OBOO -- THE "OWNER-BUILDER OPT-OUT" --
lets rural people build projects & homes with little
red tape and low permit
leaves people free to have Planning Department inspections if they wish,
and leads to homes just as safe as "Building Code" homes.
BUT THE DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT
wants to dump OBOO & raise permit fees sky-high.
The Development Services Department is the
new name for the old Planning & Zoning Department; whatever the
name, the department is the same. This writeup tends to use the
new name, for consistency, though it is sometimes anachronistic;
whenever "the Department" is mentioned, it means this entity.
On this Development Services page -- https://www.cochise.az.gov/development-services/home -- the two links in the first paragraph go to brief sketches of the process discussed in detail in this writeup.
THE BIG PICTURE
1, OBOO lets people on parcels of 4+
rural acres (outside the city limits of Sierra Vista, Benson, Bisbee, Douglas,
Tombstone, or Willcox) build their own projects, up to complete homes, with
red tape and a low permit
cost, basically $105. OBOO is popular and safe, and OBOO builders can save a lot.
2, About 1/3 of building permits are for OBOO.
But that's only about 25 OBOO permits for all kinds of projects per year, and of those, only about 2-3
homes are completed each year.
3, Realtors and contractors attack OBOO because they think it hurts their profits. The Southeastern Arizona
Association (SACA), to which Supervisor Call is glued at the hip, says OBOO
"is severely affecting local contractors in a negative
way." Seriously? -- two to three OBOO houses per year have SACA's manties in a twist?
4, This page aims at getting a better discussion than meetings of the Supervisors or
the Planning & Zoning Commissioners, which are highly stylized and ignore most public input. This page reflects conversations with
County employees, and you should also see Supervisor
Peggy Judd's Facebook page:
5, The more feedback the better. Feel free to pass this page around. Let me know
if you want off the mailing list or know
someone who might want on. If you send comments, please say which Edition &
paragraph number you're writing about (this is Edition 10, Paragraph 5).
6, The discussion below is grouped into
Paragraphs 10+, OBOO is popular and
20+, The arguments against OBOO are bad
Building Code is a scam
40+, Officials' opinions and conduct
OBOO IS POPULAR AND SAFE
10, OBOO began in resistance to the County Building Code, passed in late 2004 to impose fees on building in rural areas during an
anticipated population boom -- that never happened. The
restrictions on rural areas. One person living on 4 acres is
regulated as if the land were packed with people in the middle of town. Soon, in
mid-2006, in response to great public pressure, the County
Supervisors passed OBOO. See the
minutes in Item 24 at
been scrutinized and modified a few times. You can read it for yourself at
11, In the 2006 resistance to the Code, 800 people signed a petition for OBOO. They liked the freedom of country living, were self-reliant, and didn't like bullying by Code inspectors. Many
citizens spoke for OBOO at meetings. Citizen Andrew Noll was
eloquent: people "live rurally for
the freedom it offers.... no one from the rural community that I
know of has come forward requesting that we impose codes on
ourselves.... we need to take more responsibility for our own
safety and for our lives in general. So why have a government
impose things on a sector of the population that clearly doesn't want
12, OBOO is popular, and might be more popular if the Department gave better notice about it to building applicants. The
Department has an OBOO notice on the lobby wall, but County Supervisor Judd's Facebook page notes
that in her experience, many applicants to the Department do not have their
attention drawn to OBOO.
13, OBOO requires safe building. It does not exempt owner-builders from statewide plumbing and fire codes, nor regulations regarding smoke
detectors, nor fire codes adopted by
fire districts or the County; and each structure must be "built and
maintained in a sound structural condition to be safe, sanitary, and to
shelter the occupants from the elements." The OBOO application stresses safety; the Department's "Owner Opt-out Packet" at
has detailed requirements about mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire safety, and
14, OBOO has another strong safety factor: its users and their families will live in the home they build! In 2006, then-P&Z Commissioner
Walters said "contractors ... are going to build to [code], they are
not going to build any better. The people -- the few people I
know -- who built their own homes, built substantially better, by and
15, OBOO doesn't stop builders from
getting Code inspections. As Andrew Noll said, "if
someone is so in need of
having someone look over their
shoulder ... they are entirely free to go to
Planning and Zoning and get as many inspections as they desire.
It is as simple as that. We are not trying to impose limitations
on people who want to get inspections."
