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

editor Mike Jackson
to comment, email empeejaxon@gmail.com

published August 15, 2017

The push to keep OBOO is building up steam,
  while the movement to raise Code fees is sputtering

-- For the details, skip to paragraphs 30+
-- To start from the beginning, keep reading

-- lets rural people build their own projects & homes with little red tape and low permit cost
-- leaves people free to choose Planning Department inspections if they wish
-- leads to homes that are just as safe as Code-built homes


lets people on lots of 4+ acres in rural areas -- outside Sierra Vista, Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista, Tombstone, & Willcox -- build projects, up to complete homes, with little red tape and a low permit cost, basically $105OBOO is popular and safe, and OBOO builders save a lot; e.g. "No contractors, no paid labor, no mortgage ...."  See

2, The County Planning Department wants to kill OBOO building permits, probably because realtors and contractors feel that OBOO hurts their profits.  For instance, SACA (the Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association) has told its members that OBOO "is severely affecting local contractors in a negative way."  Seriously?  Every year, only about 25 people buy an OBOO permit, but only 2 to 3 of those result in completed houses.  2-3 houses per year have SACA's manties in a twist?

3, Each edition of this page tries to make arguments shorter, clearer, and more responsive.  This page reflects conversations with County employees, and also Supervisor Peggy Judd's Facebook page, with a discussion more productive than "rules of order" allow:

4, Please pass this page around freely, and 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 (e.g. this is Edition 8, Paragraph 4).

5, The discussion below is grouped into major subjects:  Paragraphs 10+, OBOO is popular and safe / 20+, the June 27 attack on OBOO / 30+, the August 9 attack / 40+, the Building Code / 50+, other concerns / 60+, contacting county government.


10, OBOO began in resistance to the County Building Code, passed at the end of 2004.  The Code was passed in order for the County to make money from an anticipated building boom (which never happened).  The County Supervisors passed OBOO not much later, in mid-2006.  See the minutes in Item 24 at
OBOO has been scrutinized and modified a few times.  You can read it for yourself at

11, Eight hundred people signed a petition for OBOO.  They liked the freedom of country living, prided themselves on self-reliance, and didn't like how Code inspectors acted.  Many citizens spoke 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 lets builders get 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."

13, OBOO is popular.  According to the Department, about 1/3 of all building applications use OBOO.  However, Supervisor Judd's Facebook page notes that in her experience, many applicants to the Planning Department are not even informed of OBOO.  The Department is artificially suppressing the number of OBOO users.

14, OBOO has strong safety requirements.  Section 1 specifically does not "exempt owner-builders from statewide codes such as the plumbing and fire codes and regulations regarding smoke detectors, nor does it exempt owner-builders from fire codes adopted by fire districts or the County."  Section 19 requires that "Each structure shall be built and maintained in a sound structural condition to be safe, sanitary, and to shelter the occupants from the elements."

15, Safety is stressed in the OBOO application.  The "Owner Opt-out Packet" at
says that OBOO users are not exempt "from state, county building codes, or fire-district adopted fire codes and regulations regarding smoke detectors, nor ... health regulations regarding wastewater treatment systems and Sierra Vista Sub-watershed.  I ... agree to comply with all of the requirements [in OBOO] and all other pertinent state and county regulations" (p. 5); "Each structure shall be built and maintained in a sound structural condition to be safe, sanitary, and to shelter the occupants from the elements," and meet mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire safety, and sanitation requirements (pp. 11-12).

16, OBOO has a strong safety factor that the Code doesn't:  owner-builders 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."

17, 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.

18, You can argue that OBOO attracts people to the county, and that if OBOO were killed, population would drop more.  People may move to Cochise County for its affordable housing.  Certainly nobody moves here because of the building code.


