Business & Real Estate

Reach codes lead to passionate public comment at council meeting

gas cooking
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier Photo Illustration
Although the Los Altos City Council has adopted a reach code ordinance requiring electric power in new construction, cooking appliances, above, and fireplaces are exempt and may be powered by gas.

Thirty-three members of the public spoke at the Los Altos City Council meeting Sept. 22 before the council voted to adopt a reach code ordinance. The topic has been a controversial issue in the city over the past year, though the reach codes only impact new construction.

Although the ordinance enables the city to make progress on its Climate Action Plan, get ahead of potential future state mandates and align with neighboring cities that have adopted similar policies, detractors claim reach codes are government overreach, eliminate consumer choice and are not cost-effective.

Below is a sample of arguments on both sides of the debate, made by speakers at the Sept. 22 council meeting:

Martin Lostowski, Los Altos resident: “I speak as a licensed general contractor for over 20 years. Why bother with reach codes if they only affect new construction? Rule of thumb: Residential construction is built to last at least 50 years. Los Altos has many homes way over that. Aesthetics of the home can be changed economically. The infrastructure is more difficult to change and hence expensive. Hence we should build the bones of the building with the future mechanical systems in mind. It’s cheaper! I support the reach codes because I don’t think I received this earth from those who came before me. I think I’m borrowing the earth from those who come after me.”

Sandy Sans, Los Altos resident: “I’m an engineer and also remodel and build houses. I was taken aback by what I see as the bias in the analysis of this ordinance. The advantages are (things like) ‘reduce carbon emissions.’ But under disadvantages, it says things like, ‘fail to follow PCE (Peninsula Clean Energy) and SVCE (Silicon Valley Clean Energy) member agencies that have already adopted reach codes’ or ‘fail to adopt a policy that advances.’ These are actually arguments for the code, not against the code. It fails to actually mention any arguments against the ordinance. Tonight, we had a presentation. Whenever you mentioned the disadvantages, they were always disputed. What I think this leads to is – if it were such an open or shut case, we wouldn’t need an ordinance. I don’t think we’re getting a fair thing here. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be installing gas furnaces. We need to be looking at these things fairly and not getting the analysis from one side. The market doesn’t bear out what this analysis is saying.”

Audrey Chang, Los Altos resident and co-president of Los Altos High Green Team: “I’m angry and rather disappointed to hear that opponents of reach codes believe that young advocates do not fully understand what reach codes are. I can tell you now, we understand and care what reach codes are. We care because the cleanliness of our collective future, the health of our neighbors, our children, depends on it. It makes me sad to hear that anti-reach code residents belittle our support. In doing so, they are belittling the voices of individuals who will live their lives with the decisions that are made today.”

Tien Nguyen, Los Altos resident: “The thing I didn’t see the council or the commission address is the noise of the heat pumps. I’ve lived in Los Altos for 20 years. The house next to mine is brand new. They have five heat pumps around the house. Two of them are on my side of the house. I have to suffer from the noise for more than a year. I have the lawyers involved, the city involved. If you have all-electric houses built and the heat pumps around, see how noisy it is. It’s like I moved next to the freeway. That’s how noisy it is.”

Joel Bartlett, Los Altos resident: “Given our heavy use of natural gas for heating and cooking, there is a certain fear of the unknown in an all-electric house. I’d like to share my experience of living in one in Los Altos for the last 40 years. In 1979, my wife and I built a solar house. We didn’t bring in gas because we didn’t feel we needed it and because of safety concerns. After 20 years of service, our solar water heater was replaced by a rooftop passive heater, connected into a conventional water heater: Efficient, simple and quiet. Electric heating options have gotten better, too. The resistance heaters have gone and we now provide supplemental heat with a multi-split heat pump – much more efficient, and we get air conditioning, too, at 49 decibels. Noise is not an issue here.”

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