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Lynne Plambeck: Tough love for efficiency standards

Posted: May 5, 2010 4:20 p.m.
Updated: May 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Like a petulant teenager who doesn't want to clean their room or help with the housework, our City Council stands with its hands on its hips, refusing to require LEED standard energy efficiencies from new development in Santa Clarita.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - or LEED - is an accreditation program that encourages businesses and others to become energy efficient. Representatives from every sector of the building industry developed and continue to refine LEED. The rating system addresses eight major areas:

* Location and planning

* Sustainable sites

* Water efficiency

* Energy and atmosphere

* Materials and resources

* Indoor environmental quality

* Innovation and design process

* Regional priority

Forethought about energy efficiency in these areas can make a huge difference in energy savings over the life of the building.

This is a benefit to the owner in lower costs, but it is also a huge benefit to our communities, and the nation as a whole. Less energy use equals less oil and fewer oil spills. Less energy use means fewer new transmission lines. Less energy use results in less global warming gases released, and less dirty air. Less energy use means less dependence on foreign oil and improved national security.

Such efficiencies can be as simple as installing windows that open so air can be circulated (when outside temperatures warrant) without electricity, the use of skylights like Solatubes for natural lighting in addition to regular lighting, low-energy-use fixtures, switches that turn off automatically, water-efficient plumbing fixtures - you get the idea.

Our city knows LEED standards are a wonderful thing. Taxpayer-funded projects such as the Transit Maintenance Facility and the Newhall Community Center were built to meet these standards. It will save all of us money in the future, and they are definitely buildings we can be proud of.

The Newhall County Water District has just completed its new LEED-standard administration building. Don't miss the open house, for a chance to see the full range of energy improvements available to forward thinking developers that want to help us solve our energy problems.

The city has incorporated energy savings into buildings even when it didn't get the certification. (Certification can become an expensive process in itself, but the ideas and planning innovations that it generates are probably worth the cost).

That's great, too. To us, certification is not the point, although it may be nice to have the bragging rights. The point is to take every opportunity to be as energy efficient as possible when designing a new building. New developments are an opportunity for change that we must not lose.

But when it comes to requiring a commercial developer to meet these standards, oddly, the City Council will not do it. The developer complains about the cost, although over time, he will realize a substantial benefit, and the council throws up its hands and gives up.

Or even worse, when an environmental group comes before the council and demands such changes, it stands up for the developer, instead of "cleaning their room" as it know it ought to.

It's time our City Council started representing the community. Why should a group have to file public-interest litigation to get the city to implement these needed improvements in commercial developments?

While our neighbors in Mission Hills get LEED standards from Providence Holy Cross Medical Office expansion, G&L Realty, a rich Beverly Hills commercial investment firm, cannot possibly provide this for Santa Clarita.

The recent report released by the American Lung Association gave Santa Clarita failing marks for air quality emphasized once again the health problems created by our dirty air.

While ozone in Santa Clarita continues to reach some of the highest levels in the nation in summer months, and asthma rates have substantially increased, our city is unable to require energy efficiencies from new development.

Apparently, the Office of the Attorney General is a little put out with such failures as well. Concern over inadequate greenhouse gas mitigation by his office has led to a revision of the "One Valley, One Vision" city and county general plan update.

As we move through the legal process, SCOPE continues to hope the city will see the necessity of requiring LEED standard energy efficiencies for new development. It is time for some "tough love." The city must clean up its act, so all of us can go out to play in a cleaner, healthier community.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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