City to strengthen 'green' building code

Some question enforcement, but most council members call code step in the right direction

Homeowners, contractors, developers and environmentalists, take note: Mountain View's building code is about to get a bit more "green."

The city plans to amend sections of the already adopted California Green Building Code that apply to new construction, residential additions and non-residential tenant improvements, following a split (5-2) vote of the City Council at its March 22 meeting. City management and the council members who support the amended code say it's a middle-of-the-road approach that will chip away at the city's electricity and water use without harming business, putting the city in line with the rest of Santa Clara County when it comes to regulating energy efficiency in buildings.

The amended code must be approved by the state before becoming law. It mandates stricter standards than the state currently requires in water and electricity use in any new building (including home construction), home additions of at least 1,000 square feet, and major tenant improvements in commercial and industrial buildings.

The code would also require that new large residential, commercial and industrial buildings meet certain standards laid out by one of two companies that rate energy efficiency in buildings. The highest bar would apply to new commercial and industrial buildings of greater than 25,000 square feet, which would be required to meet the Silver standard on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scale.

Too strict? Not enough?

The city will not, however, require developers to complete the costly certification process to ensure that buildings do in fact meet those standards. Rather, developers will be required to "meet the intent" of the rating systems.

City management argued that requiring certification would put too much of a burden on developers. Some members of an advisory group that helped the city draft the amended code, however, worried that allowing developers to forego certification would make it easier for them to cut corners, or ignore the new requirements.

"My concern is that the language is a little bit wishy-washy," said John Eckstein, a professional rater of energy efficiency in buildings who served on the city's advisory group.

Council member Laura Macias said she'd rather see the city require certification than not. But she voted in favor of the amended code anyway, saying she hopes the city will beef it up later.

"As Americans, as Mountain View residents, we continue to need to waste less and conserve our resources more, and this is one small step," she said.

In dissenting, Councilmen John Inks and Tom Means said they fear the city doesn't have a good grasp on how effective the amended code would be, or on how it would affect developers and businesses.

"I don't see how having a lot more paperwork is really being green," Councilman Inks said. "At this point, it's just kind of hard to endorse 25 pages of building code amendments that I don't completely understand or know the real impact (of)."

Councilman Means said he's not convinced that certain techniques aimed at reducing energy and water consumption are as effective as people think they are. Though the new city code doesn't mandate any technique in particular, Means argued that the code isn't "flexible" enough.

"The individuals that are more equipped to make these decisions are those that are actually doing the building, and those that are actually doing the remodeling," he said. Leave it up to the economy to drive down energy and water consumption, he said.

The city discussed the proposed amendments to the code with contractors and developers, and didn't get any complaints, according to city management.

Mayor Jac Siegel acknowledged that the new code isn't perfect, but said he's happy that Mountain View is taking part in the worldwide effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"Do we have all the answers? No," he said. "But if you wait 'til you have all the answers to do something, you'll never get there. You have to start somewhere."

Cost of complying

How much more expensive will it be for developers to comply with the stricter building code? City management applied the code to two sample development projects, a large office building and a large condominium, and determined that construction costs for both buildings would be about 1 percent higher under the amended code than under the regulations currently in place.

On most projects, developers would recoup those costs within 15 years in the form of energy and water savings, according to city management. For developers of small retail and mid-sized office buildings, it'd take a bit longer.

Fifteen years is too long, Inks said: "For most people in business, the paybacks are much shorter than that."


Like this comment
Posted by JJ
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Why "Council member Laura Macias" but "Councilman Inks" and "Councilman Means"? The plaques on the dais refer to those two men as council members, not councilmen.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 31, 2011 at 3:01 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

" As Americans, as Mountain View residents, we continue to need to waste less and conserve our resources more, and this is one small step," she said. "

Then why did Mountain View become a DE FACTO magnet city for ILLEGAL ALIENS by encouraging a " look the other way " by the MVPD and building a labor pool setup for MORE ILLEGAL ALIENS?

If ANY Councilperson ( see, I fixed the MV Mouthpiece racist " journalism " ) makes a comment like this one, they had better assure the TAXPAYER that the MVPD and the Labor Pool Offices act in a PROFESSIONAL and LEGAL manner..

The last time I looked, an ILLEGAL ALIEN in MV is an ONGOING CRIME being committed...

Or should I bother with ANY LAWS in the MVPD jurisdiction??

Think about it...HARD.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruce Karney
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 31, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I applaud the Council's decision.

Like this comment
Posted by Ann Schneider
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 1, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Thanks to the five supporting Councilmembers for voting to approve the changes. Additional steps that encourage homeowners to retrofit to reduce energy consumption or water use should also be encouraged. I've been slowly green retrofitting my parents home in Millbrae and even though I work in the environmental field, it is not always as easy to go green as it could or should be. If the City could work with other communities to develop free seminars on going green, it might help green us our existing buildings and landscapes.

Of course, tax credits and rebates help. Shame the residential appliance program from CEC sunsetted. If the City could push PG&E and other utiility companies to put more money in rebates to retire energy guzzling dishwasers, frig's and washing machines then we could reduce our carbon footprint and stimulate new manufacturing and local retail. But this program maxed out in less than 6 months.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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