cement guy," he said.
"Our attorney has recommended to us that we should not recommend a contractor for an earthquake valve," Moore responded.
She explained that the possibility of something going wrong would create too great of a liability risk.
After several more minutes of discussion, Arnerich moved that the ordinance be approved without the point of sale provision. He also called for the minimum amount of the home project being lowered to $10,000 and suggested waiving the fee for two years. Council members called for a proactive education program.
Mayor Mike Shimansky opposed leaving out the point of sale.
"Why wouldn't anyone want this ordinance enacted?" Shimansky asked.
He pointed to a letter he had received from the California Professional Firefighters, which stated that numerous accidents and injuries could be prevented each year by using the shut-off valves.
"By doing what has been proposed we'll never get to the point when houses will have pressure valves," he said. "We'll be pussyfooting around for the next couple of years."
When the vote was taken, the amended ordinance was approved 3-1 with Mayor Shimansky casting the lone no vote.