Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What Developments are at the Intersection of Electric Vehicles and the Construction Industry?

                                             Image By Fortunate4now (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Construction and technology have always been deeply connected, and as the “internet of things” grows, there’s a new element to be considered in this partnership: personal vehicles.  Never has technology been so ingrained in our daily lives, and the construction industry is in a special place to feel the effects of this shift. The influence of tech and green building trends leads one to ask how electric vehicles will be a factor in construction in the coming years.

Changes will most likely have their roots in legislation, as evidenced by the addition to this year’s green building code of certain mandatory considerations for electric vehicle charging facilities. Government policy decisions are the single largest factor in the scope and timing of electric vehicle accommodations in California.  Having said that, a mix of policymaking, administrative, environmental and even cultural forces will determine the outcome of electric vehicle facility implementation.

In the last week , Governor Brown signed an expansive energy plan for the state which aims to increase renewable energy sources and decrease emissions. As part of this plan, in an effort to reduce reliance on gas, there is a stimulus program for utilities to build more EV charging stations. Utilities have already begun work on overhauling the foundation for EV charging, but regulators are quick to put up roadblocks in order to force proper assessment and planning of any such projects. Recently a proposal by PG&E to hike electricity rates in order to fund an EV infrastructure project was found to be overly ambitious and rejected in its current form by the California Public Utilities Commission. This slows things down, but it ultimately won’t stop the project from progressing.

Meanwhile, businesses like this luxury hotel chain are installing EV charging stations in an attempt to be more competitive in the market, a sign that maybe EVs are becoming an important part of our country’s transportation system and not just a novelty.

As the state implements the governor’s energy policy and the public utilities expand EV infrastructure, it stands to reason that electric vehicle ownership could increase in response. As it is there are more EVs on the road than public charging stations, and this is causing problems among California drivers.  In the coming years, we could see a jump in electrical contractors in the State of California obtaining certifications to install EV chargers, as well as  hose facilities becoming more the norm in new construction projects.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What Implications do the Latest Ride-Share Rulings Have for California’s Changing Transportation Landscape?

To a lot of Californians, Uber, Lyft and the like represent the future – the transportation network companies (“TNC”) are using technology to change the way people view transportation.  There are a lot of legal and regulatory shifts, however, that will determine ride-sharing’s ultimate fate.  One of these developments is a recent vote in the State Assembly against requiring random drug testing for drivers that work for ride-sharing companies. While everyone else who is paid to drive passengers is subject to random drug testing, TNC drivers are now exempt.

Ride-sharing companies are not unaware of the fact that their very business model could bring about changes in how regulators view the passenger transportation industries. While TNC services don’t have the same requirements for drivers as taxis, limo drivers, etc. they have something else – technological advancements that allow information to be passed rapidly which then translates to quick action when passenger safety is at issue.

That being said, there is also a pushback against the very framework of the TNC’s – not just from other businesses that transport individual passengers, but from those on the street, so to speak. This was brought into sharp relief when the California Labor Commission ruled on one particular Uber driver this month who sued Uber, deciding that she was an employee and not an independent contractor as TNC drivers are purported to be.

On a different note, arguably in an act that legitimizes the ride-sharing model, the California Insurance Commission authorized Farmers Insurance to provide additional coverage to TNC drivers that protects them during a period of time when drivers heretofore found themselves with no coverage whatsoever. “Period one” as it’s known.

Here is Farmer’s official Rideshare Policy Extension:

What does Farmers Rideshare cover?
Farmers Rideshare extends your personal auto insurance coverage until you accept a ride and the rideshare company’s full $1M commercial coverage applies. This policy enables you to select the coverage that fits your needs, including:
Comprehensive and collision coverages that pay for damages to your car
Uninsured motorist coverage, in case you are hit by a driver who isn’t insured or is                             underinsured
Medical payment and personal injury protection (if required)
Farmers Rideshare coverage ends when you accept a ride. The rideshare company’s full $1M commercial coverage applies until that ride exits your car. Farmers Rideshare once again applies until you accept your next ride.

