LIVERMORE — The city council on Monday adopted a state building code provision that will make it easier for city officials to issue permits to construct temporary housing during a declared emergency, such as the state's ongoing homeless crisis and the yearlong pandemic.
The 5-0 action places the city in line with a state code addition established in 2019 that allows local jurisdictions to authorize temporary housing projects that would not meet normal state and local building code requirements. According to city staff, the code removes stricter barriers that hinder construction of tents, sleeping cabins, transportable housing units and other temporary, movable facilities necessary in a crisis.
As part of a state law technicality, cities like Livermore cannot utilize the state law to enable such projects unless they adopt the same provision into their local building codes.
Mayor Bob Woerner likened the technicality in the law to turning on "two switches” to use it.
According to Brent Smith, Livermore's building official, the less restrictive requirements for temporary, movable structures can only be used when the city manager declares a state of emergency or a local shelter crisis. California adopted the addition to its building code specifically to provide less restrictive requirements for temporary, movable structures to address California's ongoing housing and shelter crisis.
Livermore City Council declared a local shelter crisis in the city on Oct. 8, 2018, before the state adopted its code.
"This ordinance could be utilized for projects such as the Tiny Homes project at Crosswinds Church," Smith wrote. "While these appendices do reduce certain building code requirements, they continue to impose responsible requirements for temporary housing and shelter projects by maintaining minimum requirements for ceiling height, lofts, stairways, handrails, emergency egress, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors."
CrossWinds Church has been working since last year with local and county officials to develop Goodness Village — 28 160-square-foot homes for the unsheltered — on its grounds at 1660 Freisman Road. The homes, which include restrooms, showers, kitchenettes, central air conditioning and heat, and porches, are being built to provide homes at an affordable price with supportive services and activities.
The new ordinance, set to take effect in April, could be applied to provide temporary housing for people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newson declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020, and Livermore City Manager Marc Roberts followed with a local emergency order nine days later. The local order has been extended six times.
The less restrictive requirements will be allowed only when the city manager formally declares a state of emergency or a local shelter crisis. The rules would apply until the emergency or crisis is declared over.
Councilmembers Brittni Kiick and Gina Bonnano questioned what happens to a temporary housing project at that point. Livermore's Community Development Director Paul Spence said "we would look to transition the units if it came to that point” to permanent housing.
"We really don't anticipate, sadly, that we're going to have an end to the housing crisis in the next few years," Spence said.
The Livermore City Council will hold a special meeting Monday, March 15, to interview candidates to fill the planning commission seat vacated by Councilmember Gina Bonanno.