At a marathon meeting of the Windsor Town Council on Sept. 4, the two topics that brought out the development community and the citizenry were both to do with housing.
The first reading passed 4-0 to adopt an all-electrical reach code, a change to the building code in Windsor that would require all new low-rise residential construction to be all electric. Councilmember Bruce Okrepkie abstained. This includes single-family homes, multi-family below four stories, and detached accessory dwelling units. Attached ADUs are exempt. The reach code is required to be implemented at the time of building permit submittal and if approved will be effective Jan. 1, 2020 (any projects already approved will not be subject to the new ordinance).
Town of Windsor Planner Kim Jordan stated that some of the benefits of going all-electric include fewer green house gas emissions than mixed fuel; the per-unit cost savings is $6,171 in part because less infrastructure is required; and that all-electric is cost neutral for appliances and mechanical systems.
In addition, it also allows to the town to get closer to its desired goals for green house gas reductions set forth in the 2040 general plan, which include GHG reductions to 25% below 1990 level by 2020, 40% below 1990 levels by 2030; 60% below 1990 levels by 2040 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
More than 10 representatives of the housing industry came forward to voice their concerns. Most of the discussion of the code was centered around whether or not the studies and cost-savings calculators provided accurate information, but concern was also expressed about whether or not the local electrical grid was capable of handling the inevitable rise in use from having all-electric houses.
Primarily though, most builders stated that any additional regulation was simply a bad idea in an area where housing is scarce, and that consumers have a preference for gas appliances.
Some also complained about what they saw was a lack of a public process, though it was pointed out there had been three previous opportunities, one of which was a public open forum, for people to express their views. Several speakers discussed putting the code through the California Environmental Quality Act process in order to do additional fact-finding and put the proposal through the environmental impact report process.
Several community members and representatives of the green building and architecture community spoke in favor of the code, with many of them discussing the larger global implications of unchecked climate change.
Vice Mayor Deborah Fudge was unrelenting in her pursuit of this step in reducing emissions.
“Having been here for a long time this reminds me of the past where, Windsor had plans to do something that’s innovative, and we’ve been accused of bankrupting the town and threatened with recall. We’ve been studying this awhile, we talked about in the general plan, had multiple meetings and this is the last minute. I expected this, for people to come and say the sky is falling. That this is when people would show up and try and delay us. Some people who spoke to night made good points for delaying, but some of you want to delay this to kill it.
“Our own general plan say zero net energy by 2020 in all new construction, and this gets us there,” she said.
Fudge said people were only “here today because we’re the first city in north bay to tackle it. There are some people here and some who sent letters who don’t care about Windsor, they just don’t want this precedent set. We have an emergency, we don’t have 10 years to talk about it, we need to start now,” she concluded.
The other members of the council were largely in favor of the measure, but Okrepkie did voice some concerns about the process.
“I don’t know the right answer but I do think we’re moving very fast and didn’t get community input when we should have, until tonight, from those who were concerned about it,” he said. “This could be the right alternative, I need more information to make a good decision.”
In the end four of the five councilmembers approved three items, resolutions for the first reading of the all-electric ordinance, submittal of an application to the California Energy Commission and adoption of the 2019 building code later this year with the requirement, with Okrepkie abstaining from the vote for all three.
There was then a brief discussion, which mirrored some of the reach code conversation as the council opted to officially declare a climate emergency.
The evening ended with another long housing related discussion as the council received a staff report and public input on the town’s inclusionary housing ordinance. There had been plans to discuss and make changes to the ordinance in November 2017, but at that time concern about housing post-fire had delayed the conversation.
Councilmember Sam Salmon had asked for the discussion to be reopened with this agenda item, which saw Town Manager Ken MacNab filing in the current state of affordable housing units in Windsor, and what methodologies has been used previously.
In addition there was discussion of the so-called “missing middle,” those families that do not qualify as low-income but are still largely priced out of the current housing market. Much of the discussion was around the various mechanism available for creating those units.
The town generally requires for a certain percentage of units built to be “affordable” or to pay in-lieu fees into the town’s inclusionary housing fund.
Once again, both members of the home building industry and members of the community spoke about their desires and their concerns. Scott Schellinger of the Windsor Jensen Land Company pointed out that part of the issues was with the nomenclature.
“Stop talking about affordable housing, because there’s no such thing,” he said. “There’s market rate housing and subsidized housing. That’s it. So, the question is how do you responsibly use and leverage those monies. This is not a problem caused by building new houses, it’s a community problem with lots of contributing factors. It is grossly unfair to expect the new home community to shoulder the entire burden.”
Conversation also moved in to the environmental realm again, as the idea of people being able to live where they work and thus cut down on emissions from lengthy commutes plays into the need for a variety of housing options.
Equity and integration and inclusiveness were also brought up, with people on both sides of the aisle admitting that having low income units mixed in with market rate can be problematic, with either existing homeowners not wanting such projects being built next door, or buyers of new homes turned off by an integrated neighborhood.
In the end, the direction to staff was to do research on all of the available options and bring them back to the council and the community for continued discussion.
“I think today is the beginning of a very important discussion would like to see us come back a variety of options — all the tools in the toolbox — so we can really examine them to make the best decision moving forward,” said Councilmember Esther Lemus. “I like the idea of ‘affordability by design,’ and I’d like to have a discussion about zoning. I think we have to examine everything. I'd like you to return with variety of options and tools and models."