Tonight’s Mission Viejo City Council agenda features a proposal to mandate hugely expensive fire sprinkler systems for private residents wanting to remodel their homes under many circumstances. This is just another unneeded incursion into our private lives as “big government” tries to tell us what is best in an area that should be left to purely personal choice – especially since the cost/benefit for this mandate is far from clear. If every home in Mission Viejo were subjected to this new ordinance, the cost to the City’s residents would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for what looks to me to be a negligible benefit.
In a nutshell, the proposed ordinance would require a sprinkler system to be retrofitted for the entire house for any remodel or addition of 1,000 square feet to an existing home. The ordinance does not take into consideration existing fire protection measures already in place in the home, the age and quality of construction of the building or whether the home is in a high fire risk area.
Ironically, according to Orange County Fire Authority policies the key provisions to minimizing fire risk in high fire risk areas are 1) fire-retardant roofs, 2) fuel modification surrounding the housing community, 3) use of construction materials and techniques for exterior walls, and 4) streets wide enough to allow emergency vehicles into the area at the same times residents are evacuating. [California Building Code, Roofing and Roof Structures, Emergency Supplement, Title 24, Part 2, Section 1503.1; Orange County Fire Authority, Fire Master Plans for Commercial & Residential Development, Guideline B-08; Orange County Fire Authority, Fuel Modification Plans and Maintenance Program, Guideline C-05.] Sprinklers for existing homes didn’t make the list.
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Keith Richter has argued that,
While philosophically I appreciate the argument that government already mandates too many of our individual choices, I suggest that safety concerns deserve special consideration.
Not exactly sure what that means, but I would argue the other way and say that unless there is a compelling reason for the government to impose a safety regulation at great private expense it shouldn’t be done. The government routinely makes public safety decisions that properly weigh cost/benefit. Aviation deaths could be demonstrably reduced by the imposition of additional safety measures, but those safety measures would add so much weight to a plane that it would double or triple ticket prices.
I would urge the Mission Viejo City Council to ask a number of questions of Chief Richter tonight such as REAL cost/benefit, differences between high risk/non-high risk communities, additions or reductions to fire protection staff as a result of the ordinance. I would hope that if the ordinance is adopted, the new “safety” protections would result in the need for less fire personnel, but I somehow imagine that like many public programs it will result in a net gain of personnel for the agency “suggesting” the ordinance because of the need of recurring sprinkler inspection.