Is NFPA 5000 in California to Stay?

People have come to associate rancorous political debate with California— even more so now, with the recent gubernatorial recall vote ousting Gray Davis. California's debate over unified building codes earlier this year carried much of the same political acrimony. Interestingly, the change in administration may well reopen the debate on codes.

12/01/2003


People have come to associate rancorous political debate with California— even more so now, with the recent gubernatorial recall vote ousting Gray Davis. California's debate over unified building codes earlier this year carried much of the same political acrimony. Interestingly, the change in administration may well reopen the debate on codes.

On July 29, 2003, the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC), by an 8-to-2 vote, adopted NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, and NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code, as the basis for the 2004 California Building Code and Fire Code.

The CBSC's decision makes it mandatory for a number of jurisdictions to bring their codes in synch with NFPA 5000, and a timeline is being developed for acceptance of the necessary amendments to make it happen.

However, the amendment process will be lengthy, requiring input from various agencies to process specific revisions. Amendments will then be sent to the CBSC for review by various code advisory committees. Finally, they will be sent out for public comment. Most likely, new regulations will not take effect until after their publication in late 2005, at which time local jurisdictions can adopt the state code or make further amendments—so long as their versions aren't less restrictive.

This was a significant victory for NFPA. California may be just one state, but as James Shannon, president and CEO of the organization points out, it means that "one in nine Americans will live in a jurisdiction in which NFPA 5000 is the operative building code."

Strong support for adopting NFPA 5000 came from several groups, including the Calif. Fire Chiefs Assn. and Calif. Professional Firefighters. One major reason for their support was NFPA's ability to provide support and service. Another was the belief that NFPA's code facilitates rapid emergency code adoption. "This makes it much easier on the adopting state agency if the provision is already a part of the model code," said California State Fire Marshal John Tennant.

But there was also a considerable coalition of private and public sector organizations that were against the NFPA codes—and in favor of adopting the International Code Council's International Codes (I-Codes).

In fact, some of the state agencies that are an integral part of the amendment process—the California Dept. of Housing and Community Development, Dept. of General Services Division of the State Architect and the Office of Statewide Health Planning Development—supported adopting I-Codes. These agencies were joined in support by a coalition of building and code enforcement officials, municipalities, fire departments and labor and professional organizations.

Most of the local authorities having jurisdiction that will enforce these new codes are reserving judgment for now. These AHJs want to see how the amendment process goes—and what the changes really are—before considering how it will affect their local codes.

The ICC, however, and its supporters in the state, have not given up. In fact, members of the I-Codes coalition have already approached inner circle members of Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's transition team, according to Kurt Cooknick, director of regulation and practice for the American Institute of Architects' California Council. "[They have] indicated that he will reevaluate this issue based on several factors, not the least of which is the disproportionate number of groups, individuals and state agencies testifying in support of the I-Codes," Cooknick said. "In all likelihood, the new governor will send this issue back to the CBSC for reconsideration."

The upshot, in the eyes of its critics, is that even though NFPA 5000 has been chosen as the state's model building code, the debate is far from over, as the ICC is also considering possible legal action. On the other side, NFPA has also threatened its own suit.





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