20, Building Official Mike Izzo spoke against at a Supervisors' work session on June 27. 
The agenda is at
The bottom of that page has links to the Department's Memorandum and slide show Presentation.  The minutes are at

21, Izzo's Presentation p. 9 offers "Lost revenue" as an attack on OBOO.  
Izzo has said that contractors want a "level playing field."  Seriously? -- contractors think a playing field is level if they can demand that you employ them?  On July 19, I asked Izzo if he thought the law should be changed to protect SACA profits.  He answered "No."  A good answer.

22, Perhaps "lost revenue" means that OBOO fees don't bring in as much money as the County wants.  So what?  The fee for OBOO covers the work 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:
The meeting resulted in expanding OBOO!  See Item 6 in the BOS minutes from March 2, 2010:

23, Presentation p. 2 says OBOO homes "are not benefitting from the attention to safety that our process provides," and Izzo said that lack of the Code process leaves "1/3 of our residents at risk of unsafe living conditions."  But the Department hasn't shown that its "process" makes anybody safer.  The Department only offers anecdotes, like a house fire whose cause is not known.  Well, here's a Cochise County citizen's anecdote about the Department "process:"  "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.  The roof is cement shingles and when they were put on I knew they were not doing it right but I was the bitchy homeowner ... 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 for the first years ... until the company went out of business.  And the ROC [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 being done correctly, only that it is done."  Take that, County "process."

24, To really compare OBOO and non-OBOO homes, you have to run the numbers.  On July 19, Izzo said the number (12) of completed OBOO homes in the last five years is too small to allow a valid comparison of fire rates.  His statement is nonsense (I speak as a math major who did actuary work).  For such a great change in the law, the County should have a mathematical study to get at the truth.

25, The Department said, falsely, that OBOO makes insurance rates go up.  Memo p. 1 says that when "Cochise County was audited by the Insurance Services Office Inc. (ISO)....  The auditors ... gave us a low residential rating because of" OBOO.  But that can't be, because OBOO isn't an item on ISO's checklist.  The checklist has water supply, type and availability of equipment, personnel, training, and community alarm & paging system.  See p. 45 at
The Department added that "insurers may use [ISO's] rating to charge more for homeowners insurance for homes that receive a Certificate of Occupancy in 2016 and forward," but the Memo's own p. 1 undercuts 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 about ISO and insurance rates, see
which notes "ISO ratings might have very little, if any, effect on insurance premium rates in many states.  Some insurance companies have discontinued purchasing ISO data ....  Instead of using a theoretical risk evaluation they have opted for a system where they use the actual loss within a zip code."

26, On June 27, Supervisors English and Judd, whatever their leanings, considered the issues, facts, and law.  Call, however, played dumb.  He said he thought when OBOO was passed that it was intended for lots of 50 acres or so, and that 4-acre lots were urban -- although Call previously knew the acreages, and the difference between urban and rural; see
Call also knew this stuff when the BOS adopted OBOO -- see
Worse, Call argued that even one fire was too many, as if screwing standards to the limit would prevent fires; luckily, Supervisor English was there to explain that no written code can stop human error.  Wors, Call said he'd already decided to vote against OBOO -- here's 6 seconds of audio:
-- so he won't consider any new input, even the new Department study that he voted for.  Call is being unwise:  "A supervisor who neglects or refuses to perform any duty imposed on him without just cause ... or fraudulently or corruptly performs any duty imposed upon him by law ... in addition to other penalties or punishment prescribed, shall forfeit to the county five hundred dollars for every such act," ARS 11-223 .

27, Izzo had other worries.  He worried that Code inspectors can't get inside OBOO structures to snoop, even if no problems are suspected; however, there are Constitutional problems with random government snooping.  He worried that, looking at only one side of some houses, he couldn't see if there were bedroom windows on the other side.  He worried that OBOO homes may be larger than the permit application stated, although home size has nothing to do with whether a permit is granted, nor with safety.  He worried that one OBOO builder used a metal shipping container as a basement without counting it in the home's area.  He worried that OBOO homes can be hard to remodel, and that remodelers may bid too low for the problems they'll find -- as if contractors can't write contracts with contingencies.  He worried that OBOO homes may also create hazards for future buyers -- as if buyers can't get home inspections.  He worried that OBOO homes may not obtain street addresses.  He had a lot of hypothetical worries.  What he didn't have was any evidence that his hypothetics had ever made any OBOO home unsafe.