16, OBOO is essential in areas that contractors find too remote to reach. Never has the
distinction between urban and rural needs been clearer.
I've seen this claim both denied and vehemently
defended. The issue deserves an airing.
OBOO may attract people to Cochise County. People may move here
housing and country living. Nobody moves here because
of the Building Code.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST OBOO ARE BAD
20, Department staff argued
against OBOO at a Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting on June 27, 2017, a
Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting on August 9, and an
Advisory & Appeals Board meeting on August 15. As a sample of Building Official Mike Izzo's work, here's my recording of the P&Z discussion on August 9.
21, Izzo said contractors want a "level playing field."
Seriously? -- contractors think a playing field is level if they can force you to hire
them? When I asked Izzo in conversation if he thought the law should protect SACA profits, he said "No."
22, As to "level playing field," Izzo worried that Code
inspectors can't snoop inside OBOO structures even if no
problems is suspected. However, the Constitution doesn't let the government do that. Searches
without a warrant or consent can't be made of contractor-built homes, and if such
searches could be made of OBOO homes, the "playing field" would
be tilted extremely against the rights of private
23, Izzo had some smaller worries: that by looking at one side
of a house, he can't see if there are bedroom windows on the
other side; that OBOO homes may be larger
than the application states (although home area is irrelevant to an OBOO permit); that
one OBOO builder used a shipping container (used on
railroad flatcars) as a basement without
counting it in the home's area; that
OBOO homes can be hard to remodel, and remodelers may
bid too low on jobs (as if contractors can't
write contracts with contingencies, or the County should protect contractors from their own negligence); that OBOO homes
may create hazards for later buyers (pure speculation, and in any case buyers can get home
inspections); and that OBOO
homes might not get street addresses (although $15 of the $105 OBOO
fee is for rural addressing). Piling up trivial worries doesn't make them significant.
24, OBOO fees don't bring in as
money as the County wants. So what? The OBOO fee pays the
cost of issuing a permit, and OBOO fees shouldn't pay for other
programs. During a
power grab in 2010, people argued "This
amounts to little more
than blackmail to persuade owner builders to pay for the full county
inspection" and "I was on the [P&Z] commission when [OBOO] was passed, the reason (I believe) the
county wants to be involved is MONEY and harassment to put it
simply." Here's a discussion posted before the 2010
That attempt resulted in expanding OBOO! See Item 6 in the BOS minutes from March 2, 2010:
Killing OBOO won't bring in much more money. The Department
claims that in 2016, getting rid of OBOO would have garnered about
more in fees. Not so fast -- with only about 25 OBOO
users, $70,000 income would mean a fee of $2,800 per user -- a lot more
than the actual OBOO fee. The Department's income projection is
wishful thinking, the same kind of wishful thinking employed to get the
Building Code passed in 2004.
26, The Department hasn't proven that its "process" results in safer homes. The Department offers only anecdotes as evidence, but counter-anecdotes exist. Supervisor English says
her house is safe although built before County codes, and another citizen says
"When we built our house in 2007-08 we did the whole
permit thing with the County. I still have the permit sheet where
the inspector signed off on every part of the house. I just had
to replace my roof because it was put on wrong and has been leaking for
8 years!! It was inspected and passed ... when it passed inspection the
general contractor waved it in my face as proof the roof was
right! I had the roofers back at the house every time it rained ... until the company went out of business.
And the [state Registrar of Contractors] was just as useless.
Long story short, inspections
mean absolutely nothing because the county takes no responsibility for
the work they are inspecting".
change a law so popular and helpful as OBOO, the Department needs to
make very convincing arguments. It hasn't. The Department
has tried to use math, but shies away when challenged: Izzo
first said that when
people use OBOO, the lack of the Code process leaves "1/3 of our
residents at risk of unsafe living
conditions." When I noted that the real number of OBOO homes per
year is two to three, Izzo decided that the number of
homes is too small to allow a valid numerical argument. So Izzo shouldn't have made his argument to begin with. The
Department can't just make claims about the Code and then retreat from them, the Department must show that Code homes are
safer than OBOO homes. The Department has given
no sign of doing anywhere near the
work required to make a convincing argument.
