Changes to state and national standards may impact decision
SANTA ROSA -- Just four months after mandating that new homes and commercial buildings be built according to environmentally friendly standards, Santa Rosa city officials are already exploring ways to make the city’s buildings even greener.
As Santa Rosa and other North Bay governments weigh their next green-building steps toward meeting state and countywide quotas for rolling back energy, the state and national benchmarks underlying local guidelines are also changing.
Since the City Council passed an ordinance in June, new single-family homes in Santa Rosa must qualify for at least 50 points on the Build-It-Green rating system, and commercial buildings must obtain at least 20 points from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system for new construction.
The council charged an advisory committee of real estate, banking, construction and sustainability experts to explore expansion of the city’s green-building standards. Early last month a 68-page draft report on the economic impacts of incremental increase alternatives was prepared by Gabel Associates, Practica Consulting and Kema Services.
The group has developed alternatives in four tiers ranging from status quo to zero-net-energy usage, which they will present to the City Council later this year.
Properly outlining the impacts has been challenging because the BuildItGreen and LEED standards are set to undergo major reorganization next year, and tougher Title 24 state energy-efficiency standards, which are related to the rating standards, will take effect in mid-2009.
Committee member Greg Hurd of civil engineering and urban planning firm Carlenzoli & Associates advocates a cautious approach to ordinance increases to avoid burdening the struggling local building industry as it looks to recover in the next few years.
“Let requirements for builders be light and see how it works,” he said. “Let it adjust with recognized benchmarks like Title 24. Let’s not stick it to builders right off the bat because they may look for ways to compromise what they’re doing.”
The city’s existing low-water irrigation ordinance plus Title 24 already put builders close to achieving the needed Build-It-Green and LEED points, according to Mr. Hurd.
Jeff Negri, a real estate broker with NAI BT Commercial and a committee member, said the city’s current green-building requirements don’t put much of an added cost on projects, but ramping the requirements too much without a commensurate increase in rents could crimp building owners too much.
“I’ve not seen it bear out that tenants will pay more rent if they’re in an energy-efficient building,” he said. “A lot in LEED and Build It Green are not for the benefit of the landlord but the tenant.”
Sonoma County officials are developing a proposal for a green-building ordinance parallel to the point system Santa Rosa enacted in June, according to DeWayne Starnes, deputy director of the county Permit & Resource Management Department. The county originally wanted to institute a voluntary program, but the Santa Rosa City Council’s decision for a mandatory program prompted the county to pursue required standards.
“Unless you offer substantial incentives, voluntary programs really don’t work,” Mr. Starnes said.