Jun 18 2016

Required Energy Audits Voted Down by Planning Commission

The Piedmont Planning Commission made a recommendation to the City Council that the proposed Building Energy Savings Ordinance (BESO) not be adopted.  

The online survey yielded considerable opposition to the ordinance from residents.

Voluntary rather than mandatory….

A new ordinance proposed by the City Planning Department to require an energy audit of Piedmont homes and properties prior to being sold did not receive approval by the Planning Commission on June 13. The ordinance, intended to support Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan, was considered by the Commission for approximately an hour and half at the Planning Commission meeting as the Commission listened to public testimony and deliberated on the matter.

An online survey that had been conducted by the Piedmont Planning Department showed overwhelming opposition to the proposed ordinance.

Most of the public participants at the meeting supported the ordinance. Former Council member Garrett Keating and members of Piedmont CONNECT, including Margaret Ovendeen spoke in favor of the ordinance indicating a desire to make the ordinance even broader, more comprehensive and rigorous.*  Debbie Fitzgerald, a real estate agent, argued that when properties are sold many reports are done – termite, roof, chimney, etc. – and adding another report would not be burdensome to home sellers.

Speaking against the ordinance was Piedmont real estate agent Nancy Lehrkind, who detailed her negative experiences with Berkeley’s BESO law.   She explained that energy information from PG&E can readily be provided on properties without a new law requiring the added expense and complications of a consultant.

A letter from Piedmont resident Rick Schiller pointed to another cost being placed on seniors who were already heavily burdened with local taxes.

Commissioners opposing the law and the use of energy consultants preferred audits on a voluntary basis for individual homes, further noting that information can be obtained through PG&E, which actively provides not only energy usage information but information on ways to reduce energy consumption. Mentioned was that reports prepared prior to the sale of property are voluntary rather than required by law making the ordinance contrary to market driven practices.

Heat source replacement, caulking, solar panels, double pane windows, insulation, roofing, etc.

Ordinance requirements:

The proposed ordinance requires energy consultants to complete an energy audit paid for by property owners prior to the sale of property.  The consultant would inventory an entire home or building looking for ways to reduce energy use.  Projects identified in the professional audit could range from heat source replacement, to caulking, to solar panels, to double pane windows, to insulation, etc. An energy grade would then be assigned to the building accompanied by a list of projects and qualified contractors to do the work.  The audit  itself would cost approximately $300 to $500.  The completed audit would then be filed for a fee with the City and become public information.

 The State of California establishes building construction requirements to reduce energy use.

Commissioners pointed out that when remodels are permitted by the City, they are required to reduce energy usage through the permitting process.  Since only approximately 150 of the 3,800 Piedmont homes sell each year, to accomplish a change in energy usage by the proposed sales method would not meet the 2020 goals in the Climate Action Plan.

The Planning staff was asked about the actions already taken through the more prevalent remodeling permit process and the impact on achieving energy goals.  Statistics have not been kept  by the Building and Planning Departments regarding the ongoing achievements made through the course of the permitting process.

The Planning staff was encouraged by Commissioners to come up with ways to promote energy reduction through information services, perhaps at festivals or other public information methods.

Preferring market driven, voluntary actions, Commissioner Tony Theophilos, an attorney, was vigorous in his opposition to the proposed law to be imposed on homeowners as being ineffective and problematic.  He was joined by Commissioners Tom Zhang and Aradhana Jajodia both of whom are architects, who felt the approach would yield few results towards reducing Piedmont’s carbon footprint, while imposing more costs on home sellers by an unproductive law. The three Commissioners voted to not recommend adoption by the City Council.

Supporting the proposed ordinance were Commissioners Eric Behrens and Tom Ramsey, who wanted to work towards meeting Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan goals and saw the requirement as a small way to encourage reduced energy usage.  Although supporting the ordinance as a first step, Ramsey, an architect, wanted a stronger ordinance that was more comprehensive.* The two Commissioners voted against the motion.