28, The Department argues
drives home insurance rates up because of Insurance Services
Office (ISO) standards. That's not so. The ISO checklist does not include "who
home?" For a discussion of specific ISO factors (they don't include
OBOO) see paragraph 3 at the bottom of pdf p. 51 at
And in any case, ISO ratings don't affect insurance rates. Izzo noted that "staff spoke to four local
insurance agents.... None of them use a location in
the County as one of their criteria for determining how much a
homeowner's policy will cost. Staff also spoke to the AZ
Department of Insurance. They told us that sometimes some of the
bigger companies will rely on their own information and do not use
ISO." For more information countering the fallacious "ISO" argument, see
29, Even if OBOO is not abolished, the Department has asked to raise the cost of a basic OBOO
permit from $75 (plus $15 addressing and $15
processing fees) to $157 (whether with or without extra processing fees isn't clear).
THE COUNTY PLAN FOR REGULATING RURAL LIFE IS A SCAM
County Building Code is long and complex. It's basically the International Building Code with many
modifications. It was adopted here in
2004; its current version is at
For perspective, here's a writeup from 2009, talking about the Code mess then:
31, Different County bodies have recently met about OBOO and Code fees. The BOS met on July 25
and August 22. On July 25, the Department showed the BOS some examples
of the Byzantine fee calculations involved. Follow the "Presentation"
and "Fee Schedule" links, especially Slides 11 through 17 of the Presentation, at
And for a real treat, go to this page from the July 25 Supervisors work session --
-- and see the calculations at the bottom of page 7:
1. 2,000 square foot R-3 occupany type VB construction Building @ $91.50 square foot = $183,000 Valuation
2. $1027.00 + ($7.00 x 83) = $1,608. (fee amount)
3. Plan Review Fee (65% of fee amount) = $1,608.00 + $1,045.20 = $2,653.20 Total Building Permit Fee
4. Add on any additional or miscellaneous fees (e.g. Rural
Addressing Fee $15, residential septic $235) = $15 + $235 = $245.00
5. = $2,898.20 Total Project Fee"
course, that arithmetic only makes sense if you read the pages before
it. I added the "[sic]" to line 4 because the
presentation added $15 to
$235 and got $245. Of course the person who wrote that can add;
probably doing the
elaborate calculations tired him out -- but if the calculations wear
out County staff, why force them on citizens? The minutes of the
July 25 meeting are at
On August 22, the Department gave "examples
building costs for a 2,000 square foot home using the current and
proposed residential fee schedule and square foot fee increases of 25%,
35%, 45%, 55% and 65% ...." Such
a wide range of choices shows
that the choice won't reflect the
value of services, it'll be mere politics.
The County is focusing on Byzantine calculations and terminology,
instead of asking the basic question, "Why do this?" The minutes
from August 22 are at
32, The contractors on
the Advisory & Appeals Board settled the question of 25%, 35%, 45%,
55%, or 65%, to their satisfaction at least, at the August
15 meeting. They chose 65%. See the minutes at
33, The thinking behind the calculations won't bear examination. Fees like "courtesy" or
"investigation" would go from $50
per hour to $104. Inspections outside working hours would jump
from $100 per hour to $170. Permits for air conditioners, solar
systems, swimming pools, etc., would
rise from a $50-$100 flat fee to
"per construction value." For garages, patios, etc.,
flat fees would be replaced by a cost per square foot. The value
per square foot jumps from
$91.50 for residences, and from $31.26 to 39.28 for accessory
buildings. Ask yourself: construction costs must vary
by square footage, but why should permit costs? A home double the
size may cost double to build, but does it really cost double to inspect the plans or work? "Inspection cost by square
foot" is just a grab for higher fees.
34, The Code wasn't passed for safety reasons. When then-Department head James Vlahovich pushed the Code in 2004, rural
buildings weren't suffering a rash of falling down or burning
up, and Vlahovich admitted he "was not able to recount actual
deaths due to lack of codes." Citizen Kelly
Savage noted that "The one big fire danger the codes could protect us from
is aluminum wiring. And Mr. Vlahovich wasn't even able to point
to one instance of a lethal fire caused by aluminum wires....
Historically, the biggest fire hazard out here isn't electrical, but
from lightning strikes. No building code will protect any of us
from lightning strikes. Most house fires are caused by human
error. No building code will protect us from stupid acts
unrelated to construction." Ben Susman
said the Code was "chasing a problem that doesn't exist....
we have no demonstrable examples, either of formal or informal public
or private histories, of building failures that have caused a problem
-- safety or health problem.... There just doesn't exist a problem at
this point in time." Not in 2004, and not now.
