Greener new buildings for S.F.

In one of the more practical visionary plans to emerge from the San Francisco municipal government during recent years, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Green Building has laid out a detailed blueprint for phasing in green standards that would make The City the most environmentally advanced in the nation by 2012.

Advantages to the public from adoption of such rigorous environmental standards for all new private and government-funded construction would include projected savings of 220,000 hours of electricity and 100 million gallons of drinking water, elimination of 60,000 tons of CO2 emissions and 700 million pounds of construction/demolition waste.

The plan sensibly relies on existing industry-tested methods and rating systems, instead of seeking unproven new technology. The City’s Planning and Building Inspection departments would enforce gradually stricter levels of Leadership in Energy and Design certification. San Francisco has required LEED compliance for all new public construction since 2004, and last year it became a voluntary option for private developers seeking fast-track permits.

For smaller home-building projects, the established GreenPoint Ratings would be standard. Both rating systems use easy-to-follow checklists to guide builders on how to attain higher scores. Some steps would be using low-flow toilets and sinks, solar power, state-of-the-art insulation, nontoxic paints and carpeting, water efficient landscaping, lower-wattage natural lighting and recycled building materials.

The Northern California Home Builders Association quickly warned that stricter green standards would price some people out of home ownership. Butthe Task Force chairman countered that several in-depth studies have shown that green-building cost increases average just 2 percent while delivering up to one-third more energy savings.

The Green Building Task Force report seems practical partially because the 10-member group, appointed by the mayor in March, consists entirely of industry professionals. There are four San Francisco developer-builders, delegates of two associations representing building owners and architects, an engineer and two architects with green certification experience, and a banker specializing in funding sustainable construction.

Mayor Newsom announced the Task Force proposal Wednesday in Golden Gate Park, where a new Academy of Sciences is being built to LEED standards. Of course, any change in construction standards must be approved by Board of Supervisors, whose members are no friends of the mayor. However, since 1997 San Francisco supervisors passed no less than eight ordinances promoting green building. So it is hard to envision the board changing its stance now, in the midst of widening international concern about greenhouse gases and global warming.

The Green Building Task Force plan should be approved without destructive weakening. We also welcome the Task Force’s offer to stay on as an advisory committee helping coordinate implementation of the new eco-code among the many city departments and private interests necessary for a successful green changeover.

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