Friday, August 18, 2006

Sun Valley to toughen energy standards

Express Staff Writer

In anticipation of the possible passage of Proposition 2 in November, the city of Sun Valley is accelerating adoption of energy conservation ordinances.

The city's comprehensive plan, updated last September, directs it to ensure that new development protects the environment and is energy efficient. The task of writing codes to meet those mandates has been made more urgent by Proposition 2, which would require cities to pay landowners for any reduction in their property values caused by passage of new land-use restrictions.

In 2003, the city adopted the International Energy Conservation Code, which sets maximum energy use for new construction based on buildings' efficiencies and sizes. However, the city is moving toward adopting tougher standards.

During a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16, the City Council directed the city's staff to write proposed ordinances based on laws passed by the state of California and by Marin County, Calif. Those laws require buildings of more than 3,500 square feet to be more efficient, and Marin County offers credits for the installation of solar energy panels.

The laws generally allow homeowners to decide how to meet the efficiency standards.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner David Brown told council members that his experience indicates that voluntary measures alone will not be effective.

"The people who come in here and talk to us on the P&Z don't really care," Brown said. He said many applicants have an attitude of "It's my dream house" and "I want, I want, I want."

Though council members agreed that people are becoming more accepting of solar panels on their neighbors' roofs, Brown said the issue is still a problem.

"If someone wanted to build a house with solar panels and the neighbors came in and said they didn't like the solar panels, I'd want to tell the neighbors to go (away), and I need some kind of ordinance to back me up," he said.

City Administrator Virginia Egger said tree planting should be regulated in such a way as to protect southern exposure of solar-paneled roofs.

City Attorney Rand Peebles pointed out that, whenever possible, energy-efficiency measures should be included in building codes rather than in planning and zoning ordinances to avoid possible "takings" claims.

He also recommended the development of an energy-efficiency checklist for building-permit applicants, so that each applicant would have to explain why he or she was not adopting recommended conservation measures.

"A lot of these people are absentee homeowners, and this information just doesn't get to them," Planning and Zoning Commissioner Joan Lamb said, agreeing with Peebles' suggestion.

The new standards would apply to both new construction and renovations.

The City Council also addressed the issue of water conservation. Egger pointed out that by far the biggest use of water is irrigation. The city uses about 1.5 million gallons of water per day in winter and about 7 million gallons per day in summer.

At 78 cents per 1,000 gallons, Water and Sewer General Manager Jack Brown said in an interview, "this is cheap water, and they use just as much as they can."

Brown said no one knows how much water is in the water table underlying the town. He said that in the drought year of 2000, the city was pumping air from its wells.

During Wednesday's meeting, Mayor Jon Thorson said the city and its water and sewer district needs to adopt rules in four areas:

· Setting higher fees for more water consumed.

· Metering indoor, not just outdoor, water use.

· Limiting the area at each home allowed to be irrigated.

· Requiring use of irrigation systems that distribute water according to different plants' needs.

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