June 23, 2023 - From the June, 2023 issue

Coordinating Green Building Across the LA Region: MyGBCE 2023 Civic Power Panel Excerpt

In 2022, California built nearly 100 million gross square feet of new green buildings, signaling an ever-growing trend of decarbonizing our buildings and making them more resource efficient. At a recent US Green Building Council-LA event, Executive Director Ben Stapleton led a conversation with Marta Segura, Chief Heat Officer and Climate Emergency Mobilization Director for the City of LA; Rita Kampalath, Acting LA County Chief Sustainability Office; Sean Crumby, Director of Project Delivery and Sustainability for the City of Irvine; and Lucius Martin, the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development at the City of Long Beach on how the region is collaborating—or not—on delivering new green building projects and retrofitting existing buildings.

Marta Segura

“We call it building decarbonization; we call it building electrification. What we're really trying to accomplish are healthy homes.” -Marta Segura

Ben Stapleton: We have the County, the City of LA, and we have two important neighbors for us in the region. It's so important that we work together if we’re trying to advance sustainability goals. We’ll talk about advocacy and policy in a moment, but this is a green building conference, right? We're green building nerds, so let’s start off talking a little bit about buildings and how they play into the work you do.

Marta Segura: The City of Los Angeles, a couple of years ago, embarked on what they would do for building decarbonization. When my office was first initiated, that was a priority for the city. It was also a priority for several community-based organizations. One of the first things that our office was responsible for was getting a lot of community involvement and engagement to see what types of broader, equitable, finite solutions could be integrated into our buildings decarbonization policy.

As a result, we were able to pose to the City Council and the Climate Emergency Mobilization Commission to consider sustainable funding forces for tenants and displacement and to look at lessons learned by other city who fast-tracked building decarbonization, but also to consider the owners of the buildings and the developers to make sure that the transition was sustainable in the long haul. We're really proud of the fact that we've passed the city’s new Building Decarbonization Privatization Policy.

At the moment, we are discussing how we're going to do this for existing buildings, which is a much harder issue to cover. I am sure that we will be able to implement something that is much more cognizant of how we protect our renters, how we protect the city, and how we protect the building owners to ensure that it's a win-win situation.

Ben Stapleton: Rita, with your role being county wide, you are dealing with many cities that are vastly different. How are you looking at buildings and approaching building decarbonization?

Rita Kampalath: Going to the Our County Plan, working in a region like LA, one of the key things about how we approach sustainability is that it is really people-centered. That means looking at the built environment and buildings is a really critical part of how we approach sustainability, not just because, buildings and infrastructure can contribute to sustainability challenges, but also because they can be a solution when designed properly.

That is why you'll see decarbonization is one of our priorities of this year as well. It's interesting working on a regional basis because we have that diversity in our cities and our region. On the one hand, we can learn from each other, and we love to have regional consistency. It's great when we have leaders like the City of LA to work off of. Hopefully, then, we can provide resources to other cities who haven't done that as well.

Frankly, we can also have friendly competition. I think sometimes we push each other to go farther, even if we're not moving right in step.

Ben Stapleton: I want to hit a little bit more on the engagement question. How do you engage with each other across cities or, from the county perspective, from city to city? Maybe I'll start with Rita to give that county overview, but how do cities interact with each other?

Rita Kampalath: Like I said, we learn a lot from each other, and we can push each other to be better. We can build on each other's work.

That's something that's been really important as we've been looking at building decarbonization. We have a lot of the same stakeholders in communities who are really engaged in these issues. It's helpful for us to learn from the work that other cities have done in terms of that. It also helps fight the feeling of fatigue that communities can feel, so we're not constantly going out separately and asking them the same questions.

As the county, there are a few things that we're trying to work on. The Our County plan was always intended to be a regional plan, so it does sound sort of like high level, regional goals, understanding that a lot of our challenges need to be done in collaboration and partnership. GHGs don't respect jurisdictional boundaries, and neither does water, air quality, and all those kinds of things.

We started off with the city summits when we were building the sustainability plan. We're trying to continue that work together with cities around specific issues, learning from each other.

Ben Stapleton: I want to turn to housing and homelessness for a moment. I think all of us have been experiencing, in our communities, homelessness issues. We're all in a housing crisis. The question is, what are the goals of green buildings as we address housing and as we address homelessness? What should we be thinking about when we think about the work that we do?

Marta Segura: We call it building decarbonization; we call it building electrification. What we're really trying to accomplish are healthy homes. Homes where people can thrive and everyone has an equal opportunity to live out their lives. I like to think about it as building healthy, thriving communities. I think that's the first thing I would say.