Perhaps one of the most telling signs that changes to our transportation system are on their way is the announcement by Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti that the LADT is hiring an ride-share and autonomous car advisor, to assist in transitioning to a new era molded by environmental and technological developments.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Construction and the California Drought, Part 2: New Building Codes and the Partnership between Housing Authorities and Local Water Districts

The construction industry has a complicated relationship with the California drought, which is now getting close to a fifth year.  Gains in the construction industry helped the California economy bounce back from the effects of the recession, and it’s kept going at a sustained pace in order to meet the needs of a constantly growing population. To put any restrictions on construction in the midst of California’s water shortage doesn’t make a lot of sense, due to the above-mentioned housing demand and the economic boost that the industry facilitates.

However, last month, the State Water Resources Control Board approved emergency regulations which are intended to meet the 25% reduction in state water use ordered by the Governor. California authorities are taking steps to relieve water demands, allowing construction to proceed under more drought-friendly conditions. Then, on May 29th, the California Building Standards Commission approved emergency regulations revising the 2013 Green Building Standards that substantially reduce the amount of water that may be used by new developments. Under the new standards, new construction on an area of land larger than 2,500 square feet will have to meet lower water usage requirements.

These rules are intended to reduce the water that homeowners use on their lawns, requiring developers and contractors to use less grass and take other measures to limit water needs, thereby instituting more drought-resistant landscapes in California.  

Is there anything else that a builder will have to consider in the near future when it comes to water conservation and efficiency? In the early 2000’s, the California legislature passed Senate Bills 221 and 610, which aimed to enhance the relationship between new land development and water availability. As a result of these laws, especially during the drought, local water districts and community planning departments have been drawn closer together. 

Some of these effects have been described in a recent article in the Press-Enterprise. For the Yucaipa Valley Water District for example, the water allocation pattern has changed to put the community’s needs before that of new construction, and requires developers to pay for a certain amount of water which the water district will then set aside.

There are many ways in which government agencies, builders, landscapers and homeowners will have to work together to reach the water usage level ordered by the governor. We are already seeing plans move ahead to improve water efficiency, recycle water and of course, conserve. Reducing how much water we’re using on our lawns is just the first step that we have taken to address California’s extreme drought.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How will the Drought Impact California’s Construction Industry?

Perhaps no issue has been more pertinent to Californians in recent times than the increasingly troubling drought, the worst in over a millennium, which is already beginning to affect residents in real ways. It appears that the future of the state will be determined by the response to the dwindling resource. The drought may be a major factor in how things shape up for the state of California in coming years and beyond. It’s worth it to take a look at how the current conditions are intersecting with residential, commercial and public construction in California and what the implications are for the state’s changing landscape.

A discussion about dealing with the water shortage can’t truly take place without getting clarity on the issue. It has been pointed out that by far the largest amount of water is consumed by the state’s agriculture, which has also been the hardest hit by the drought, with 80% of the resource being used by farmers.

Due to the state’s water rights, which put some at an advantage, farmers are already struggling, and the future of agriculture is uncertain. Some believe that changes to agricultural land are inevitable, either in the form of more suburban developments, or in the construction of the High Speed Rail, which may lead to increased urbanization.

For California contractors and developers, the drought may mean less suburban sprawl and more mixed-use buildings, or other water-saving considerations. For example, Orange County is currently dealing with a housing shortage for its growing population, but the drought presents difficulties for new home construction. Officials claim that water efficiency is one solution to new construction during a time when water conservation is imperative:

“Water officials and environmentalists say development can occur with improved conservation…For example, developments now use water-conserving fixtures and landscaping. The Santa Margarita Water District is partnering with developer Rancho Mission Viejo to capture urban runoff for irrigation.

There may also be a growing need for construction projects that will serve water conservation goals, such as desalination.

Contractors and homeowners are already seeing long term effects on the horizon, as local water districts consider restrictions on emptying swimming pools, as well as outright bans on the construction of new pools, while drought tolerant landscaping may replace green lawns in many California neighborhoods.  It seems clear that Californians will have to adapt to drought conditions in order for housing, construction and the economy to thrive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

City of Los Angeles Taking Steps to Address High Number of Hit and Run Collisions, Failure to Apprehend Most Drivers who Flee the Scene

With recent legislation, the City of Los Angeles is addressing a growing safety issue for Californians, particularly pedestrians and cyclists – hit and run accidents.  Earlier this month the city council approved a measure to more effectively catch those who flee the scene of a car accident, only one-fifth of whom are arrested by the LAPD in connection with the offense, according to this Reuters story:

“Out of 40,000 car accidents in America's second-largest city, nearly half are classified as hit-and-runs, well above the national average, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.”

