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.
ORGANIZATIONAL NOTE -- The Development Services is the
new name for the old Planning & Zoning Department; whatever the
name, the department is the same. This writeup tends to use the
in any case, whenever "the Department" is mentioned, it means this branch of county government.
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 25 of building permits for all kinds of projects per year are for OBOO. 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 generating a more freewheeling discussion than meetings of the Supervisors or
the Planning & Zoning Commissioners, which follow highly stylized rules of order, 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 about OBOO
OBOO IS POPULAR AND SAFE
10, OBOO began in resistance to the County Building Code, which was passed in late 2004 in
anticipation of a population boom that never happened. The
restrictions, and hefty fees, on building in 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, During the 2006 resistance to the Code, 800 people signed a petition for OBOO. They liked the freedom of country living, emphasized their self-reliance, 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 does not make homes less safe. 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
13, OBOO may make homes more safe, because its users will live in the homes 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
14, 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."
15, 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. Here's my recording of the P&Z discussion on August 9.
It has a long statement by Mike Izzo (then the County
Building Official, now retired) making the customary arguments against
OBOO. Below are responses to them, in case they are repeated in
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 are suspected. However, the Constitution wouldn't let the County do that anyway. 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 (though professional builders can
write contracts with contingencies, and it's not the County's job to
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 any of 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
The 2010 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: OBOO
is popular, but might be more popular if the Department gave better
notice of it; County Supervisor Judd's Facebook page notes
that in her experience, many applicants to the Department do not have
attention drawn to OBOO. Returning to the figures for 2016: 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. 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
THE COUNTY BUILDING CODE 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, 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 "was not able to recount actual
deaths due to lack of codes." Citizen Kelly
Savage said "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.... 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.
32, Department employees are paid to be at work.
Their pay comes from your taxes. If you must then pay more to
obtain service from employees, you may well ask "What do I pay taxes for?" Well, obtaining unearned income for the County, in addition to taxes, was the real purpose of passing the Code. Vlahovich predicted "The
start up cost for the entire program ...
would be $540,000 and the ongoing cost would come to $400,000 per
year.... 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
33, The population boom 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, 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 cost per citizen will get worse, because we're now the 4th-fastest
SHRINKING population in America, by percentage.
34, The Department's rationale 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 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.
35, 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?
36, 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, libraries, law enforcement,
and so on. Rural areas are 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
37, The County needs to rebuild trust among rural residents, and recent
changes, discussed in the next section, may mean the time is ripe.
OFFICIALS' OPINIONS AND CONDUCT
40, County bodies met several times in 2017 about OBOO and Code fees,
and proposed some very complicated calculations (see paragraphs 30+ in Edition 10 ) using methods that were not necessarily kosher (see paragraphs 40+ in Edition 10
). I'm using those links to point to the 2017 proceedings,
instead of discussing them in detail, because in early 2018, the County
Supervisors had a work session with very different substance and
attitudes. The landscape is now much better for rural residents.
41, At the 2018 meeting, the agenda -- see this agenda -- was "Discussion and possible direction regarding adjustment to the proposed
Building Fee Schedule." Unfortunately, the meeting also discussed abolishing
OBOO, which was
a violation of
the Open Meeting Law -- but the discussion took a surprising
turn. Supervisor Call, as always, opposed OBOO despite the facts,
but Supervisors English and Judd used their brains and considered the
facts. Judd noted
that if few people use OBOO, it can't hurt the County to leave OBOO
alone, and that in any case County residents like having the freedom to
use OBOO. The outcome of the discussion was that OBOO won't be
discussed again until Fall. There has never been a better time
for rural residents to tell the Supervisors, about OBOO.
42, Meanwhile, as far as building fees, the agenda said "staff is proposing flat-rate fees for the more
straightforward and simpler permits that require minimum review
and typically one or two inspections." The flat-rate fees are an incredible simplification.
43, The simplification is welcome, but it seems at odds with the Memo's
statement that the flat rates constitute "a few minor changes."
The result of calling the flat rates a minor change is that the flat
rates will not go to
the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the Building Code Advisory
& Appeals Board, for evaluation. With such great changes,
should the process now proceed as if the P&Z Commission and the
BCAAB had approved the new rates? In my opinion, this is arguably
not so; however, I've asked Dan Coxworth, the new head of Development
Services, about this, and he disagrees, and I don't see the issue as so
clear that it's worth going to the mat for.
44, In any case, with Coxworth's appointment, Development Services
seems to be going in a much, much more user-friendly direction. The expressed attitudes of Coxworth and the new County employees
administering the building code were quite different from the
hostile attitudes of the past. The emphasis expressed now,
which staff took great care to make clear, is on friendly and
helpful service, not on technical and hostile obstruction. If
this works out, then a good deal of hostility that the County
has generated over the years will dissipate. Let's hope, and encourage this change.
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, 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 at their County
email inboxes, although in my experience such emails tend not to be
opened, and in any case such emails have little or no privacy.
The Commissioners appointed by Supervisor Call:
and appointed by Supervisor English:
and by Supervisor Judd:
You can also email County employees, who actually do tend to read their emails: County
Administrator Ed Gilligan (whose job is to supervise the County's employed staff) at email@example.com , and Dan Coxworth, mentioned above, at firstname.lastname@example.org . I apologize, but I don't have the email for the new Building Official at hand.