News - January 27, 2010

State law will require fire sprinklers

by Sean Howell

After trying for several years to persuade the city of Menlo Park to adopt an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in new and remodeled single-family residences, the Menlo Park Fire Protection district has decided to simply wait for a state law that would accomplish that goal to take effect.

The California Building Standards Commission adopted the new fire codes Jan. 12, requiring fire sprinklers in all new single-family dwellings in the state as of Jan. 1, 2011. The City Council was poised to take up the ordinance proposed by the fire district at its Jan. 26 meeting, but City Manager Glen Rojas removed the item from the agenda at the request of fire district officials.

The district's decision to stop pushing the council to adopt an ordinance represents the conclusion of several years of unsuccessful lobbying. The City Council in 2004 rejected a law that would require automatic sprinklers in new and some remodeled single-family homes, saying the potential safety improvements didn't justify the high cost to homeowners.

This time around, the fire district was planning to propose an ordinance that would only require the sprinklers in new homes, not remodels, said Fire Marshal Geoff Aus. The fire board had decided to scrap the proposition that the law apply to remodels because it was skeptical the council would approve it.

Because the new state law would accomplish the same thing as the proposed ordinance, the district decided to drop the issue, according to Mr. Aus.

In an interview, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said he was disappointed the city, with the help of the district, missed the chance to lead on the issue. East Palo Alto and Atherton, the other two jurisdictions within the district's boundaries, have had residential sprinkler ordinances on the books for over six years, though Atherton's does not apply to remodels.

The fire district says it will continue to work with the city to update its commercial sprinkler ordinance, which dates back to 1984. A clause necessitating sprinklers in commercial buildings is often triggered by relatively minor improvements, said Mr. Aus.

A new ordinance proposed by the district would require sprinklers only if over half the building is renovated. Menlo Park City Manager Glen Rojas said the city will "sit down with the district and figure out how best to do that, because that's definitely something we want to see changed."


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