West Hollywood was once on the cutting edge of the Golden State’s green building boom. In October 2007, WeHo became one of the first cities in America to adopt a mandatory Green Building Ordinance, ensuring that all new buildings use energy and resources more efficiently. The city’s green development standards enhanced remodels, tenant improvements, additions and new construction. They led to everything from cleaner indoor air quality and water-saving plumbing fixtures to more drought-tolerant landscaping and widespread use of energy-efficient appliances.
They also helped the city attract new development, along with residents who wanted to live in a place that could lay claim to being both a trendsetter and a haven for the quality of life people not just want but need. But, that was over 10 years ago. While WeHo’s decade-old standards still make a difference, are they enough to help West Hollywood compete with other cities in Southern California that are attracting green-conscious businesses, development projects and residents?
It’s important to ask the question before WeHo loses too much ground – ground that cities like Santa Monica are quickly occupying.
What’s Happening In Santa Monica
By 2020, Santa Monica plans to complete construction on a 50,000-square-foot city services building that will meet the requirements of the “Living Building Challenge” — the strictest green building standard in the world and a goal that has never before been reached in California.
With an entire office devoted to sustainability, LEED certification, case studies of successful green buildings and a Zero Net Energy Guide for homes that want to go ZNE, Santa Monica is making a full court press for the opportunities that becoming greener will afford it. Yes, the city’s Green Building Standards Code is similar to West Hollywood’s. But, Santa Monica has made several additions, including requiring all newly constructed heated pools in low- and high-rise residential buildings and hotels to be heated at least 60% through solar energy.
In addition, where West Hollywood requires all new construction to be solar-ready, new one-, two- and multi-family homes in Santa Monica are required to install a solar electric photovoltaic (PV) system. The Solar Santa Monica program helps residents and businesses evaluate and execute their own renewable energy by providing them, at no cost, energy efficiency recommendations, a solar potential analysis, bid comparisons and a financial analysis.
Like West Hollywood, which requires LEED Certification for new public buildings, many of Santa Monica’s newer public structures — including the Santa Monica Main Library, the Annenberg Community Beach Club and the Civic Center Parking Structure — have achieved LEED certification, a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.
But Santa Monica kicked the ante up a big notch in 2016 by adopting the world’s first Zero Net Energy Building Ordinance. The Ordinance helps residents and businesses achieve zero net energy, which means that the value of the energy produced by on-site renewable energy resources is equal to the value of the energy consumed annually by the building, zeroing out the building’s net energy consumption. Plus, the new ordinance requires new non-residential construction to use 10% less energy than required by the 2016 California Energy Code.
How Can WeHo Stay Competitive?
West Hollywood definitely has the infrastructure in place to stay in the game, and even pull ahead. Earlier this year, West Hollywood launched its Go Solar West Hollywood program, which provides technical assistance to owners of all property types interested in installing solar. “As part of the community outreach efforts for this program, city staff have actively promoted solar water heating rebates and savings programs sponsored by the local utility,” Robyn Eason, West Hollywood’s senior sustainability planner, said in an interview earlier this month about West Hollywood’s Climate Action Plan.
On the second floor of West Hollywood’s City Hall is the Green Building Resource Center. The center provides samples of building materials and information on sustainable building practices as well as a manual for the city’s Green Building Ordinance that explains methods for each regulation. The manual breaks down the minimum requirements of the Green Building Ordinance that all new construction must follow, including health and safety protections like using low-VOC interior paints and wood finishes to protect workers and occupants from respiratory issues, and requirements to install Energy Star appliances and water-saving features, such as low-flow shower heads and faucets.
Outside all new buildings, West Hollywood requires permeable outdoor surfaces, including planted or gravel-covered areas, porous asphalt, unit pavers or plastic geocell pavers. While most businesses and residents are encouraged to plant drought tolerant and native species plants, only those with discretionary permits are required to do so. Projects that call for a development permit must also install energy-efficient outdoor lighting.
While some of these requirements are permit-specific, all new construction in West Hollywood must feature a roof layout that allows for the installation of future solar panels. All projects also must comply with the most recent California State Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) also adopted California’s first Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, which requires all new residential construction in the state to achieve ZNE by 2020, and all new commercial construction by 2030.
Still, there may be a discrepancy between what West Hollywood “must” do under California law and what it’s able to do given its decade-old standards. With requirements that all new construction here, like elsewhere, be ZNE in just two short years, WeHo should at least review its standards to make sure they comply.
David Hakimi, co-founder of AlconLighting.com, is a West Hollywood resident and energy efficiency expert who is enthusiastic about the ways in which local municipalities can improve the future of the environment by curbing GHG emissions and investing in green spaces and renewable energy. David’s blog on energy-efficient lighting and design can be accessed at www.alconlighting.com/blog/.