OBOO was Item 2 on the P&Z Commission's August 9 Agenda, at
Izzo's memo about OBOO is page 19 in the Packet at that link.  You can hear a recording of the OBOO parts of the meeting at
(this is much louder and clearer than the first recording I provided).

31, Here's what my wife and I intended to say in the Call To the Public at the beginning of the meeting:
-- Helene:
    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.
-- Me:
    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.

32, By coming first in the discussion, those comments could have made a difference, but P&Z Chairman Greene got tricky.  We signed up to speak at the Call To the Public at the beginning of the meeting.  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 the item came up, Greene let Izzo go first and shape the discussion on the Department's terms.

33, When Greene introduced the subject of OBOO, he used Izzo's
addition to the Supervisors' mandate.  To the Supervisors' order to discuss OBOO, Izzo's addition adds words that the Supervisors did not say:  "repealing this program will help to assure current and new residents that homes being built in Cochise County are safe for habitation."  By repeating Izzo's addition, Greene in effect told the Commission that the Supervisors wanted it to find rationales for dumping OBOO.

34, Izzo gave the same generalities and guesses that the Department always gives.  Amazingly, after all this time, Izzo could not say when OBOO passed.  Commissioner Edie asked him, & he said 2008 or maybe 2007. 

35, Only after Izzo's statement did Helene & I get to give our presentations, essentially as set out in Paragraph 30.

36, Then Commissioners Gregan and Brauchla spoke against OBOO.  They are contractors, so there's an obvious possibility of conflict of interest. 
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, but hiding facts which require recusal is dishonorable.  See ARS 11-222 and ARS 11-223 .  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" -- but contractors Gregan and Brauchla did.  The appearance of conflict of interest is so strong that the burden is on them to prove that they do not have a conflict.  If Gregan and Brauchla want people to believe that they have no conflict of interest, let them prove it, not ask citizens to blindly have faith in them.

37, After Gregan and Brauchla spoke, Chairman Greene gave his point of view:  that he agreed with them.  That's a different procedure for meetings than the one I remember, where the chair would first solicit everyone else's input, then give his own opinion.  Worse, Greene's argument consisted of incredibly irrelevant anecdotes:  fires at a nightclub back east, the Grenfell Tower in England, and the Torch Tower in Dubai -- contractor-built high-rise hives in the middle of cities! 
A sound conclusion would be that codes don't protect anyone, but responsible building does -- the kind of building that OBOO promotes.

38, In short, at a meeting structured to disfavor OBOO, only three of the seven Commissioners present spoke against OBOO.  The other four did not speak (except for Edie asking when OBOO was passed).  OBOO's opponents gave a lame performance, a good sign that they have run out of gas and just aren't able to give good answers to OBOO's defenders.

It's unclear what information will be passed on to the Supervisors, or when.


40, The Building Code passed in 2004 adds nothing to safety, but loses County government a lot of money, now about a million dollars a year.  The Department's idea of a fix -- besides dumping OBOO -- is raising permit prices sky-high.  For example, the $100 fee for a 22x24' garage would jump to $458, and the $1379 fee for a 2000 sq ft home would more than double, to $2898.  If OBOO were gone, people would have to pay those monstrous fees.  Yet the fees are still nowhere near enough to end the deficit, which will remain huge.

41, The Department's rationale is basically "other counties charge more, so we should too" -- you remember, the "you should jump off a cliff because everyone else is" argument that was a loser even in grade school.  This is why the Department as the Supervisors for a work session on July 25, 2017.  Here's the agenda of that meeting:

42, The Code is basically the International Building Code, with many modifications, so it's long and complex, and gives infinite opportunities for desk jockeys to nitpick at construction.  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:
The Code puts Sierra Vista-style restrictions on rural areas:  one person living on a rural lot the size of a city block is regulated as if it were a city lot on which 42 people lived.