35, Department employees have work
stations. They are paid to be there.
Their pay comes from your taxes. If, after paying taxes to pay employees, you must also pay extra fees to
obtain service from employees, you may well ask "What do I pay taxes for?" And obtaining such extra fees -- unearned income for the County -- was the real purpose of passing the Code. Vlahovich optimistically said "The
start up cost for the entire program, including Mr. Durgin’s salary
would be $540,000 and the ongoing cost would come to $400,000 per
year. The plan assumed a 32% increase in permit fees, a 2% annual
growth rate, and a 10% increase in permit activity. Assuming
these figures, the plan would pay for itself in about 3 years and only
be subsidized by the General Fund for the start-up period.
Thereafter, the users of the services would be paying for the services
through permit fees." See Item 12 at
36, The population boom anticipated in 2004 never happened, and the Code has always lost money. The Department tried to conceal the losses; in 2006
a Department employee said the
Code was paying its way, but in 2007, after that employee left, the truth came
out: a $64,000 deficit in 2006. For 2008, a close reading
of the Department's books revealed a deficit of about
$422,000. Then the Department adopted an accounting method that hid the
July 19, 2017, Izzo acknowledged an annual loss of about $800,000, and
later the calculated loss grew to about $1 million per year. This
is wrecking the
County budget. And things will get worse, because we're now the 4th-fastest
SHRINKING population in America, by percentage.
37, The Department's rationale -- not reason -- for fee hikes is "other counties charge
more, so we should
too" -- the old "everyone else is jumping off a cliff, so you should" argument. Izzo has argued to me that people
should not balk at a permit fee of 1%, 3%, even 5%, since they are willing
to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house. Supervisor Call has said that he will support the biggest increase proposed "because it is not a big
increase for new home construction." Those
are arguments for picking your pocket for whatever you will stand
for. It's pure political greed, without any rational basis.
38, Even the biggest proposed fee increase couldn't come close to
ending a Departmental deficit of about $1,000,000 per year. Keeping the Code
scam on life support will keep the County treasury slowly bleeding. Why raise prices on a product that people don't
want? Why not just end the scam that's been failing since it was passed?
39, The Code may discourage immigration to Cochise County, and dumping the Code would benefit rural areas. Without the deficit from administering the Code, we could spend more
on roads and transportation, the library, rural law enforcement,
and so on. Rural areas don't deserve to be impoverished by the Code scam. Also, dumping the Code could reduce ill will that's been created by thuggish Code inspectors in the field, and disrespect for the
law at headquarters. When the Code was passed in 2004, a
"review and evaluation" was promised, apparently by "Supervisors,
Planning & Zoning staff, County Attorney staff, experts in the
field of building codes, builders and developers, and interested
members of the public." That never happened. See
Worse, after passing the Code, the Supervisors ignored state law. State law required an Advisory
Board to be
created when a
Code is passed, but the
Supervisors stalled in creating the Advisory Board for almost nine
years, during which the County Attorney's Office knew the law was being broken. See
Time to end the game, and
rebuild trust among rural residents.
OFFICIALS' OPINIONS AND CONDUCT
40, At the June 27 Supervisors meeting, Ann English and Peggy Judd considered the issues, facts, and law. Pat Call took a different path. He said
that when OBOO was passed he thought it was for lots of 50 acres or so,
and that 4-acre
lots were urban -- although Call knew the facts when the BOS adopted OBOO, according to these minutes of two old meetings:
Worse, Call argued that even one fire in OBOO homes was
too many, a standard which he would not apply to contractor-built homes; in response, Supervisor English wisely explained that accidents are inevitable, and that no code can stop human error. And worst of all, Call said at the first meeting that he'd already decided to vote against OBOO --
here's 6 seconds of audio:
-- so he won't consider any input. Call is not carrying out his duties.
