A solar panel installation is seen on the Esplanade Ballroom and South Lobby roofs of the Moscone Convention Center on April 19, 2016. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Green roofs for a more sustainable San Francisco

San Francisco is a dense urban environment, and we fight over every last inch of land. With so much competition for housing and commercial development, as well as parks and open space and other public uses, we have to make tough choices, often between equally good priorities.

But we also need to be smarter about what we mean by available space. One area of our city that too often gets ignored are our rooftops. Roofs count for 30 percent of our land area in San Francisco, but we are only beginning to think about how we use these spaces.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors passed my legislation that made San Francisco the first major city in the country to require at least 15 percent of roof space in new developments be covered by solar panels. This legislation was a great step for our clean energy future, and I look forward to other cities and states joining us in more aggressively pushing clean energy requirements like solar roofs.

However, solar isn’t the only way we can maximize the environmental benefit of our roof space. Today, the Board of Supervisors will vote on my legislation to allow, as an alternative to the solar requirement, that 30 percent of the roof space can be used to create a “green roof,” also known as a living roof. This will make San Francisco the first city to enact this kind of green roof legislation. Some well-known green roofs in The City include the California Academy of Sciences and the residential building on the corner of Market and Dolores streets, where the Whole Foods Market is located. Anyone who has visited these rooftops understands the dramatic potential our roofs have to be a positive contributor to our city.

Green roofs have tremendous benefits for our health and environment and to both building owners and tenants. These benefits include sequestering carbon, reducing both pollution and energy consumption, enhancing biodiversity and reducing storm water runoff into our sewer system. Green roofs also improve the beauty of our rooftops and connect our residents to nature. Analysis by the Planning Department shows, for building owners, a net financial benefit. The legislation is smart policy, and I hope my colleagues joining me in supporting it.

We need to continue to push policies like the Better Roofs Initiative. Next legislative steps could include how to reach 100 percent utility for our roofs, including through the use of open space and urban agriculture, and how to apply requirements to improve existing roofs, not just new roofs.

As our city continues to grow, we must be smart and efficient in how we use all of our public and private spaces. Green roofs are one way San Francisco can continue to lead the way for a healthier, greener, and more sustainable future.

Scott Wiener represents District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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