Recently, Mayor Eric Garcetti revealed his vision for a new and ambitious sustainability plan for the city. The far-reaching effort could have a significant impact on the busy construction and development scene in Downtown Los Angeles.

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On Monday, April 29, during an event at the Getty House, the mayor’s home, Garcetti announced the city’s version of the Green New Deal, mimicking the moniker of the program championed by progressive politicians at the federal level. The city plan outlines a list of emissions and climate change metrics to tackle in coming decades.

“Who cares if we pave more streets, or fill more potholes if Venice is underwater?” Garcetti said during the event. “How can we begin to reduce our 911 response time if our firefighters are off fighting fires across this region? And if our city is overwhelmed by a million climate refugees, you think we’re going to care about planning the Olympics or Paralympics, or reopening the L.A. River or what our tourism statistics are? This crisis has never been more intense.”

The Green New Deal builds off and takes a more aggressive stance against climate change than the sustainability plan Garcetti introduced in 2015. Elements range from phasing out plastic foam containers and plastic straws by 2021, to a move to an all-electric energy grid by 2045, to a push to achieve a zero-emissions Port of Los Angeles by 2050.

One of the loftier goals relates to buildings. It calls for all new properties constructed in the city to be zero emissions by 2030, and for every structure to reach that level by 2050.

Buildings are increasingly being examined for their role in climate change. According to a 2018 analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, buildings are responsible for approximately 25% of California’s emissions.

Garcetti’s proposal would significantly impact Downtown, where scores of projects are in the development pipeline. The growth is expected to continue, as some projections say the Central City’s current 75,000 inhabitants will increase to about 200,000 by 2040.

Garcetti’s Green New Deal sets a number of targets for buildings and developers on the path to 2050, including the reduction of energy use for all buildings by 22% by 2025; 34% by 2035; and 44% by 2050. The overall goal is to move from relying on gas and fossil fuels to a system built on electricity and renewable energy sources.

Los Angeles Chief Sustainability Officer Lauren Faber O’Connor said that the city has been working with business groups including the U.S. Green Building Council, to help persuade developers to adopt environmentally friendly construction protocols.

“We have looked at and worked with our Planning Department and other stakeholders on how we are marrying community plans that are coming into place in all different communities,” O’Connor said. “Downtown is a great example — to look at how we combine all of these goals, whether that’s around efficient buildings, density or transit-oriented development. We think that the development that is going on is actually an opportunity to enforce these goals.”

Marketability Factor

O’Connor mentioned that a number of projects in Downtown have already ramped up sustainable practices. She added that the transition to more electric devices and appliances will happen naturally over time as outdated gas-reliant equipment gives out.

Dan Rosenfeld, a real estate veteran with experience in the public and private sectors, said that a certain portion of the development community will be slow to adjust to the changes. Still, he thinks that ultimately the real estate industry would see an uptick from any environment-focused policy decisions.

“We in the real estate industry have the most to gain and the most to lose with the climate challenge,” Rosenfeld said. “Ultimately, we are the true beneficiaries because it’s our assets that will have the continuing value.”

O’Connor said that a push for cleaner buildings should make new properties more marketable for developers, as consumers are increasingly looking for environmentally friendly options. Rosenfeld echoed the point.

“Most developers, like most politicians, are pretty progressive, forward-thinking people,” Rosenfeld said. “They follow the development in this area very carefully and the amount of concern [about climate change] is very acute in the real estate world.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the USGBC, which operates the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, last year released a map of environmentally friendly buildings and businesses in Los Angeles. It identified Downtown as one of the densest neighborhoods in the city for properties that meet high levels of sustainability.

Indeed, Downtown developers have long been making an effort to have projects achieve LEED certification through steps such as ensuring access to public transportation and bicycle facilities, light pollution reduction and the installation of advanced energy metering technology. They include the United States Federal Courthouse at 350 First St., which received LEED Platinum certification, the Wilshire Grand Center on Wilshire Boulevard (certified LEED Gold) and a new building for the Downtown Women’s Center on San Pedro Street (certified LEED Silver).

In an email to Los Angeles Downtown News, Ben Stapleton, executive director of the USGBC’s Los Angeles Chapter, applauded Garcetti’s move.

“We are grateful for Mayor Garcetti’s leadership in the face of climate change to help create a sustainable, more resilient future for our City, and especially for putting greener buildings at the top of his priority list,” Stapleton said.

Whether or not the move will cost developers extra money remains a point of contention. As early as 2000, studies indicated that construction of green-focused buildings could boost a project’s price tag by 10%-30%. However, more recent studies have gone against those initial findings, noting that completion of LEED credits (used for LEED certification) added no additional, or minimal, costs to a project.

According to a 2007 study by construction consulting firm Davis Langston, buildings constructed specifically to meet LEED certification on average cost the same as non-green buildings.

Faber O’Connor said that developers would likely save money by altering their plans early. For instance, it would prove less expensive over the long run to build a structure fully reliant on electricity, rather than utilize gas or another fuel now, and then change later.

In addition to looking at buildings, Garcetti also aims to address the city’s transportation system. He revealed goals to fully electrify the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses by 2030, and to completely remove fossil fuel-reliant vehicles from city streets by 2050 — that includes private vehicles.

©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019