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Solimar Research

Green Buildings: Yes! Green Communities: Yikes!

Nov 19, 2007

Developers are beginning to go green because it makes economic sense. But they're probably not going green enough to satisfy Jerry Brown.

That was the impression I got last week at the annual Emerging Trends in Real Estate conference put on by the Urban Land Institute, San Diego-Tijuana Council. Dusting aside the typical numbers-and-market-glimpses approach, ULI devoted the meeting to the theme of "sustainability" and even brought in sustainability guru-ess Hunter Lovins to give a speech.

The most remarkable aspect of the day was the matter-of-factness with which all the developers who spoke accepted that green building standards are inevitable. "It's no more than a 2% increase in cost for silver LEED certification," said Matt Lituchy, managing director of the Jay Paul Co. "It's 4-6% for gold and more for platinum. But half of that is getting the certification from the Green Building Council."

Jonathan Bradhurst, senior vice president for United States development for Westfield Corp., the shopping mall owner, said his company would be retrofitting University Town Center in San Diego not far from the hotel where the ULI conference was held to be as green as possible. "Five-six years ago you couldn't find contractors who would do it," said "Now it's inevitable. As a simple business decision, it makes sense to build as efficiently as you can."

The bottom line? Green building will be the norm in three to five years, and it won't cost anything more than regular building.

But there's a difference between building a green building and creating a greener community with fewer greenhouse gas emissions and that's something that developers are apparently still adjusting to.

While the developers practically high-fived each other over green building, a deathly silence fell over the meeting room when Deputy Attorney General Sandra Goldberg spoke about greenhouse gas emissions. She insisted that not all projects would require an analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act to assess the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. But in responding to various questions, she used the same phrase over and over again: "feasible mitigation measures".

"A lot of people are asking whether you have to incorporate GHG for a project that is already doing an environmental impact report," Goldberg said. "For me there is no discussion. The EIR should consider climate change impacts and feasible mitigation measures."

The pretty clear implication being: whatever the attorney general's office decides is feasible has to be included as a mitigation measure. Otherwise well, they are lawyers over there. They'll probably sue.