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There is more to consider than sustainability, and public safety must never be sacrificed in the name of sustainability, or for any reason.

Here’s where the politics come in. Early supporters of the bill opposed the reference to either the IgCC or the ARCSA document, perceiving their inclusion as an effort to ignite a “code war” seeking to remove the existing model plumbing code used in California, the Uniform Plumbing Code. The changes were rejected, and the health concerns and internal conflicts remained in the bill. Disconcertingly, a long list of supporters continued to push the bill forward, either failing to understand the safety issues or choosing to ignore the critical flaws in AB275. Instead, the focus remained squarely on the sustainability gains being sought.

ICC was then faced with an agonizing decision. As the developer of the IgCC, ICC has made a firm and unequivocal commitment to advancing sustainability and safety in the built environment. Rainwater harvesting represents a big part of that effort, as witnessed within the IgCC and several new standards for rainwater harvesting products under development. At the same time, ICC’s core vision always will be the protection of the health, safety and welfare of people by creating safe buildings and safe communities. Faced with a very difficult choice between advancing a laudable sustainability goal or basic public safety, ICC chose public safety.

ICC did so, knowing that the decision could be used to paint the organization as opposed to a “motherhood and apple pie” sustainability measure. But in the end, the Code Council could not allow safety to be compromised unnecessarily. ICC knew that critical safety issues tied to poorly installed and designed outdoor rainwater systems could stain rainwater harvesting, and turn the public against a practice that holds tremendous promise.

After repeated attempts to address the safety concerns with the bill’s sponsor and other lawmakers fell on deaf ears, ICC had no choice but to register its opposition to the bill and seek its defeat. Ultimately AB275 was passed nearly unanimously by the legislature and found its way to the governor’s desk. Admirably, the governor studied the bill very closely and consulted extensively with his staff. In the end, he vetoed the bill, stating in his veto message that “I think it better to stick with the [California Building Standard Commission] process and follow existing California Law.”

You see, California has a well-established process to create and adopt building codes administered by the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC). It involves opportunities for public comment and testimony to fully vet changes to the building codes, avoiding politics and focusing on public safety. This bill sought to circumvent that process in the name of political expediency and speed. Had new rainwater harvesting requirements resulted from the CBSC process, ICC felt certain that the safety concerns would have been identified and addressed. In vetoing the bill, the governor declared his support for the more thorough, public and apolitical CBSC process for revising building codes, and we at ICC applaud him for doing so.

So, after all this, what is the takeaway and the lessons to be learned?

1. All bills and ordinances with a sustainability theme are not automatically in the public’s best interest. It should be obvious, but time and again the legislature and supporting organizations either failed to acknowledge the very real safety issues with AB 275. There is more to consider than sustainability, and public safety must never be sacrificed in the name of sustainability, or for any reason.

2. All organizations that care about sustainability in the built environment must have courage to reject efforts to hijack sustainability for the sake of politics or profits. Failing to do so will result in greenwashing and safety lapses that tarnish sustainability and slow its move into the mainstream.

3. We all need to take more time and care in considering these issues. We may be tempted to rush rainwater harvesting to immediately realize the benefits. Many well-meaning individuals and organizations simply did not take the time to examine AB 275 in light of the safety concerns, and were far too ready to dismiss them. In the end, however, California will be better served by a careful, more thorough effort to advance rainwater harvesting in the building codes through the Building Standards Commission, and ICC will whole-heartedly support that effort.

ICC has been and will continue to be accused of hypocrisy and self-interest in opposing AB 275. But, given the alternative, ICC can live with that.

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