The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu reportedly said: “The journey of 1,000 miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
So, way to go, Payson Town Council: Baby steps — but crucial nonetheless.
Back in December, each Payson Council member reportedly received a thoughtful little gift from Payson Mayor Kenny Evans: A color-coded copy of proposed revisions to the town’s 1,000-page building code.
The massive document includes thousands of changes in blue proposed by the distant committee that periodically recommends alterations of the International Building Codes. The proposed deletions show up in red. The refinements suggested by the Payson planning staff show up in an alluring purple.
Last spring, the town’s Building Advisory Board recommended the town council adopt almost all the changes proposed by the International Building Code people — with one glaring exception. The board deadlocked on whether to adopt the Wildland-Urban-Interface (WUI) code drafted by the international team of experts.
Time crawls by. We survive another terrible fire season — but Yarnell burns.
Sometime in December, the council members each were given the laboriously marked-up copy of the building code — the product of hundreds of hours of staff work. The town staff took a stab at adapting the international codes to Payson’s particular problems — including the roughly 200 pages of fire codes.
The town hoped to get council members to review the 1,000 pages and make notes and suggestions and establish priorities.
Not surprising, it has proved slow going.
Now, we’re delighted beyond measure that the town council has tackled the fire codes. We’re surrounded by thick, overgrown forests — tended to by a sometimes-distracted, always-ponderous Forest Service. Happily, the Payson Ranger District has done a good job of clearing buffer zones around many Rim Country communities. Unhappily, the U.S. Forest Service continues to dawdle in implementing the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative.
As a result, a crown fire sweeping through the tree thickets that pass for landscaping in much of the town remains the one, existential and apocalyptic threat to all we’ve built here in more than a century of struggle.
Now, granted — Gila County has proved far more negligent. The County Supervisors have repeatedly approved subdivisions in tree thickets without so much as a fire department — and little that resembles a WUI fire code.
So it falls to Payson to lead the way in adopting the kinds of building standards that have proven their value in forested communities time after time. We should have done it a decade ago — now we’re living on borrowed time.
We’re also happy to think the town will carefully consider its entire building code with an eye toward tossing out the accumulation of deadwood sections that don’t fit. In years past, the town council has often adopted the changes wholesale. The building code has grown into a thicket of contradictory conditions. Repeatedly, the town has discovered the massive accretion of rules and regulations has become inconsistent, unfair and unworkable. Consider the recent discussions about parking RVs, on-site storage containers and the sign ordinance.
But we would like to make a modest suggestion.
Don’t trim the hedges when the house is on fire.
We hope the council will fiddle a bit with its priorities, before Rome catches fire.
Specifically, we hope the council will break out the fire code provisions aimed at protecting us from wildfires and overhaul them immediately. Drop everything else — but get that done yesterday.
Then the council and the building advisory board and the planning commission can return at their leisure to deal with the 800 pages of revisions concerning plumbing, residential construction, fuel and gas lines, air conditioning ducts and every other topic you can possibly imagine.
After all, a wise man knows that you can’t do everything all at once — so you must start with the most important things.
As Lau-tzu once said: “To know what you do not know is the best. To pretend you know when you do not know is a disease.”