Meeting The Living Building Challenge

Like many, the recent change in administration has propelled me into getting politically involved. I was advised to start by sitting in on City Council meetings and decided to attend Tuesday, January 24, which happened to have a hot button issue – the new building behind city hall – that I was able to view from the interesting perspective of a neophyte.

I listened as everyone stated their case. It was an exciting first look into how our democracy works at the local level and I’m lucky to have been a part of it. When the council ultimately ruled to deny the appeal, languished sighs and “boo!” were heard from the crowd.

I watched as the appellant, David Garden, looked smugly toward Council as the public gave their support in his defense. Why project such an air of superiority to your constituents? Nothing even close to “concerned” jumped out at me about his appeal – more like control. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt to focus on the greater issue at hand – proper use of tax payer money.

For years, solar and other zero-waste technology hopefuls have been overwhelmingly used by the mid-to-upper middle class for one reason: they can afford the upfront costs. As time goes on, the Elon Musks of the world will continue to develop cheaper renewables, but this is still cost prohibitive for many despite the Federal and State grants of additional money to incentivize lower income households to purchase them. These are the people who can afford to pay for something in cash, while the rest of us put it on a credit card to spread out payments over 12 months. City Hall’s new building is a testament to this fact: that renewables still come at a higher short term cost which we can’t reap the benefits for immediately, but will overwhelmingly in the long run.

My one complaint is that the report was not as data driven as it could have been to assuage the crowd. Any real cost – savings or otherwise – data was cut out from a slide in favor of verbally disclosing amongst a group that had already made up their minds. When in doubt, show the numbers. Research the companies that formed the Living Building Challenge (an aspirational benchmark, not a trophy grab): if they all show a commitment to sustainability, i.e. through operating as Benefit Corporations or giving grants to grassroots climate change activism, tell us! If there is zero conflict of interest and a separate set of materials and contractors will be used, tell us that too! Acknowledge that this has been carefully considered and not a gotcha! cost. It also doesn’t hurt to show a graph of cost savings over a 10-20-30 year period, and mentioning from the get-go that this is earmarked specifically to projects such as these, and cannot go toward any other type of social services initiative.

At a time when rents are skyrocketing (an 18% lease increase for current buildings is not what us rent-controlled residents have to deal with, despite one commenter mentioning, “We’re all renters here – why doesn’t the city want to rent too?”) and our current administration believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, it is more important than ever that we continue to set an example of progress while the rest of the country is moving backward. Why is it you’ll raise hell on Facebook about climate change, and then shoot down an opportunity to lead the way?

One does not plant a tree in hopes they can sit in it’s shade: one does it so that their children can. I commend the Santa Monica City Council’s commitment to environmental sustainability, even in the face of adversity. They are being the change they want to see in the world – let’s join them.


Jaime Lehman is a Santa Monica Resident