The city has agreed to move ahead with an information dissemination system where the details of an offending driver’s vehicle will go out to the public via social media, as well as to taxi drivers, some public transportation operators and to vehicle repair facilities that the offender might visit to address the damage to their vehicle.

The LA Times cited a 42% increase in hit and runs where a bicyclist was the victim over the decade spanning 2002 to 2012.  Although a hit and run conviction can bring with it prison time as well as thousands of dollars in fines, perpetrators of the hit and run are often not caught as shown by the police department’s statistics. Vehicle Code Section 20001, subsection (b) sets forth the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident which resulted in injury or death of a party who is not the fleeing driver:

“(b) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a person who violates
subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state
prison, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine
of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten
thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”

The state legislature has made previous attempts at combatting the hit and run problem state-wide, with several bills having been introduced that would widen the role of the current Amber Alert system, which, if passed, would use freeway signs to let motorists know that a vehicle involved in a collision has fled the scene. Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed these types of bills every time they have been brought up, fearing that this would be a strain on the current alert system, and therefore render it ineffective. 

San Diego also has reason to be concerned - statistics show that deaths from hit and runs in 2014 topped any other year in the past decade. That city is also taking steps to make the streets and sidewalks safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Evolution of Automotive Technology Offers Safety Innovations for Drivers, But the Law Has to Catch Up

The month of January brings with it a couple of major trade shows for the automotive industry, including the North American International Auto Show in Detroit which comes to a close this weekend. The developments that have peaked the most interest for drivers are related to the intersection of technology and safety. Automobile safety leading up to 2015 has largely depended on drivers obeying the rules of the road and vehicle manufacturers facilitating their ability to do so by ensuring that the cars they make are free of any defects. Recently, California roads became a testing ground for driverless vehicles when the DMV issued manufacturer permits for these cars, most of which were given to Google.

When the State of California recently missed a deadline to approve safety regulations for driverless cars, it was a reflection of the fact that safety standards for emerging technology have not even been developed. California regulators decided to let the deadline pass because they believed that there was no point in trying to determine the safety of autonomous vehicles when there are no guidelines for measuring what that would entail.

New automotive technology is bringing some of the equipment used by autonomous cars to old-fashioned driver-operated vehicles. Some of these were seen at the Silicone Valley International Auto Show this month, and include cameras, sensors and detectors that aim to reduce road accidents. While these advancements aim to counter the effects of human error, some of them can actually do the work of preventing accidents.

Driverless cars must obey the same rules of the road as a vehicle operated by a driver. But lawmakers must decide on the other ways their safety will be assessed, directly related to the computer operating system that’s running the car – how dependable is that system and how quickly can it provide control to a human driver if need be.

Many drivers may be wondering how these advancements in safety might affect their insurance rates – automobile insurance carriers don’t think a big reduction in premiums is coming anytime soon. This is in part because, even though many accidents could be prevented by a vehicle equipped with extra safety provisions, if an accident does occur, the repair bill for those cars may be much higher.

Friday, January 16, 2015

California Notary Acknowledgement Form Amendment Will Affect Construction and Real Estate Documents

In 2014, the Governor of California signed into law a small but significant change to the notary acknowledgment form, a document which must be attached to, among other things, certain real property related filings with the County Clerk.

The amendment to section 1189 of the Civil Code was known as Senate Bill 1050 , in Chapter 197 of the 2014 Statutes.  According to the legislation, the certificate signed by a notary must explicitly state, in a separate enclosed box, that the notary is a witness ONLY to the identity of the document’s signor, and not to any information contained within the document. The law also requires the change to be reflected in a new Notary Acknowledgement Form. Specifically, the additional wording is:

“A notary public or other officer completing this certificate verifies only the identity of the individual who signed the document to which this certificate is attached, and not the truthfulness, accuracy, or validity of that document.”

The change became effective on January 1, 2015.  Therefore any document signed in front of a notary after that date must have the new Acknowledgement attached. Anything notarized in 2014 with the previous form will not be rejected by a County Clerk.

A notary public must be a witness to several important documents that are pertinent to the construction and real estate industries, such as: Release of Claim of Mechanics Lien, Lis Pendens and Deeds.