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City adopts green building program

SOLANA BEACH — Solana Beach, one of the smallest cities in San Diego, took a giant step toward reducing its carbon footprint by becoming the first in the county to adopt a green building program.
Approved by City Council 4-1 at the Dec. 10 meeting, the incentive-based program will be voluntary for residential and commercial projects and mandatory for those that are public or publicly funded.
Green building is a process to create facilities and supporting infrastructure that minimize the use of resources and harmful effects on the environment.
In developing a plan for Solana Beach, city staff reviewed several programs in California and throughout the country. The goal was to create a turn-key program for commercial and residential projects that was simple to understand, as well as one that could easily become mandatory if necessary.
For residential projects, council adopted Build It Green, a California-based, nonprofit membership organization that connects consumers and building professionals with the necessary tools and technical expertise to build quality green buildings.
Steve Didier, assistant city manager, said one advantage to Build It Green is that it is developing a carbon footprint calculator to determine greenhouse gas emissions. This will help quantify the environmental benefits for residents who are remodeling or rebuilding their homes.
“They’ll be able to evaluate what they had, what they’re changing to and what their reduction is,” Didier said. “That will be very important for the city as we move down the road and legislation requires municipalities to start tracking their carbon footprint and showing those reductions.”
Using its GreenPoint Rated program, which was developed according to state building-code standards, Build It Green awards points for implementation of specific green measures. Owners and builders can receive green building certification using GreenPoint checklists that correspond to guidelines for each of the three residential project types — new, existing and multifamily.
Builders and homeowners must follow an eight-step certification process. Even small projects, such as kitchen or bathroom remodels, can be certified green under the program. To be certified green, a residential project must receive at least 50 points.
For voluntary commercial and mandatory public or publicly funded projects, the minimum requirement will be the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, silver standard. That is the second step in the four-level LEED system. LEED certification is similar to that of the GreenPoint Rated program.
Most of the more than 50 building professionals who attended city-sponsored workshops in November and December support green building programs. Their main concerns are additional upfront costs.
According to a California study of 33 green commercial projects, there is a three-year return on investment.
The Solana Beach program, which is expected to launch in February, will offer three incentives to encourage owners and builders to seek green certification.
Projects that include a green building application will automatically be moved to the top of the pile in the permitting process. This could potentially reduce a project’s development time by several months, City Manager David Ott said.
The first 15 applicants whose projects receive certification according to program guidelines will receive a $1,000 rebate. Those achieving LEED platinum status will get an additional $500.
Owners, builders and designers will also receive recognition at a City Council meeting, on the Web site and in the city newsletter.
“I’m so pleased to see this come before us,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said, noting that the majority of recent applications have been for green projects. “I think it is the wave of the future,” she said.
Although Councilman Tom Campbell, who voted against the resolution, supports the program, he was concerned about the mandatory requirement for the city.
“I’m wondering why we wouldn’t want to consider making it voluntary for us,” Campbell said.
“I think the concept’s great,” he said. “I think moving in that direction is great. I just think that when we start adopting things like this we need to provide for a little bit of flexibility.”
“Let’s set the standard high for a year and see how it goes,” Mayor Mike Nichols said. “If we are running into problems then we don’t have to necessarily continue down this path. But trying to be the leader in this is important.”
“It’s good that we can be the leader,” Campbell said. “On the other hand, I hate to obligate (us) to have to build a project that’s going to cost significantly more money if we build it green versus nongreen.
“And I’m not suggesting that the cost is not necessarily worth it,” he said. “We’re eliminating our ability to make that determination when that particular project comes up.”
With state legislation requiring a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Heebner said green building could eventually be mandatory for all public projects.
“When it is, we should consider it then,” Campbell said.