West U. Councilman Refutes Commentary By Author Of Residential Sprinkler Amendment

June 16, 2009

West U. Councilman George Boehme has written an editorial published today in the Houston Chronicle refuting an editorial published June 10 by State Representative John Otto, the author of the amendment to Senate Bill 1410 which makes it impossible for municipalities to require residential sprinklers in new home construction. The issue at hand varies depending on who you ask – from some, it is money, for others it is local control and for still others it is safety.


The issue has loomed large in West U. recently, with the passage of the bill coming just weeks after City Council voted to require the sprinklers. If Governor Rick Perry does not veto the bill by June 21, it will become law.


Boehme, along with West U. Mayor Bob Kelly wrote a letter to Perry earlier this month asking that he veto the bill, saying the issue was just as much about local control as it was residential sprinkler systems. West U. Fire Chief Steve Ralls joined firefighters from around the state in Austin recently at a gathering and press conference aimed at convincing Perry to veto.


Many in opposition to the bill say the builders’ lobbyists are to blame for the success of the amendment, and say builders are against the requirement because of the additional cost the sprinkler systems add to new home construction.


In his commentary, Otto said that in the Legislature, you need to “follow the money if you want to understand why something happens.”


“My office has a copy of a sprinkler industry publication that states if fire sprinklers were mandated, the market would increase from $100 million per year to $3 billion per year in revenues,” said Otto. “I refused to stand by and watch one industry profit at the cost of homeowner choice… The bill was supported by numerous industry groups, including Habitat for Humanity Texas, Independent Insurance Agents of Texas, Texas Association of Realtors and the Texas Association of Builders. The bill was opposed by many fire chiefs and fire associations, none of whom testified that they had fire sprinklers in their own homes.”


Ralls says it would cost about $2 per square foot to have the sprinkler systems installed. The average home in West U. is 4,000 sq. ft., making the average cost of the sprinklers $8,000 per new construction.


“What does Rep. Otto’s amendment do?,” said Boehme in his commentary. “If Governor Perry doesn’t veto SB1410, the state government will take away each municipality’s ability to make their own decisions about residential fire sprinklers. One size does not fit all… West University Place is less than two square miles. We have about 5700 homes and 15,000 residents. We are a densely populated community. Our lots are small and houses close. Fires often spread to multiple structures and affect several property owners. The preemptive law was authored by a State Legislator whose district office is in Dayton, 43 miles from the City of West University Place. Cows graze in Dayton, we have no grazing cows in West U. Dayton is a rural area with different dynamics than our urban community. If the Dayton City Council doesn’t want fire sprinklers, that is their local option under current law. But a Dayton resident, even if he is a State Legislator, should not be able to write the building code for all cities in Texas.”


For Otto’s complete commentary, click here. For Boehme’s, click here.


InstantNewsWestu Staff

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