Private Greens

Private Greens

With the passage of a new sustainability ordinance on Earth Day (April 22) Los Angeles joined the small list of cities in the United States that require green building in private development.

The ordinance would require all buildings at or over 50,000 square feet or 50 units, or residential buildings over 6 stories tall, to attain the equivalent of LEED-Certified standards under the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. 

The City chose the 50,000 square foot threshold, said Claire Bowin, project manager for the LA City Planning Department, to help encourage more applications. She said the city should receive about 200 projects per year under the ordinance, and that every seventh project in the program would be audited to insure compliance. “We feel like we built a lot of flexibility into the ordinance and we really didn’t strive for more stringent standards because we wanted to get out of the gate,” she said.

The measure, whose first major milestone was its passage through the City Council’s Energy and Environment and Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committees last February, was initiated last year, when City Planning director Gail Goldberg, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made the development of a private green building program for the City a priority in a July 2007 decree. 

While the ordinance does not require buildings to go through LEED certification, a sometimes costly enterprise, the USGBC’s LEED program was used for several reasons. “LEED is an outstanding program that consistently evolves, it is run by a non-profit organization, it is a national standard, and the City already adopted it to regulate its own building activity,” Bowin explained. 

Dr. Lance Williams, executive director of the LA Chapter of the USGBC, said, “For a city this size, this is certainly a very progressive step.” He also noted that LA has emerged as a leader in green building, citing that his organization voted the LA Chapter number one in the nation for advocacy and training of LEED-Accredited Professionals (LEED-APs). 

Local jurisdictions with existing green building ordinances for private development throughout the country include Santa Monica and West Hollywood, and San Mateo County, California; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago, and Boston. Los Angeles County is also in the process of adopting its own green building ordinances. These ordinances, including one for green building, one for drought tolerant landscaping, and one for Low Impact Development, are expected to begin the public review and approval process this summer. Currently in Los Angeles County all new County buildings or projects that receive County funding over 10,000 square feet must attain LEED Silver or comparable standards. And in the City of Los Angeles, government buildings over 7,500 square feet must attain LEED-certified standards. 

With this new ordinance, projects that voluntarily achieve a LEED Silver or higher rating will be expedited through the City’s often-onerous permitting process. The law also establishes criteria for the City to certify staff members as LEED-AP. In order to track the progress of the program, the ordinance will create the Green Building Team, a group of elected officials and city staff that are experts in the development process including planners, architects, engineers, and safety personnel, which will be charged with encouraging innovation, removing the obstacles to green building, and to facilitate the city’s green building objectives. The team will offer annual reports to the City Council on the progress of the program as well as recommendations for its amendment in the future.