Citizens group sounds off on sprinklers issue: Fire chief says it’s to protect community and save lives |

Citizens group sounds off on sprinklers issue: Fire chief says it’s to protect community and save lives

Amanda Fehd

South Shore’s new sprinkler ordinance has some people a little cranky.

“It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said businessman Lou Pierini after attending a board meeting of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District on Thursday night.

The ordinance comes from the 2001 California Fire Code, but was not enforced here until February of this year. Both the city of South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Lake Valley have adopted the rules, which could increase the cost of home construction by $20,000.

It requires new homes and significant remodels without sufficient water flow to install sprinklers. In some circumstances, a fire hydrant or large water tank may also be required.

In the Lake Valley district, public notices were sent out last spring, but no one commented on the ordinance and no one showed up at the public hearings, according to Fire Chief Jeff Michael.

“Nobody got upset about this until it hit them,” said board member David Huber.

For Michael, the ordinances are first and foremost about saving lives.

“We are just trying to protect our citizens and our community,” he said.

But for the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Government, the ordinance is another layer of government in an already overregulated area.

“Lake Valley is starting to get the reputation that TRPA has, and that’s not flattering,” doctor Pat Martin told the board. “Give us a choice, don’t mandate it.”

Martin is building a home in the county and said he’s already decided to install sprinklers after seeing a video on their benefits to saving lives. However, sprinklers may not be enough in his instance, and he may be looking at having to install a large water tank.

He said the ordinance was “harming members of the community” by adding thousands of dollars to the costs of construction.

A typical sprinkler system could run up to $20,000. Huber contended those costs could be recouped over 30 years through insurance discounts for sprinklers.

South Tahoe Public Utility District is in the midst of a multi-decade project to update and enlarge water pipes in South Shore. The district has spent $23 million since 1994, and has slated another $18 million for the next 10 years.

Lake Valley has measured the pressure at a large portion of hydrants in their district and 60 percent of them are meeting the flow requirements.

Martin, businessman John Cefalu and others asked the board why they did not consult more with the water district before enacting the code.

“It does not make sense to enforce a code before you know the infrastructure capabilities or the people it will affect,” Martin said.

Huber replied that the outdated water system reinforces the need for a backup strategy like sprinklers.

Michael said the board is going to consider everything that was said to them Thursday night.

“Their minds were not shut,” he said.

Sprinklers benefit the whole community by preventing a house fire from spreading, he said.

“We don’t want a structure fire that goes into the wildland and burns down 150 homes,” he said.

About 30 people attended the meeting Thursday night. Several asked the board to reconsider the ordinance, saying the code indicates it’s at the board’s discretion whether or not to enforce it.

Fire Marshall Gareth Harris, who was hired last fall and took the lead on pushing for better enforcement of the code in November and December, said state law requires certain sections be enforced.

“There are portions of the code that do give discretion to the fire department,” he said. “There are also sections that are prescriptive.”

The California Fire Code is universal throughout the state and has met resistance in other communities. Debate is currently raging in Fresno.

The Building Industry Association of the San Joaquin Valley filed an injunction against the city of Fresno, saying the sprinkler ordinance wasn’t adopted in conformance with state law and isn’t related to reported safety goals, according to a letter from the association president to the Fresno Bee.

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