Green building code for The City

The occupants of City Hall have rarely been shy about trying to leapfrog San Francisco into a leadership role on major issues, and Mayor Gavin Newsom is squarely in that tradition. His latest move is the introduction of a new green-building ordinance with the goal of reducing city greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels — which were only half of the 9.3 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the air in 2006.

New municipal government buildings are already required to uphold the same internationally recognized standards for energy and water efficiency, recycling, pollution control and other environmental measures that the proposed ordinance would require all new residential and commercial buildings to meet.

All new commercial buildings of more than 5,000 square feet, residential buildings more than 75 feet tall, and renovations on buildings bigger than 25,000 square feet would have to be certified by standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which go up to the platinum level.

The City’s new Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park is LEED Platinum with its living roof. Standards would become stricter every year through 2012, when most large buildings erected in San Francisco would need to meet LEED Gold or Silver standards. Newsom’s proposed ordinance would not impose changes on existing buildings or on projects that already have permits. Smaller new buildings would also become regulated by a separate green ordinance at a later date.

Of course, any ordinance proposed by the mayor must be passed by the Board of Supervisors. But with the politically correct goal of fighting the global warming effects of greenhouse gases via a new green building code, it is hardly possible to visualize our ever-progressive supervisor majority not approving this in January.

Building contractors were active in the task force that drew up the proposed regulations. And Chairman Phil Williams, vice president of Webcor Builders, told The Examiner that the admittedly higher cost of materials and technology for green buildings would be repaid by savings from energy efficiency over the life of the structure.

We expect local developers would quickly make it known if the coming eco-friendly standards impose excessively onerous cost burdens on new projects that otherwise well serve The City. A potential risk of discouraging needed construction in San Francisco would be the only reason for this newspaper to have reservations about strengthening of green building requirements.

Newsom appears to be going all-out for environmental issues this season. The green building standards come on the heels of proposals for a carbon tax to spur energy conservation, a city-sponsored solar incentive program and a grease recycling initiative. The mayor said Wednesday that he plans to announce approximately six additional green initiatives in the near future.

No reasonable person should object to San Francisco striving to set an example of environmental friendliness that other large cities willbe inspired to emulate. Our only caveat is that The City must not create unnecessary barriers that interfere with its healthy private construction industry.

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