Cochise County's
"Owner-Builder Opt-Out"

published September 25, 2017
to comment, email Mike Jackson at empeejaxon@gmail.com

(for the Cochise County Individual & Property Rights Association, see http://littlebigdog.net )

lets rural people build projects & homes with little red tape and low permit cost,
leaves people free to have Planning Department inspections if they wish

and leads to homes just as safe as "Building Code" homes.

But the Planning Department wants to dump OBOO & raise permit fees sky-high,
and the Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss OBOO on October 11, 2017.

Two short speeches in favor of OBOO:

    FACT -- Owner-built homes are affordable housing.  An OBOO permit is only about $105, which is much much less than a regular permit.

    FACT -- The Department has never shown that its process makes homes any safer.  Owner-builders say "I will build safely, because I'm going to live here with my family."
    FACT -- The Department could not provide any statistics on fires in OBOO homes versus contractor-built homes.
    FACT -- The Department says 1/3 of the permits are for OBOO.  But many of the OBOO permits are just for projects, not for homes.  OBOO homes built since 2012:  12.  That's not an epidemic.
    FACT -- OBOO doesn't make home insurance cost more.  The Insurance Services Office, the ISO, does not give OBOO houses a lower rating.  The insurance companies count their losses by zip code.
    FACT -- 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 OBOO.  --  Helene Jackson

    What is happiness?
    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.
    OBOO is only needed because the Building Code exists.  In 2004, the Planning 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, population peaked in 2014, and we're now losing people at the 4th largest rate in the United States.  So the Code is hemorrhaging money.  Enforcing the Code through the Department is hemorrhaging money.  So the Department wants to kill OBOO and raise rates 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 to reach happiness by building their home on their own 4 acres in the sun.
  --  Mike Jackson


1, OBOO lets people on parcels of 4+ acres in rural areas (outside Sierra Vista, Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Tombstone, or Willcox) build their own projects, up to complete homes, with little red tape and a low permit cost, basically $105OBOO 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, Rea
ltors and contractors attack OBOO because they think it hurts their profits.  The Southeastern Arizona Contractors 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 9, Paragraph 5).

This discussion is grouped into Paragraphs 10+, OBOO is popular and safe  /  20+, The arguments against OBOO are bad  /  30+, The Building Code is a scam  /  40+, Officials' opinions and conduct  /  50+, Contacting county government.


10, OBOO began in resistance to the County Building Code, which was passed in late 2004 to let the County put fees on construction in rural areas during an anticipated building boom (that never happened).  The Code puts Sierra Vista-style restrictions on rural areas:  one person living on 4 acres is regulated as if the land contained 42 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
OBOO has 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 it?"

12, OBOO is popular, and might be more popular if the Department gave better notice 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 codes such as the plumbing and fire codes and 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
adds that OBOO users must follow "health regulations regarding wastewater treatment systems and Sierra Vista Sub-watershed [and] all of the requirements [in OBOO] and all other pertinent state and county regulations," and make each structure meet mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire safety, and sanitation requirements.

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 large."

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.

17, OBOO may attract people to Cochise County.  People may move here for affordable housing and country living.  Nobody moves here because of the Building Code.


20, Planning 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 get inside OBOO structures to look around, even if no problems are suspected.  However, the Constitution doesn't let the government look around your home just because it wants to.  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 private citizens.  Izzo's argument reveals a somewhat insulting distrust of rural residents.

23, Izzo has 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 metal shipping container (as on railroad flatcars or cargo ships) 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 (as if buyers can't 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 much money as the County wants.  So what?  The OBOO fee covers the cost of issuing a permit, and OBOO fees shouldn't pay for other programs. 
During a similar 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 BOS meeting:
That attempt resulted in expanding OBOO!  See Item 6 in the BOS minutes from March 2, 2010:

25, Killing OBOO won't bring in much more money.  The Department calculates that in 2016, getting rid of OBOO would have raised about $70,000 more in fees.  Not so fast.  With only about 25 OBOO users, $70,000 is almost $2,800 per user.  It's not clear that many OBOO users could pay $2,800.  Here's a more realistic calculation:  if 1/3 of present OBOO users would pay $2,800, the Department makes about $23,000; but from the 2/3 of OBOO users who won't pay $2,800, the Department loses $105 each -- about $1,800; so, net gain from dumping OBOO, not $70,000 but only about $21,000 -- a small saving and a huge hit to rural residents' quality of life.

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".  Take that, Department "process."

27, To 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 completed OBOO homes is too small to allow a valid numerical argument.  His statement about sample size is incorrect (I speak as a math major who worked as an actuary).  The Department needs mathematical analysis of data to find the truth.  The Department can't just assert that the Code's requirements are wonderful on paper, the Department must show that Code homes are safer than OBOO homes.  It hasn't.  The Department has given no sign of doing anywhere near the work required to make a convincing argument.

28, The Department argues that OBOO drives home insurance rates up because of Insurance Services Office (ISO) standards.  That's not so.  The ISO checklist does not include "who built the home?"  For a discussion of specific ISO factors (they don't include OBOO) see paragraph 3 at the bottom of pdf p. 51
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, If the Department can't succeed in destroying OBOO, it still wants 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).


30, The Code is basically the International Building Code with many modifications, so it's long, very detailed, and very very complex.  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, In addition to meeting about OBOO, the BOS met about raising Code fees on July 25 and August 22, and the Advisory & Appeals Board met on August 15 to discuss both OBOO and raising Code fees.  See the July 25 agenda at
On July 25, the Department showed examples of the Byzantine calculations involved.  Follow the "Presentation" and "Fee Schedule" links, especially Slides 11 through 17 of the Presentation, at
And for a real arithmetic treat, go to this page from the July 25 Supervisors work session --
-- and see these 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 [sic]
5.  = $2,898.20 Total Project Fee"

Of 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.  $250 is the correct figure, of course.  Of course the person who wrote that can add; probably doing the elaborate calculations tired him out.  IMO, requiring calculations which exhaust the Department's own staff is not a good idea.

