Currently, one of the more significant environmental initiatives for forward-thinking, energy-conscious cities across the U.S. is achieving net-zero emissions. A zero-carbon city runs entirely on renewable energy. The two-fold process involves reducing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions while installing renewable solar- and wind-powered energy sources. While no U.S. cities have reached net-zero status, one California city is close to becoming the first. Almost every public building in Lancaster is solar powered. In 2013, the city also became the first to require every new-construction single-family home to be solar-powered.
The process for West Hollywood however is more complex. Unlike Lancaster, West Hollywood is mostly built-out and nearly fully developed. So, is net-zero possible for WeHo? In 2010, the city debuted its “General Plan 2035,” a proposal designed to help in decision-making and to guide city officials in the development of new policies, ordinances, programs, initiatives and capital expenditures through the year 2035. A large part of the plan included WeHo’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Officially released in 2011 to much accolade, the CAP received a Compass Blueprint Recognition Award in Visionary Planning for Sustainability and was recognized by the Association of Environmental Professionals.
The CAP outlines six GHG (Greenhouse Gas) reduction strategies: land use and community design, transportation and mobility, energy use and efficiency, water use and efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and investing in green spaces. The plan also lists WeHo’s unique challenges to emissions reductions. Transportation emissions are the largest portion (~62%) of community-wide GHG emissions and a large majority of WeHo’s residents work outside of West Hollywood— increasing the need for personal transportation. Until major improvements are made to Los Angeles County’s transportation system, it’s unlikely there will be a significant reduction in WeHo’s transportation emissions. Transportation challenges coupled with being mostly built-out appear to be WeHo’s main obstacles in achieving high levels of GHG reductions. However, retrofitting commercial buildings that were built before California’s Title 24 energy standards took effect is the next best route to significant emissions reductions. Commercial and industrial energy use accounted for roughly 20% of WeHo’s GHG emissions.
There is a strong set of differences between California’s energy standards (Title 24) and WeHo’s CAP. While WeHo’s CAP is a set of strategies and guidelines, California’s Title 24 is made up of mandatory regulations that builders must follow during new-construction development. The most recent additions to Title 24 include stricter energy-efficient lighting standards, including a more widespread use of motion and occupancy sensors, reduced air leakage, tankless water heaters and increased R-value requirements, or the resistance to heat flow, for duct work in residential attics.
While the city looks at retrofitting buildings built before California’s Title 24 went into effect, the heavy wave of newly approved development projects and the current projects already underway have presented the city with new opportunities to meet some of the energy standards established in the CAP. From the Sprouts Project on Santa Monica Boulevard to the Sunset La Cienega Project, in the last few years West Hollywood has been a magnet for major development projects, including hotels, apartments, condos, and mixed-use. The Sprouts Project, which includes a market, cafe and gym, features Energy Star lighting and signage and, in an effort to reduce water use, will install low-flow shower heads, tankless water heaters and water efficient toilets and faucets. But which of these are basic California energy standards and which are from West Hollywood’s ambitious CAP? I recently connected with Bianca Siegl, Long Range Mobility and Planning Manager for WeHo, and Robyn Eason, the city’s Senior Sustainability Planner. They helped shed some light on the CAP and its role in the major developments currently taking place in West Hollywood.
David Hakimi: Why is the CAP important for WeHo?
Bianca Siegl: Respect for the environment is one of the City of West Hollywood’s core values, and West Hollywood has long been recognized as a leader in sustainability. The CAP continues this tradition by providing us with a roadmap to becoming a greener, cleaner city while enhancing the quality of life for the community. The CAP also allows the city to track progress in meeting its goals to reduce GHG emissions and recommends ways to measure our success.
DH: Do you think it’s possible for WeHo to achieve net-zero emissions and become a zero-carbon city?
Robyn Eason: The City of West Hollywood has been committed to pioneering climate action initiatives since it launched the first green building ordinance in the state back in 2007. The city will continue to lead the region in seeking ways to reduce our collective impact on the environment. For example, in developing a partnership with EnergySage called Go Solar West Hollywood (www.gosolarwesthollywood.org), we’re helping property owners to pursue solar energy systems. We have joined the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy program which will begin providing clean power to West Hollywood customers in late 2018 and are updating our Green Building Program to continue to set even higher expectations for the role of construction in reducing climate impacts.
DH: What renewable energy sources has WeHo installed for city buildings since 2011?
BS: Both the West Hollywood Library, which was built in 2011, and the Automated Garage at West Hollywood City Hall — the first municipal project of its kind on the West Coast — contain a roof-mounted solar array. The garage was completed and opened in 2016. The city’s West Hollywood Park Phase II project, to be completed in late 2019, will also feature a rooftop solar array that will generate 66kw of power.
DH: Has the city created a position for a Sustainability Manager/Coordinator as outlined in the CAP?
BS: Yes, the city hired a Senior Sustainability Planner in April 2016 to provide dedicated staffing to move forward with continued Climate Action Plan implementation and other sustainability projects from the City Council.
DH: Given all of the newly approved development projects and the current projects already underway, West Hollywood has a substantial opportunity to reduce community-wide GHG emissions related to energy use in commercial buildings. Can you list some of these projects and the specific standards from the CAP that these new developments have been held to?
BS: The Climate Action Plan identifies broad strategies to reduce GHG emissions city-wide rather than specific standards for new building projects. All development projects must comply with specific standards in both the city’s existing Green Building Program and strict building and energy requirements from the State of California.
The city also provides information to the development community on green building design strategies, such as zero-net energy, water efficiency, and solar and energy-efficient design. Several recent development projects feature effective strategies for reducing energy use and promoting sustainable design. For example, the expansion of the Center for Early Education includes a solar collection system, energy-efficient lighting, green building materials and makes use of reclaimed water for landscape irrigation.
Looking towards the future, in addition to updating the Green Building Program to continue to set higher expectations for environmental responsibility in building projects, the city is currently updating its policies regulating billboards on the Sunset Strip, which will include a requirement that any digital signage achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
DH: Will any new commercial buildings be using renewable energy as suggested within the CAP? If so, what?
RE: All new commercial buildings are required by the state to be solar-ready. The city’s Green Building Ordinance further encourages energy efficiency and renewable energy through better building design and construction, and through the installation of systems such as solar hot water heaters and solar panels. The city also has a Zero Net Energy toolkit available for interested development teams and will be providing cleaner energy to our community late next year as part of the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy program.
DH: The CAP also suggests the city will facilitate the installation of solar hot water heating systems on commercial and multi‐family buildings. What’s the current status on this initiative?
RE: In 2014, the city made the process of getting permits for solar hot water heaters easier for interested property owners. The city also launched its Go Solar West Hollywood program earlier this year, which provides technical assistance to owners of all property types interested in going solar. As part of the community outreach efforts for this program, city staff has actively promoted solar water heating rebates and savings programs sponsored by the local utility.
DH: What have been some of the hurdles in adhering to the CAP or specific goals within the CAP?
BS: The quickly evolving nature of the sustainability industry and the shifting targets of the state can create hurdles at times to achieving CAP goals. Strategies to achieve desired outcomes in 2011 may need a different path forward in 2017 due to new technologies that now exist. The city has and will continue to adapt and embrace the most effective strategies as it moves forward with its climate action objectives.