Woodstove ordinance goes before council
Truckee Town Council will consider preliminary approval of the town’s Air Quality Management Plan tonight, including a proposal for point of sale woodstove replacement that has drawn the ire of area Realtors.
Town Planner Duane Hall said in his report to council that the planning commission proposed the point of sale replacement because commissioners believed the town’s financial incentives program would not reduce the numbers of uncertified woodstoves quickly enough.
“The commission expressed concerns on the uncertainties of the town’s compliance with the new fine particulate matter federal standards and the effectiveness of a financial assistance/incentive program to remove non-certified devices in a timely manner,” Hall stated in his report. “The commission believes it is necessary to reduce wood combustion emissions above and beyond and at a faster rate than could occur by financial assistance and incentives.”
Hall said the proposed mandatory changeout program is a common tool used by cities and counties with particulate matter pollution problems to remove non-certified woodstoves.
“The real estate community is often opposed to this type of ordinance because the requirement is implemented at the time of sale,” Hall wrote. He said some common features of mandatory changeout ordinances include:
– All non-certified woodstoves and fireplace inserts must be removed prior to sale of the home.
– The buyer/seller must submit paperwork to the municipal government stating that they comply with the ordinance.
– Inspections are done by the municipal government or an approved private inspector to verify compliance with the ordinance.
– Special enforcement provisions are provided with increased penalties.
However, Hall said the town staff believes it is important to reduce the role and liability of the real estate community in the changeout process, and also to reduce the financial impact of the program on buyers and sellers. Consequently, the proposal before council states:
– The seller and buyer will be solely responsible for complying with the ordinance.
– A real estate agent will not be responsible for inspecting the home to verify compliance with the ordinance and will not be responsible for enforcing the ordinance. The real estate agent’s responsibility will be limited to disclosing the requirements of the ordinance to the seller and the buyer.
– The required inspections will be conducted by Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District and/or “privatized” whereby woodstove retailers, installers and and other qualified people will licensed by the town to conduct the inspections.
– The property owner will be able to install a town-certified device without paying a mitigation fee.
– The property owner will be eligible to participate in any financial assistance/incentive program for which they qualify.
Although the proposal states that real estate agents are not responsible for enforcing the ordinance, the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors still opposes the proposal, TSBOR public relations coordinator John Falk said.
“The fact remains that a point of sale mandate, even if specifically designed to remove real estate agents from litigation exposure, does not remove that exposure,” Falk said. “As a tool, the point of sale mechanism by its nature sucks everyone involved in a real estate transaction into a liability exposure.”
He said if the point of sale requirement is placed on the buyer, then the buyer usually is acting with the guidance of a real estate agent.
“The issue is that you have the buyer required to replace the stove at point of sale,” Falk said. “What if the buyer feels uncomfortable or does not understand it. Any dissatisfaction comes back to haunt the real estate agent. Making it a buyer requirement, a seller requirement, or both just brings the real estate practitioner back into the legal morass.”
Falk said the board of Realtors advocates a three-pronged approach to the problem.
“First, if the problem is not pressing and you have time to address it, we suggest aggressive public education, along with a voluntary changeout and incentives program,” Falk said. “If time is more pressing, we suggest that in addition, the town draft an ordinance that disallows the sale, repair or installation of non-complaint woodstoves in town boundaries. It should also implement a green/yellow/red burn days system in town. If time is of the essence and there’s a real safety issue, then the town should implement a date-certain changeout for all residences.”
He said making buyers or sellers change out their woodstoves at the point of sale discriminates against a small group of people, and is an inefficient method to ensure replacement.
“If it’s important enough that you do a retrofit or upgrade, it seems that it should be placed across the town as a whole, not capriciously at point of sale,” he said. He also pointed out that it is an inefficient method because it takes 15 years or more for the housing in Truckee to change hands.
He said the proposal to require woodstove replacement at the point of sale keeps coming to the table because it is an easy political solution.
“We’ve battled this issue before,” he said. “It is one of those issues that seems easy, but isn’t right. Date-certain is right, it just isn’t easy. Point of sale catches people new to the area, who may not have voted here before. The other options require politicians to stand up and be counted by the people who vote.”
TSBOR President Nelson Van Gundy said he believes the move will not be effective.
“By and large it’s newer homes that change hands oftener,” Van Gundy said. “Meanwhile, it will be the older stoves and fireplaces that contribute more to the problem. This doesn’t change that.”
He said the town also is not addressing the main contributor to Truckee’s poor air quality – dust raised from gravel deposited on roads by Caltrans winter crews.
“The study shows Caltrans is the primary offender, with re-entrainment of dust,” Van Gundy said. “The gravel they deposit turns into dust. Also, the location of the sensors is suspect. One is located on top of the downtown fire district building, which is just downwind of the trains. It gives a false high reading.”
Most of all, Van Gundy says he doesn’t understand the town staff’s decision to modify the plan developed by the air quality management committee.
“They have jumped off the plan and I don’t know why,” Van Gundy said. “They need to deal with the Caltrans issue and the placement of the sensors first.”
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