Goleta city officials and business leaders attending the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Issue and Policy Roundtable on Wednesday discussed the impacts of the citywide green building program on the local business community.
Walker Wells, green urbanism program director at Global Green USA, led the preliminary discussion on the details of the green building program, including current standards based on building size, who would be responsible for review and verification, various ratings systems, possible incentives, benefits and approximate costs.
One of the main concerns was in regard to additional costs that could potentially stifle economic development. According to Wells, the green building program would incur 2 percent to 5 percent in additional hard costs, for things such as materials and skilled labor. The soft costs, such as design time, certification and consultants, could cost up to $100,000.
Steve Fedde, vice president of development and operations for Sares-Regis Group, said Goleta companies already have to deal with lengthy regulatory processes, and additional time and costs would just push them away.
“If it will cost another 10 to 15 percent to do this work, the soft cost is the number I’m worried about,” he said. “Soft costs are just one more nail in the coffin for that company to justify staying here.”
But in terms of a green building, Wells said it goes far beyond energy efficiency. It’s a holistic standard that looks at a number of things — part of it is energy savings, water savings, where materials are coming from and a lot of it deals with indoor environment quality.
“The highest cost per square foot for businesses are the people, not energy or water costs, and if they are more productive, less sick and happier, then that’s where the biggest value in return comes from,” Wells said. “That’s why the green building consultant has emerged, because it’s someone with a breadth of knowledge that has to be a liaison to many different disciplines.”
The ordinance established energy-efficiency standards for new building construction, large-scale remodeling and improvements such as lighting, and new heaters or circulation pumps for pools, spas and water features.
New residential buildings and additions more than 500 square feet are required to exceed Title 24 standards by 15 percent in energy efficiency; nonresidential buildings must exceed them by 10 percent to 15 percent. The reach code also will satisfy the greenhouse gas emission reductions set by Assembly Bill 32.
The city was awarded grant funding for the green building program, as outlined in the General Plan. It is an initiative that goes beyond the reach code and is voluntary.
Pacifica Commercial Real Estate Group vice president Mark Mattingly questioned why Goleta is pursuing the program.
“If the state has the highest level of environmental standards in the nation, why are we trying to exceed what is already questionably even achievable?” he asked.
It is achievable, according to Dave Davis, executive director of the Community Environmental Council. He said that in 2008, Santa Barbara adopted a reach code that has been 20 percent higher than the state’s standards.
California expects net-zero residential buildings by 2020, which means they will use little energy and offset that with energy output, Wells said.
“It is actually a long-range plan to keep California vital and produce energy and lower costs to keep us competitive in the entire world,” Davis said. “It’s big picture. They asked communities to step out and show how you make those steps. Santa Barbara did in ‘08 and Goleta did last year. Our communities are being leaders and have shown how it can be done and have been operating, growing and thriving.”
But there hasn’t been hard analysis of the cost in relation to size, according to Russ Goodman, Sares-Regis Group president of the Santa Barbara region.
If there’s a 1 percent to 5 percent increase in hard cost plus additional soft costs, they amount to $125,000 to $325,000 for a 25,000-square-foot building, he said. If it’s a 2 percent increase in hard costs, that’s a payback period of 21 to 31 years and a period of 39 to 57 for a 5 percent increase in hard costs. Goodman said businesses don’t usually invest in an initiative if it’s more than a seven-year payback period.
“The city should be lauded for bringing this into process at an early basis,” he said. “My recommendation is we need to slow down analysis, and it’s important to get the support from the community and understand costs.”
Wells said it’s also important to research other certification programs to cut back costs.
“If new construction is meeting Title 24 and reach code, the incremental dollar to make it a little more energy efficient is terribly inefficient,” he said. “When you compare that against taking the incremental dollar and investing it in existing buildings and homes that are inefficient today, where are you going to get the bang for your buck?”
All of the discussion at Wednesday’s event was preliminary, and there will be many more. The Goleta City Council will discuss the green building program Tuesday. The council and the Planning Commission will hold a workshop on the progress of the program at City Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday. It will feature information from Global Green USA and the Green Ribbon Committee.
“The community is supportive of environmental initiatives of energy savings and green building, which is good,” Wells said. “There is also a concern about things not being so costly as to be detrimental for development.”