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August 1-8, 2007

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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Surprise Inside!: The condos at 152 West Cliff Drive are among the first buildings to conform to Santa Cruz's green building standard. They incorporate photovoltaic arrays, enhanced insulation, nontoxic boarding and fluorescent lighting.

The Greenest Form of Flattery

Santa Cruz's green building standard becomes the model for Monterey and other cities

By Steve Hahn

Dick Stubendorff feels like a celebrity. Over the last six months his phone has been ringing off the hook, and he has been scrambling to find time in his busy schedule to arrange visits to conferences and meetings across the state. It turns out the head of Santa Cruz's building inspection services division, normally a relatively unglamorous position, has become astoundingly popular due to his unique experience integrating green building practices into city law. Stubendorff, along with Green Building Program manager John Ancic, was one of the central organizers of the city's new Green Building Program, which became mandatory in January 2007, and building experts in other cities want to pick his brain for ideas.

Stubendorff isn't the first government official in California to immerse himself in the world of environmentally aware architecture. In fact, he was on the other side of the phone for many years, getting green building advice from officials in Alameda, Santa Monica and other cities across the nation. But now that the nearly five-year process of developing Santa Cruz's program is complete, Stubendorff is focusing his efforts on spreading these ideas to other cities in the Monterey Bay region.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to have 10 different building codes in 10 different jurisdictions. Monterey and Salinas would rather steal ours than go through the whole process we went through," he says, laughing. "That's great—that's what we did."

Green building programs vary in scope and criteria but can be generally categorized as a list of measures within the building code that promote increased energy efficiency, decreased natural resource and toxic chemical use and responsible site selection practices. Under these programs, solar panels and Energy Star washing machines are in and toxic paint and vinyl flooring are out.

The Santa Cruz program is divided into residential and nonresidential requirements. To receive a building permit, residential applicants proposing construction over 350 square feet must meet at least 10 out of a possible 460 points, with more required as the house goes up in size; a 2,000-square-foot house requires 35 points. Developers gain points by engaging in environmentally friendly practices ranging from installing chemical-free carpets (four points) to putting in water-efficient landscapes (four points) to using sustainably harvested lumber (three points).

For nonresidential construction, applicants must receive seven out of 75 points, although it's important to mention that commercial developments are judged on a different scale than the one used for residential construction.

While these new regulations might strike some as yet another burden on developers and regular folks looking to build, Stubendorff says the vast majority of feedback he's received has been positive.

"As people get into the program, they're finding it is reasonable to put more things into the building as far as costs go," he says. "It pencils out and becomes a tremendous selling point."

While Stubendorff is quick to caution that up-front costs associated with the program can sometimes be burdensome, he says his department set the mandatory point threshold low to allow for flexibility.

"We intentionally kept it pretty easy for people to participate in the game and not get burnt out with all the existing regulations," he says. "What we're finding is that because we made it so easy to participate people are participating far beyond what we expected."

Green Alert

In Monterey, where a green building program is in the works, many architects and developers are already finding a market for environmentally sensitive construction.

Jordan Daniels, a project engineer for Daniels and House Construction, says the incorporation of eco-friendly elements has become a central selling point for many of his buildings.

Daniels already follows the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, the central rallying point for point-based green building programs across the country. In fact, he's a leading member of the council's Monterey Bay chapter. Soon other developers working on projects in Monterey may be required to follow in his footsteps.

Monterey building officials have organized a town hall meeting on Aug. 6 to educate the public on green building practices and gather feedback. After that, officials will consider how to go about writing the codes in a way that works for the city.

The green building boom will not likely end there, either. Salinas is also considering a green building program, although the city is only at the information-gathering stage as of now.

The head of Monterey's Building Inspections Services Division, John Kuehl, has been meeting frequently with Stubendorff and hopes to borrow elements of the Santa Cruz program to ensure that Monterey operates as a responsible environmental steward.

"When I go out to construction sites and see the waste and the different construction methods, I notice there are very easy ways you can save the environment and decrease your environmental footprint," says Kuehl. "We're going to be here a long time, so why not leave [a minimal] footprint?"

Daniels believes it would be unwise to make the program mandatory, as it is in Santa Cruz; instead, he recommends that the city grant incentives, such as expedited permit review or reduced fees, for green builders.

"A lot of times a contractor who's not really savvy about green building will see the word 'requirement' and just start arguing with it and resisting it," says Daniels. "I think, as with most people, they're more inspired to do something if there's an incentive involved rather than being told that they must do it. A lot of the work I'm doing is trying to help educate people about some of these easy green building things, so if they do become requirements then people realize it's no big deal."

As an example Daniels cites the new Trader Joe's being built in downtown Monterey. The developer on that project, Foothill Partners, was open to using green building techniques but said it didn't want to pass the cost on to its tenants.

"So what we did ended up costing nothing," Daniels says, adding that one of the managers of that project became a green building convert over the year they worked together. "It took a fair amount of pre-planning, but we were able to get pretty far with green building technologies."

While Kuehl warns that no specifics have been worked out yet, he believes it is inevitable that a green building program will come to Monterey. Even if the city doesn't implement the program, there are a host of other institutions that may make green building requirements mandatory.

On the state level, District 27 Assembly-man John Laird's green building bill, A.B. 1058, would require the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Building Standards Commission to create a set of guidelines for residential construction by 2013. It will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee sometime this August.

Yet even if that fails to pass into law, the International Code Council, which recommends building codes for the entire nation, will be considering incorporation of LEED standards into its code framework over the next few years, according to building officials in Santa Cruz and Monterey.

"The code writers are forming a separate committee to start writing a chapter within the international building codes that deals with green buildings," says Kuehl. "It's going global."

The Green Building Town Hall Meeting is Monday, Aug. 6, at 6:30pm in the City Council Chambers, 580 Pacific, Monterey.

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