32, More calculations:  on August 22 -- see the minutes at
-- the Department gave "examples calculating the 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% and asked for questions."  The "building fee amount" of your house is calculated by multiplying its square feet times a dollar amount (now $52, but the Department wants to make it over $91), followed by classification according to arbitrary cost points.  A "plan review fee" is added  (now 25%, but the Department wants to raise it to 35, 45, 55, or 65%) of the "building fee amount."  Allowing such a wide range of choices reveals that the choice won't reflect the value of services, it'll be mere politics.  And the calculations and terminology are Byzantine, inviting you to focus on arithmetic instead of stepping back and asking "Why are we doing this?"

33, The thinking behind the Byzantine terminology does not stand up to analysis. 
Fees like "courtesy" or "investigation" are proposed to 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 $52 to $91.50 for residences, and from $31.26 to 39.28 for accessory buildings.  Now 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 review its plans or inspect the work?  What is "inspection cost by square foot" except a grab for bigger fees?

34, The Code was a scam when it was passed.  It wasn't passed for safety.  Before the Code, rural buildings weren't suffering a rash of falling down or burning up.  When then-Department head James Vlahovich pushed the Code in 2004, he admitted he "was not able to recount actual deaths due to lack of codes."  Citizen Kelly Savage noted then 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, you must also pay extra fees to obtain service, you may well ask "What did the County spend my taxes on?"  And obtaining such extra fees 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 in the minutes at

36, The 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 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 numbers.  On 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 attempts at pure profiteering.  It's pure political greed, without any rational basis.

38, Even the biggest proposed fee increase couldn't come close to ending a 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 implementation of the Code -- both thuggish inspectors in the field, and lack of respect 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 requires an Advisory Board to be created when a Code is passed, but the Supervisors stalled in creating the Advisory Board for almost nine years, and all the while the County Attorney's Office knew the law was being broken.  See
Time to end the game, and rebuild trust among rural residents.


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 acting irresponsibly and failing at his duties.

41, At the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on August 19, Chairman Pat Greene played fast & loose with procedure, in an unfair way.  My wife and I intended to speak at the beginning of the meeting.  The words in italics at the top of this writeup are the statements we intended to make.  Our leanings were known before the meeting, and I think that timely speaking those words could have helped the discussion.  However, when our turn came, Greene asked us if we would rather speak then or when OBOO 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 again, Greene didn't let us speak, he read Izzo's memo aloud, putting words in the Supervisors' mouths that they had not said:  "repealing this program will help to assure current and new residents that homes being built in Cochise County are safe for habitation."  Izzo added those words to what the Supervisors actually told the Commission to do.  Greene's reading aloud gave the Commission the impression that they were the Supervisors' words.  Then Greene let Izzo speak.  Only after the discussion was slanted against OBOO did we get to give our statements.

42, Then Commissioners Gregan and Brauchla, who are contractors, spoke against OBOO.  It may seem obvious that contractors have a conflict of interest with OBOO, but invoking "conflict of interest" without citing statutes incites bickering.  Citing state law may prevent bickering. 
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
Courts interpret Arizona's "conflict of interest" law broadly to protect the public, so it's risky to go "close to the line," like Gregan and Brauchla.  Both of them appear to be risking a conflict of interest, so they should take up the burden of proving the contrary.  They shouldn't ask citizens for blind faith.

43, After Gregan and Brauchla spoke, Chairman Greene said he agreed with them.  His argument consisted of anecdotes irrelevant to OBOO because they weren't about private homes but about fires in city buildings which were built by contractors, supposedly to code:  a nightclub back east, the Grenfell Tower in England, and the Torch Tower in Dubai. 
If there's a lesson for Cochise County, it's that codes don't protect anyone, but responsible building does.  Responsible building is exactly what OBOO is about.

44, Only three of the seven Planning & Zoning 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.

45, On October 11, 2017,  the Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss OBOO again.  See page 2 of the agenda at

By now, could the Department's overall plan be clearer?  It's nothing more than huge increases in fees, needed by a bloated Department, calculated not by their actual need but by how much the Department can get away with dipping into your pocket for money you might like to spend in your own way.


50, It's become clear that 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, Ann English, and Peggy Judd) oversee all county government.  They hire employees to fill the Planning Department, which mainly administers regulations.  Also, each Supervisor 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:
Tom Borer at dist1b@cochise.az.gov
Wayne Gregan at dist1a@cochise.az.gov
  Kim DePew at dist1c@cochise.az.gov
and the Commissioners appointed by Supervisor English:
Pat Edie at dist2c@cochise.az.gov
Patrick Greene at dist2b@cochise.az.gov
Nathan Watkins at dist2a@cochise.az.gov
and the Commissioners appointed by Supervisor Judd:
Gary Brauchla at dist3b@cochise.az.gov
Jim Martzke at dist3a@cochise.az.gov
Carmen Miller at dist3c@cochise.az.gov
You can also email County employees, who actually do tend to read their emails:  Building Official Izzo at mizzo@cochise.az.gov , Izzo's boss Interim Planning Director Jerry Stabley (the Department's point man for boosting all Building Code fees) at jstabley@cochise.az.gov , and Stabley's boss County Administrator Ed Gilligan (whose job is to be a liaison between the Supervisors and the County's employed staff) at egilligan@cochise.az.gov .