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Wood Burners Could Be Banned

Proposed crackdown on fireplaces, stoves among toughest in Bay Area

Paul Payne, Press Democrat, 07/16/2003

The sweltering heat won't be the only burning issue in Sebastopol this summer.

Tough new restrictions on fireplaces and wood stoves could become law as part of an effort to clear the air of unhealthy chimney smoke.

A proposed ordinance before the City Council requires homeowners to replace outdated units when their houses go on the market and bans the use of all wood-burning fireplaces in four years.

If adopted, Sebastopol's new rules would be among the toughest in the Bay Area.

The North Bay Association of Realtors opposes a key provision that would require homeowners to replace older units before a sale, said Kathy Hayes, director of governmental affairs for the group.

"We don't think we should be the inspectors," Hayes said. "If the city wants to do this, they should do it."

Sebastopol has sought a wood-smoke rule since last year, when council members first heard complaints about chimney emissions.

After a contentious public meeting in December, the council commissioned a group of air-quality regulators, wood stove sellers and real estate agents to come up with standards.

Led by Councilwoman Linda Kelley, the group submitted a six-page draft June 30.

The council will consider it at an Aug. 5 meeting.

Kelley did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment.

The draft is similar to the earlier proposal, requiring older devices not certified by the Environmental Protection Agency after 1990 to be replaced.

It also requires that wood stoves be upgraded at the time of home remodeling or sale, and calls for an outright ban on wood-burning fireplaces by 2007.

Noncompliant fireplace inserts and stoves would have to be replaced or made inoperable by 2004. And no new wood-burning devices would be allowed after 2007.

Exempt from the rules would be stoves used for cooking food and gas appliances. Homes with old devices that are the only source of heat also could be waived.

Violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine and jail time.

Todd Cunningham, the city's chief building official, said the goal is to reduce small airborne particles that contain carcinogens and cause respiratory ailments.

Part of the draft ordinance includes public instruction on health problems, he said.

"Anything that cleans the air is good," Cunningham said. "It just depends on how you approach it."

Santa Rosa adopted less-stringent wood-smoke rules in 2002, in part because regional air standards were lower then.

In Santa Rosa, old stoves and fireplace inserts must be replaced by 2004. But open-hearth fireplaces will not be banned and sellers must disclose only noncompliant appliances.

Exactly how many Sebastopol homes would be forced to meet the tougher standards or how much it would cost was not known.

But Hayes, who said North Bay air has not worsened over the past few years, said it would be an expense to homeowners.

She said the restrictions were too heavy and she criticized officials for dumping part of the burden for enforcing standards on the real estate industry.

"Real estate professionals are going to be asked to be fireplace police," Hayes said.

Cunningham said city inspectors would be largely responsible for enforcement, along with the city attorney. The city would act on specific complaints and would not go door-to-door looking for violators.

"We're going to try to do this in a friendly way," Cunningham said. "(The deadlines) will creep up pretty fast."


The Sebastopol City Council is considering an ordinance that would phase in new restrictions on wood-burning fireplaces and stoves over the next four years. The deadlines:

June 2004: Wood-burning fireplace inserts or stoves built before 1990 must be replaced when a home is remodeled or sold; noncompliant units must be replaced or made inoperable.

June 2007: All wood-burning fireplaces are banned.


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