The proposed ordinance and Commission recommendation to not adopt the ordinance will be agendized at a future Council meeting.   

Read Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan > here.

Read the staff report and proposed ordinance > here.

Click the link below to send an email  to the City Council via the City Clerk, John Tulloch at > jtulloch@ci.piedmont.ca.us 

*Revised 6/19/16

4 Responses to “Required Energy Audits Voted Down by Planning Commission”

  1. None of the speakers in favor of the ordinance said they supported mandatory implementation of the audit findings. Please review the record. I suggested that the audit also be applied at time of remodel as the findings could be better implemented at time of construction if the home owner so desired and most commissioners agreed with that. Steve Schiller, an expert on energy efficiency, also supported the ordinance and spoke to how minimal it’s requirements are.

    Commissioner Jajodia had many opinions about the ordinance. I would characterize her main opposition as one of fairness – she felt that the cost should be born by the buyers, not the seller. She also indicated that the impact of the ordinance should be born by the whole community, not just home sellers. That’s a wonderful sentiment given that we all contribute to global warming, not just new home buyers. Given that three commissioners, a majority, favored the city taking action on implementing the climate action plan, perhaps staff will return with a modified ordinance.

    Commissioners who opposed expressed very personal opposition to “government nit-picking” or the belief that the free market will solve the problem. They did not explain how the city would achieve it CAP goal of 15% reduction by 2020.

  2. The organized Building Energy Savings Ordinance (BESO) advocates gave a strong showing at the Planning Commission meeting and consistent with PiedmontConnect’s mission to implement the Climate Action Plan (“CAP”), which is commendable. However with no organized opposition, residents are likely opposed to the BESO in an even higher percentage than the 72% of survey takers opposed (page 3 of staff report).

    Some in support suggested the survey was confusing, that all triggers had been lumped together and the public didn’t understand this. The survey shows otherwise. The point-of-sale trigger had the most support at 21%, support for the remodel trigger fell to 17% and support of the most stringent trigger of “by-certain-date” for all buildings fell to 7%. Piedmonters understand the ramifications of the different triggers.

    Given the negative Planning Commission recommendation and the overwhelming public opposition, likely this should not be brought before City Council and hopefully the City can move forward in more widely supported ways to implement the CAP.

  3. The online survey was conducted by staff to inform its development of the draft BESO ordinance and that seems to have been done – the least stringent form of ordinance was put before the commission. Yes, survey results were predominantly opposed to a BESO ordinance, a factor some commissioners weighed in their decision, but is not the only factor that commissioners should consider. Several revisions to the ordinance were proposed by commissioners – making the buyer responsible for the audit, changing the scheduling of the audit so that it did not occur at time of sale, making all homeowners responsible for taking some action, crediting remodel applicants the cost of the audit in their design review fees – and staff should consider these revisions by holding another public hearing or revising the draft ordinance accordingly before sending to council. The commission voted on the ordinance “as is” but a majority seemed to support some form of ordinance that required energy efficiency auditing at time of sale, be it by seller or buyer.

  4. The least stringent version of BESO put before the Planning Commission is a reflection of the nearly 3 to 1 opposition by the public. BESO would be the first legislated home inspection on the books; while all other home inspections at time of sale are market driven (and essentially required), a BESO creates government intervention. If a Point-of-Sale BESO were enacted and a seller refused, the City could stop the sale. If a more stringent “by certain date for all homes” BESO is enacted and a homeowner refused, would the City then have the right to either come into the home without a warrant to do an energy efficiency inspection or levy stiff fines?

    At the PC meeting Realtors spoke of the other inspections, including chimney and foundation. If inspections are to be legislated, I would prefer those first. During an earthquake falling bricks or collapsing houses are literally life threatening; I doubt even the least efficient BESO home in Piedmont is going to present the same mortal danger.

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