April 17, 2017 - From the April, 2017 issue

'Connected Cities' is USGBC’s Upcoming LA Municipal Green Building Conference’s Theme 

This week, the US Green Building Council welcomes leaders from the building, development, resiliency, environmental, and equity sectors to Los Angeles for the 16th Annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo. TPR spoke with USGBC-LA Executive Director Dominique Hargreaves and Director of the LA Resilience Initiative Heather Joy Rosenberg (pictured) about the goals of the event, the state of resilient green building initiatives in Southern California, and the impact of Mayor Garcetti’s recent ordinance prioritizing reliance on energy and water data.

Heather Joy Rosenberg

"Los Angeles has the opportunity to come up with new ideas about how to manage the building process, looking ahead at zero net energy and zero net water buildings, and levels of performance for a changing climate." - Heather Joy Rosenberg, Director, LA Resilience Initiative

USGBC’s Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo celebrates its 16th year in LA on April 20 with the theme “Connected Cities.” What should our readers interested in the built environment anticipate hearing and learning?

Dominique Hargreaves: The MGBCE is the longest running annual green building event in Southern California. As you mentioned, this year’s theme is thinking in new ways about ‘connection’ in the built environment. On technological, infrastructure, and cultural levels, the industry is moving forward and learning how to integrate these new innovations.

The conference, which has always attracted a wide variety of building industry leaders from cities, utilities, public agencies, engineers, building owners, and contractors, is going to focus on the opportunities for community engagement as new green building projects impact the people who live in the built environment. All of these groups are working together to create connected cities that succeed in the three E’s: Economic, Environmental, and Equity solutions.

Our keynote speakers are going to focus on community engagement, as well as the importance of place, diversity, and inclusion. Overall, more than half of our speakers are women and we have a racially and culturally diverse lineup of speakers that will accurately reflect the needs of all communities.

We will be promoting voices that are not commonly found in this space, and are presenting some radical ideas about ways to change the built environment of cities and the way people operate in cities.

Heather, USGBC-LA also has been participating in the Mayor’s recently launched Building Forward LA initiative. Elaborate on this initiative and the role of USGBC-LA in encouraging resilient green design and construction.

Heather Joy Rosenberg: There are two different, but related, initiatives. The USGBC-LA initiative is called Building Resilience LA (BRLA), which is going into its third year. We developed a framework for implementing resilience, and a book (Building Resilience: A Primer for Facilties, available at resilience.la). Now we are developing training workshops. We are trying to take an integrated approach to help organizations with their sustainability and resiliency goals, and figuring out how to manage for change.

When we talk about resilience, it is both about the impacts of climate change and the disruptions that are happening now. Preparing for the disasters and circumstances that make buildings and businesses vulnerable will make life better today. We are looking to mirror the work of the Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Los Angeles, Marissa Aho.

The City has launched a separate initiative, Building Forward LA (BFLA) through the Mayor’s Office. The USGBC-LA is a one of the partners leading this effort. We are creating a process to engage stakeholders in looking at building codes to find ways to develop better codes for a resilient future. In theory, building codes are meant to ensure a level of performance and safety. However, the rigidity of codes can often hamper resilience, so this group is looking to develop a code that can be resilient to change itself.

Marissa and a number of other departments within the Mayor’s office, such as Building & Safety, and Economic Development, are leading the BFLA effort.  The “Rebuild By Design” group, a part of the 100 Resilient Cities program, is facilitating the process. Los Angeles is a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation. Other partners of the initiative include AIA-LA and the A+D Architecture and Design Museum.

Are there other American cities championing resilient building codes that offer a template for Los Angeles?

Heather Joy Rosenberg: There are a number of ways that people are looking at building codes and improving them going forward. We can look at performance-based codes, form-based codes, or other templates. However, the question is how things play out in Los Angeles?

For example, New York City has done a lot on building resilient codes. Those codes are focused on flooding and major storm events, as a result of Superstorm Sandy. In NYC, they have prioritized things like putting mechanical equipment on the roof and preparing for floods. It is critical for their region, and makes little sense for the vast majority of Los Angeles.

So, when we think about resiliency in Los Angeles, we have to think: resilient to what? We have a structural resilience focus with our seismic risks, but there are also the risks from increased urban heat island impact and energy variability. The misunderstanding on California’s seismic code is that our buildings are safe. But really that means we can get out of them after an earthquake, not that they will not be functional or even able to be occupied after an earthquake. It can’t really be a sustainable building if it needs to be demolished after an earthquake, even if it did not completely collapse. Resiliency, in this sense, is being able to bounce back. So we need to ask what a resilient building code should accomplish, given our local set of hazards and vulnerabilities.

Los Angeles has the opportunity to come up with new ideas about how to manage the building process, looking ahead at zero net energy and zero net water buildings, and levels of performance for a changing climate.

Elaborate on the leadership of Santa Monica’s new ZNE reach code.

Dominique Hargreaves: The City of Santa Monica recently achieved the status of being the first city in the world to have a ZNE reach code. The California Energy Commission mandates that all new residential construction will be ZNE by the year 2020 (followed by new commercial construction by 2030). By establishing this reach code, Santa Monica is taking the leadership to meet ZNE requirements for new residential by 2018.

Santa Monica has been working with TRC to conduct research about the economic viability of ZNE requirements in the residential sector, and the research showed that it was a good financial move for new development. Therefore, the City of Santa Monica passed an ordinance at the California Energy Commission just last month to preemptively speed up the 2020 requirement. Now, new residential projects will meet ZNE requirements starting in 2018.

