City of Berkeley approves 2016 California Building Code, proposed local amendments

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Berkeley City Council approved and adopted the 2016 edition of the California Building Code, along with proposed local amendments on operations specific to local climate conditions. 

California’s building code is updated every three years to detail the minimum safety standards for buildings. The City of Berkeley passed an ordinance that incorporates both the state code and amendments that are based on local conditions like climate and geology. This code will come into effect January 2020.

“One of the most important changes is in regards to our emergency declaration declaring a shelter crisis,” said Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for the office of Mayor Jesse Arreguín, in an email. “This allows for by-right provisions for commercial modular buildings to be used as congregate sleeping quarters for emergency housing, making it easier to set up homeless shelters.”

Included within the building code is a newly revised appendix for emergency housing, which declares that the city is experiencing a shelter crisis. The appendix includes by-right provisions for commercial modular buildings, which means no review is required to create sleeping quarters in homeless shelters.

Amendments to the code also aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent high environmental impacts.

Berkeley became the first city in the nation to ban the use of natural gases in new buildings in August. The ban had the same target of reducing greenhouse gases in single-family homes, small apartments and townhomes. Buildings that are not able to be constructed without natural gas will be exempt, though they must include infrastructure that will facilitate a future switch to full electrification.

“Another notable change is that solar panels are now required on all new construction of single family and multi-family buildings with three stories or less,” Elgstrand said in an email. “This will help us achieve both local and state standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The new building code includes a reach code, which extends the requirement of solar panels on all new single-family and low-rise residential buildings to all newly constructed buildings, including nonresidential buildings, high-rises and hotels.

New energy efficiency measures will mean that a single-family home built to 2019 energy code standards will use about 53% less energy than the same home built to the old standards, according to a City Council report on the adoption of Berkeley’s building codes. Additionally, all residential buildings of four stories or more and all nonresidential buildings need to reduce energy use by 30%, compared to the 2016 standards.

“This ordinance, with the local amendments, is a Strategic Plan Priority Project, advancing the City of Berkeley’s goals to create a resilient, safe, connected, and prepared city as well as being a global leader in addressing climate change, advancing environmental justice, and protecting the environment,” according to the City Council report.

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.