By John Zinner
Santa Monica prides itself on being a sustainable city. We live in one of the most sustainable cities in the US. City Council just committed to bringing the city to carbon neutral by 2050; the generally accepted global mandate to save the planet is an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by that date. The precedent setting Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan, first adopted in 1994, has been recognized by the United Nations.
Measure LV is anti-sustainability
Why? Simply put, smart growth – transit adjacent, compact, mixed-use urban development in walkable neighborhoods – has the lowest environmental impact of any development. Santa Monica’s sustainability requirements drive the impact even lower, especially when new residents don’t have to commute from far away.
What is sustainability? The UN definition is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In a sound bite: Leave the earth in equal or better shape than we found it. We’re doing a lousy job.
In Santa Monica, the key sustainable development elements – and arguments – are traffic, energy and water, as well as tangentially LEED. Traffic has been thoroughly covered elsewhere, so it won’t be addressed here. Almost all new development will have easy access to the Expo light rail line and be mixed-use.
Denser buildings are much more energy and water efficient than single family homes. Minimal landscaping reduces water use. Smaller units reduce energy and water use. Shared walls save energy (a floor above you is great insulation). Solid walls are more efficient than windows, and there are fewer windows in multi-family units.
California has the strictest building energy standards of any state, Title 24, and it is getting stricter: state policy requires that all new residential buildings be zero net energy (ZNE) starting in 2020, and all commercial buildings in 2030. Aggregated over a year, a building will not be able to use any fossil-fuel based energy. It may import energy some months and produce excess during other periods. The balance must be zero or less.
Santa Monica goes beyond Title 24. All new buildings are required to be 15 percent more efficient than required by Title 24. In addition, as of June, all new buildings must install solar electric (photovoltaic) systems. Lastly, any new swimming pool must include a solar pool heating (thermal) system that is a minimum of half the size of the surface of the pool, as well as a pool blanket. A pool blanket is worth 10o F.
How about water?
The city has rapidly increased its water efficiency requirements. The last new project approved by City Council was for the former Fred Segal site at 5th and Broadway. First, no potable water can be used for irrigation; SMURRF (treated dry weather and storm water runoff) will be used. Inside, efficient water use fixtures are specified for each fixture type (1 GPF – gallons per flush – toilets). These fixtures perform well. These two categories reduce water use over 40 percent compared to what’s allowed by Title 24. Lastly, the city took the unprecedented step of requiring that SMURRF water must be use for interior nonpotable residential uses – toilets. This raises the project’s water use reduction to over 50 percent, and is a first for LA County. It’s so new that it isn’t permitted by code. Instead, the project will install purple pipe for nonpotable water for all residential toilets, and the building will be connected to the SMURFF when allowed. The city and the other local permitting agencies have committed to work together to legalize this type of nonpotable water use as quickly as feasible.
Finally, City Council is developing an ordinance to require new development to fund sufficient water efficiency measures elsewhere in the city to completely offset any increase in water use from the previous use. Stay tuned.
Last is LEED. LEED is the world’s leading green building rating system. Developed in the US, it’s used in over 150 countries. Billions of square feet of buildings have been “LEED certified” since LEED was commercialized in 2000.
The draft Downtown Community Plan requires LEED Platinum, the highest of four LEED levels. Platinum requires that a project earn a minimum of 80 out of the 110 possible points, as well as meet all prerequisites. The largest number of points is for energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy; next is interior and landscape water use. Therefore, in order to earn Platinum, a building must be energy and water efficient and include solar. It also must be near transit and services; in other words, urban infill. Smart growth.
New development is positive for the environment, not negative. Measure LV will hurt the earth.
John Zinner is Principal of Zinner Consultants and a former Santa Monica Planning Commissioner