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County’s green building rules will benefit us

SCV Voices

Posted: August 7, 2008 4:57 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 

As a lifelong outdoor lover, as well as a person who works in the environmental compliance arena, I've watched "Being Green" go through cycles of popularity. Sometimes caring for the planet is all the rage, and a few years later it's an afterthought.

As a local government official, I understand that we need green policies and processes that make sense, are cost effective, and address the needs of our region. One big request from the public has been for building green, and it looks like Los Angeles County is poised to do some groundbreaking work with a new policy.

The county's proposed new Green Building ordinance takes the current interest in being green and makes a good, long-term policy decision.

The county's Green Building Ordinance is being voted on next week. When adopted, it will incorporate energy efficiency, low-impact design and drought-tolerant landscaping requirements into new development projects.

The purpose of the ordinance is to ensure that development has reduced impact on the environment by improving designs and construction techniques so that buildings last longer, use fewer resources and are healthier for their occupants.

This will be achieved by addressing some key construction and building features, including site considerations, energy efficiency, water conservation, materials recycling and reuse, and indoor air quality.
This new ordinance is expected to have the greatest impact on energy and water conservation, which have become polarizing issues for the people who live and work throughout Southern California.

Delicate balance

Water is such an important topic, and no more so than this year with the governor's declaration of drought, along with forced cutbacks on water coming from the State Water Project, which supplies 50 percent of the Santa Clarita Valley's water.

Our area has planned better than most and is not hurting as much as many areas in Southern California.

However, locally, our long-term strategy counts on increased water efficiency.

Climate patterns are reducing snowpack in the mountains that formerly supplied year-long water runoff, and the State Water Project infrastructure - dependant on earthen levees - is in critical need of upgrades.

It's a delicate balance. The Greater Los Angeles Basin has only 0.06 percent of the state's stream flow, yet it supports more than 45 percent of the state's population. Southern California's history and future prosperity are shaped around the availability of clean, healthy water.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, demographers have predicted 100 percent growth in the region over the next 20 years. This growth, compounded with drought conditions, has made water more important than ever.

To sustain our homes, our recreational areas, and our businesses, we need to be smarter with water, energy, and all our resources. I'm thrilled the county seems to agree.

Just how great is the potential impact of the county's new Green Building Ordinance? Initial estimates based on the minimum annual energy and water savings for new buildings are impressive.

Carbon emissions (a fossil fuel/greenhouse gas measurement) would be reduced by 2,138 tons after one year and 79,202 tons after 10 years. Water savings would be 14,050,813 gallons after one year and 772,794,725 gallons after 10 years.

This ordinance definitely has some great, well-tested elements. It features drought-tolerant landscaping and smart irrigation, and it mandates shade trees in every yard.

Recycling of construction wastes, piping for solar water heating, and the well-known "LEED" (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards are all key parts of the specifications for all new construction starting in 2009.

The toughest requirements apply to larger projects, but even small projects under five dwelling units have to comply with lots of new energy- and water-saving ideas.

Costs for green building are much lower when such construction is done initially and the long-term savings will be great.

The Los Angeles region has many challenges, and a myriad solutions are needed. Our population continues to grow, and we must find smart and effective ways to protect our environment while at the same time improving our infrastructure, economy, and overall quality of life.

The Los Angeles chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council supports this new ordinance - and I heartily agree.

As more and more builders, contractors and home owners look toward building green, our region must find ways to create sustainable communities that have less impact on our environment. New buildings constructed in Los Angeles County already comply with some of the nation's most stringent energy codes, with better heating and air conditioning systems and higher levels of insulation than the rest of the nation.

Taking the lead

Low-flow showerheads and toilets, as well as smart irrigation systems, are the new norm, and they have had a tremendous impact on water savings statewide. But those steps are not necessarily enough.

The decision-makers in Los Angeles County are taking the lead in sustainable building initiatives with the new Green Building Program. You can learn more about it, and other planned actions, at http://planning.lacounty.gov/spgreenbuildingprogram.htm.

I hope this commitment continues and expands. The ideal is that we can all look back on our actions and know that we made a positive difference for the environment, our community and for our children.

Maria Gutzeit is vice president of the Newhall County Water District board of directors and a local business owner working in the field of environmental regulatory compliance. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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