The California Coalition for Affordable Housing, a coalition of consumer and business organizations dedicated to supporting affordable housing in the state, recently announced its support of the lawsuit filed against the California Building Standards Commission regarding the removal of plastic water piping as an approved building material in the state's plumbing code.
"The suit itself is about process and fairness," said Richard Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of PEX pipe manufacturers and PPFA members Vanguard Industries, Uponor Wirsbo and Qest Hydronics. "And the quantity and timing of political contributions to Governor Gray Davis' campaign by plumbers' unions raises questions of propriety."
Plumbers' unions reportedly gave nearly $1.7 million to Davis' gubernatorial campaign.
Church told PM that copper pipe fails after a time in some California communities because of aggressive soil and water. These communities have approved the use of PEX in their local codes "because they need it. They ought to have a choice."
State plumbers' unions, under the auspices of the California Pipe Trades Council, have opposed the use of PEX because it costs less and is less expensive to install than copper piping, according to CCAH. In a typical new home, the cost difference can be as much as $500 per house.
"California families are being ripped-off for millions of dollars in the name of politics," said Jim Conran, president of Consumers First!, a coalition member. "Gov. Davis should be doing everything he can to reduce the high price of housing, not inflating prices to line the pockets of his contributors."
The California Association of Realtors stated that the median price of homes and condos in Los Angeles County rose 15 percent over the past year to more than $266,000. Only 31 percent of residents can afford these homes, down from 35 percent last year.
At current labor rates, California families paid an extra $53.5 million "Davis Plumber's Tax" on new houses, said Kevin Eckery, executive director of CCAH.
The suit seeks to overturn the state's adoption of an updated plumbing code on May 2, 2002, which deleted PEX from the code pending an environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (see "PPFA, PEX Manufacturers Sue California Building Agency," September 2002). The California Pipe Trades Council suggested this review during a routine public review and comment period.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Building Standards Commission and other state agencies violated the civil rights of PEX manufacturers by acting arbitrarily and failing to follow their own policies and procedures.
The BSC asserts it was following its procedures.
A hearing date has been set for Dec. 13, 2002. Church had hoped to have the hearing before the Nov. 1 adoption date of the California Plumbing Code.
"We think we're right as a matter of law," Church said. "But if we were to lose, I hope the governor and the building standards group would look at what they have done [to California homeowners]."