43, T
he Code wasn't passed for safety reasons.  The "safety" argument was a scam.  Before the Code, rural buildings weren't suffering a rash of falling down or burning up.  When then-Department head Vlahovich pushed the Code in 2004, he admitted he "was not able to recount actual deaths due to lack of codes."  Citizen Kelly Savage has noted that when promoting the Code, the Department "was really talking about fire safety.  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 creating 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."

44, The Code was really passed for financial reasons:  the County wanted to make money by imposing fees on an anticipated building boom.  See the Planning & Zoning Commission minutes  at
 and the Board Of Supervisors minutes, Item 12 at

45, The boom never happened.  In fact,
we're now the 4th-fastest SHRINKING area in America, by percentage.  With a shrinking population, building slowed down and so did the income from Code fees.  For a while the Department tried to conceal that.  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.  The deficit grew to about $422,000 in 2008.  Then the Department adopted an accounting method which obscured the numbers.  On July 19, Izzo acknowledged recent numbers showing about an $800,000 annual loss, and the last I've heard is an annual loss of about $1 million.  The Code is a financial disaster that's wrecking the County budget.

Paying Department employees to carry out the Code scam is breaking the County treasury.  Responsible commercial builders could support dumping the Code because they already build to high standards.  Why boost the cost of permits sky-high to support a failed experiment?  Why raise prices on a product that people don't want?  Why not just dump the Code?

47, Cutting losses by dumping the Code staff could bring huge benefits to the county.  With some of the money saved, we could spend more on roads, bring back the Bookmobile, improve rural law enforcement and transportation, and so on.  Rural areas don't deserve to be impoverished by a "bright idea" that's been failing since it was passed.

48, The County has even built up a lot of ill will by the way it's handled the Code.  When the P&Z Commission looked at the proposed Code in 2004, it requested a yearly review; and when the Supervisors passed the Code, 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, the Supervisors broke state law.  State law requires an Advisory Board to be created when a Code is passed, to give designated citizens input into it.  But the Supervisors stalled for almost nine years, with the County Attorney's Office while knowing that the law was being broken.  See
The Planning Department went along with these breaches of promise and trust.  Time to rein it in.


50, In informal discussion after the June 27 meeting, County employees rejected any thought of using binoculars or telephoto lenses to scrutinize OBOO houses without coming onto the property.  I think the County instincts are right, because that kind of intrusion can lead to drastic confrontations.  Staffers also rejected the idea of stern prosecution of technical violations of OBOO's terms by owner-builders.

51, In our discussion of July 19, Izzo felt 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.  I see that as attempting to dig into people's wallets based upon how much of their own money you think they deserve to keep.  I also note tension between Izzo's view here, and his argument that OBOO users often don't have enough money for their projects.  Izzo says he is against big government, and I believe he thinks so, but I think it is "big government" paternalism to supervise how people spend their own money, and I think Cochise County is sparse territory for that kind of paternalism.

52, Izzo's memo's second paragraph says "In 2016, 1/3 of the permits issued for site built homes in the County were" OBOO.  But only about 2-3 OBOO homes are completed completed per year.  The Department has created a tempest in a teapot.   In our discussion, Izzo and I were both puzzled about why so few OBOO permits result in completed homes.  In my opinion, people have dream projects, or like the idea of freedom and privacy on their own property, and are willing to spend $105 to as the first step toward their dream; and if a dream doesn't work out, not much lost.  In Izzo's opinion, OBOO "sets people up" to fail by letting them start projects without enough cash to finish.  I think he's being too paternalistic for Cochise County.


60, This section originally began with a list of official County emails addresses.  However, at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on August 9, it became clear that few, if any, Commissioners use that email system.  So if you want to give your opinion, I'd use the telephone.  The most useful number at the County is (520) 432 9200.  That number can always transfer you to the most appropriate number.

61, If you must email, and risk being ignored, here's a quick guide.  Basically, 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 .