At the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on August 19, Chairman
Pat Greene, an attorney, played fast
& loose with procedure, in a way that undercut
OBOO, and that Greene well knows leads to sanctions
for misconduct if used in court. My wife and I
intended to speak at
the beginning of the meeting. Our
leanings were known before the
meeting. When our turn came, Greene asked
us if we would rather speak then or
came up on the agenda. I asked if we would still speak first when
OBOO came up; Greene didn't say no, so I agreed to delay. But
when our turn came, Greene didn't let us speak; he read Izzo's
memo, reading Izzo's comments as if they were directives from the Supervisors. Then Greene let Izzo speak. Only
after the discussion was slanted against OBOO did we get to give our
statements. Here's a slight condensation of them:
From my wife: OBOO homes are affordable. An
OBOO permit is only about $105, much much less than a regular
OBOO users say "I will build safely, because
I'm going to live here with my family."
OBOO doesn't make home insurance cost more. The
Insurance Services Office, the ISO, does not give OBOO houses a lower
rating. Insurance companies count their losses by zip code.
The Development Department has never shown, it's only claimed, that its elaborate and costly process
makes homes any safer.
The Department says 1/3 of permits are for
OBOO, implying that OBOO homes are costing the County a lot of money in
permit fees. But many OBOO permits are just for projects, not homes.
OBOO homes built since 2012: 12 -- not a
OBOO is unique to Cochise County. It speaks to
the independent spirit and self-reliance of people in rural
areas. We shouldn't be trying to kill OBOO, we should be proud of
From me: Cochise County is full of people looking for
happiness outside cities. If they have 4 acres, OBOO lets them
build a home for themselves and their family. They may sweat to
pay the bills, but they're self-reliant. They usually have enough
skills for the job, or they learn. They may even hire a
contractor for some tasks. They build safely.
The Building Code is a monument to government
greed. In 2004, the Development Department expected a giant
population boom in this county, and the Code was passed, very boldly in
the minutes, in order to collect fees on the new homes. But the
boom didn't happen, and we're now losing
people at the 4th largest rate in the United States. Enforcing
Code is hemorrhaging money. So the Department wants to kill OBOO
raise permit fees sky-high.
Think what will happen to hard-working OBOO users if
the price of a permit goes from $105 to thousands of dollars.
OBOO is more necessary now than ever, for
hard-working people who want happiness on their own 4 acres in the sun.
42, Then Commissioners Gregan and Brauchla, both contractors, spoke
against OBOO. It may seem obvious that contractors have a
conflict of interest with OBOO, and state law seems to agree. Under state law, you have an "interest" in a decision if it will make you (or some relatives) money or
property. An interest is "substantial" unless a statute
says it's "remote."
If you have a substantial interest, you must "recuse" yourself: state your interest on
the record, and keep out of the decision. Recusal is honorable; hiding facts which require recusal is dishonorable, maybe illegal. For an authoritative discussion, see
43, After Gregan and Brauchla spoke, Chairman Greene
said he agreed
with them. His argument consisted of anecdotes about fires in
city buildings which were built by
contractors, supposedly to code: a
east, the Grenfell Tower in England, and the
in Dubai. His ramblings were nonsense, and as mentioned in
paragraph 41, Greene, an attorney, knows that he could not get away
with such nonsense in a court.
44, Only three of
the seven Commissioners present spoke
against OBOO. The other four did not
speak (except for Edie asking when OBOO was passed).
So Greene's negligent (at the least) conduct of the meeting, and his bizarre anecdotes,
didn't convince any of the other four Commissioners to join them, out
loud at least.
CONTACTING COUNTY GOVERNMENT
50, Few elected officials use the County email system. The telephone is a much better way to give your opinion. The most useful
number at the County is (520) 432 9200. You may end up at a different number, but that number is a good starting place.
51, If you must use email and risk being ignored, here's the skinny:
Three elected County
Supervisors (currently Pat Call,
English, and Peggy Judd) oversee all county
government. They hire employees to fill the Development Services
Department, which mainly administers regulations. Also, each
names unpaid volunteers to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which
mostly handles applications
for zoning, "special uses," and variances, but also does other tasks
that the Supervisors
assign -- like reviewing OBOO. You can email the Supervisors via the link on
And you can see County Supervisor Judd's discussion at her page on Facebook
You can email the P&Z Commissioners appointed by Supervisor Call:
and the Commissioners appointed by Supervisor English:
and the Commissioners appointed by Supervisor Judd:
You can also email County employees, who actually do tend to read their emails: Building Official Izzo at firstname.lastname@example.org , his supervisor the Planning Director (position now vacant, being occupied by the County Administrator), and County
Administrator Ed Gilligan (whose job is to supervise the County's employed staff) at email@example.com .