Santa Monica will be two years ahead, and will be able to figure out how to make ZNE possible and feasible. It is important to recognize that people are not ready to deliver these types of ZNE projects right now, so we have a lot of work to do before 2020. There are just a few examples in Southern California that have actually verified their ZNE status, such as the California Lottery building in Santa Fe Springs and the Electrical Training Institute in Commerce.

Just in the city of Los Angeles, we have 900,000 parcels and we have new projects coming on board every week. It is important that as we move towards 2020, we have cities that will help us learn lessons for better implementation. Santa Monica is taking a bold first step with the ZNE reach code.

Heather, in January you participated in the California VerdeXchange Conference and on the panel “New Infrastructure for Resilient Cities,” where you addressed how cities advocate for and implement resiliency measures. Building on those comments, from where is political push back coming for new infrastructure mandates. Is it just inertia or is there resistance?


Heather Joy Rosenberg: Instead of calling it pushback, I would speak to the need for a huge amount of training and education. We need to think about our infrastructure differently.

For example, with water infrastructure, our currently paradigm is infrastructure to prevent flooding. It is an excellently designed and engineered system for preventing big floods. Looking at the LA River and our stormwater system, the goal was to get rainwater out to the ocean as quickly as possible.

We know that we need to rethink that paradigm. Between the vulnerability of our water system from climate change, drought, and earthquakes, to the costs of importing water, there is a need to solve for a different problem with tomorrow’s infrastructure.

Look at the Department of Sanitation; even the name of the department is outdated. It is really about environmental engineering. Retraining people both within government and private sector engineering firms is critical to reducing our concrete addiction, and address ways to better manage our water. This training and education just takes time, and a huge amount of investment.

The energy system is changing to integrate renewable energy and the distributed energy resources. Buildings are looking for clean energy that is flexible, adaptable, responds to stressors, and continues functioning even if the grid goes down.

Community engagement is happening. There is a lot of data surrounding about how to ensure resilient critical facilities to serve public benefits in times of crisis. The impacts of a catastrophic event, akin to the Northridge Earthquake, can harm an entire community’s ability to bounce back and recover. So by working with the people in the communities on equitably moving policy forward, we are hoping to engage new voices. Change is happening, bit-by-bit. 

Dominique, USGBC-LA recently launched a workforce development program, “Green Professionals,” that teaches sustainable trade skills. It builds on the Green Janitor certification program. Fill our readers in on the scope of these programs and their success.

Dominique Hargreaves: The Green Professionals (GPRO) program is for those who are putting our buildings together. Contractors and subcontractors, as well as electricians and plumbers, are all a part of this program. We launched our GPRO effort at the end of last year, and we have over 150 individuals who are certified professionals.    

The knowledge of a contractor in Los Angeles is about traditional construction methods. This allows him or her to build safely, but most of the buildings in Los Angeles are going to be high-performance. Soon they will all be ZNE.

We have trainings for tradespeople to learn the values, techniques, and language to integrate green professional skills into their everyday work. They can turn around and immediately add value to their project. 

Last year, TPR covered the opening of the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute, championed by IBEW/NECA. Is there synergy between their efforts and USGBC-LA’s GPRO program?

Dominique Hargreaves: We are working closely to create green jobs and pathways for individuals in the contracting and building sector. Their training center is a shining example of a green building that is very important to the community.

IBEW/NECA is a strong brotherhood of electricians. We know that there are many other tradespeople that are critical to the effort. That is where our modules and trainings are applicable to plumbers, janitors, HVAC operators, and maintenance personnel. Our GPRO program can help develop skills to help them make a larger potential impact. 

At the end of last year, the city of Los Angeles approved an ordinance to publicize data on energy and water consumption of all large buildings in the city, and require them to take efficiency actions every five years. How does that ordinance align with the work of USGBC-LA to accomplish the goals set forth?

Heather Joy Rosenberg: Ultimately, all of our efforts are interconnected. There is a combination of creating a ‘push’ by the government to measure and disclose the data. The old adage “you can’t manage what you don't measure” is very applicable to the world of energy management in buildings. Just opening up data is a very successful way to optimize efficiency and the benefits that come with it.  

USGBC has helped create market demand for energy and water efficiency technologies. On the ‘pull’ side, USGBC-LA is working to increase the technical capacity of our building operators and tradespeople, so we can implement these policies effectively. The leadership standards work in complimentary ways to increase awareness and therefore demand. The push of government mandating some minimums goes hand in hand with the education, training and tools that support pull from the private sector.

Dominique Hargreaves: We have also created the Existing Build Speakers Bureau, part of the Benchmarking Help Center, which has engaged with over 150 energy experts in the Los Angeles region. This group has created materials to help educate stakeholders to provide an overview of the ordinance, as well as providing a compliance checklist. This group is doing presentations for the public, property managers, and others. They are doing this as a free service.

In closing, Heather you wrote a well publicized open letter to Los Angeles City Mayor Garcetti administration’s incoming chief resiliency officer in 2014. In the letter, you made strong recommendations and set out several challenges. Provide some perspective, now three years later.

Heather Joy Rosenberg: We are so lucky to have Marissa Aho as our Chief Resiliency Officer. What drove me to write that piece for The Planning Report was the fact that resiliency can often be seen as a technical task, only dealing with emergency preparedness and seismic codes.

Resiliency is so much more than that. The potential to build community at every opportunity, such as assessing the underlying environmental, economic, and physical stresses to the community, can make people and places more resilient. The need for a systemic, interconnected approach is essential, and I think Marissa has been successfully bringing all of the aspects together. Combining this success with her knowledge of how to get things done in the city government structure, we are lucky to have Marissa and the support of the Resilient Cities program. 


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.