The other thing is that we're in a unique historic opportunity with the IRA funding and this administration, to use funding that's for climate resilience, climate infrastructure, building decarbonization, prioritizing homes for the housing insecure, and help for those who find it difficult to pay rent.

It really comes down to the prioritization of our investment in the areas of greatest vulnerability, so that we can impact communities the greatest. If we create climate investments for those most vulnerable communities, we're creating climate solutions for everyone. In areas where the issues are greatest, if we impact those areas first, we save more lives, we prevent more injury, and we prevent more hospitalizations. Then, we will see some of these long-term changes happen throughout the entire region.

Ben Stapleton: I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and I always come back to the idea that being sustainable is about having a healthy place to live and a healthy environment that we can pass on.

We don’t lead with health enough in the building space. We, for the last several years, have tried to go after funding from traditional health funders for our occupant health programs, and the dots aren’t connecting. That is is a really startling sign because of the work that we do with green buildings, there’s access to natural light and ventilation, which allows people to perform better and have less sick days. That connection needs to be strengthened there.

Rita, tell me, what do you see on a county level? 

Rita Kampalath: One thing I would add is that this could also lead to cost savings when we’re talking about efficiency in terms of water and energy. Thinking about it from an equity standpoint, we don't want to leave communities behind from benefiting from those things.

There are also real concerns, when we're talking about these large changes such as building decarbonization, that it could also lead to market shift. Are we going to end up in a place where in certain communities, outdated technologies are more expensive to maintain or stranded assets or and things like that? As we're making the shift, we need to make sure that all communities are brought with us. 


Ben Stapleton: What about in Long Beach with the incoming federal funding? I’m sure there is a lot with the Ports.

Lucius Martin: Recently, we're trying to be competitive nationally with federal funding. We have a history of major projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean our air, and create that sustainable future we all want for ourselves and our families.

Our strategy is to focus on support for local projects because climate action has to take place for local communities. I think of the $369 billion that's connected to the IRA, there's about $27 billion available for states, tribes, and municipalities. That's the chunk that we're going to have to be focused on.

Our Long Beach Climate Action Plan calls for these types of investments. We already have many shovel-ready projects that we’re ready to pitch and go after. Just a few weeks ago, the city announced that we're in the early stages of developing the largest wind turbine manufacturing facility in the United States. The cost of that, though, is substantial. It's going to cost about $4.7 billion to develop, and that's not just city money. That's federal and private money. These turbines are as tall as the Eiffel Tower. The turbines will be used to capture wind energy off the coast. We're excited to be well-placed and the amount of jobs that that's going to create.

Ben Stapleton: With all this investment, we all think about jobs, workforce development, and training. I think there's a big disconnect from where we see the funding going and our ability to implement it. I would love to hear a little bit about how we develop the green workforce to actually make these things happen. Where do you see the gaps?

Rita Kampalath: Sustainability and workforce are things that can be afterthoughts from my perspective. What we found is when we start to bring in workforce experts, from the beginning, in policies, that policy can be developed in such a way where workforce is part and parcel of the planning and implementation.

It's one of those things that we need to build into planning, timelines, plans, and budgets, as well. If we're really thoughtful about bringing in key experts or bringing in labor to weigh in, there's real opportunity to make that happen.

Marta Segura: Well, I agree with everything that Rita just said. Implementation has always been a challenge for cities’ enforcement because you have wonderful plans to have local hire and local workforce development. It starts off great, but then it tapers off and we lose the momentum to keep local hire strong. It’s not just in this region, but it's a nationwide issue that enforcement outgrows policy.

Over the years, you have seen, all worker-based enforcement, like OSHA, Cal OSHA, and worker health and safety, all of that has really dropped off. I do think that we can make an effort to have an equitable and just transition if we keep everybody on the same page and we get more enforcement out there to ensure that those programs stay strong.

Ben Stapleton: I'd love for everyone to answer this question. What do you see as the number one issue that needs to be addressed to help us become a more sustainable region for all?

Marta Segura: For the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles, if we can all get on the same page to have coordinated investments in this climate space and have metrics that show us the worth of our investments over time, rather than spreading out those investments over too broad of an area where you don't actually see change over time, then we focus later investments where they are most lacking. Where don't we have tree canopy? Where don't we have resilience centers? Where don’t we have open space and landscaping that can make us more climate resilient? If we can make those investments where they're most needed and measure over time to show the difference between what we invested and where we are, then I think that will help future investments succeed.

 Even in terms of green workforce development, there's not enough out there to demonstrate that what we've invested in actually works. We really need to focus on creating that kind of data so that we can continue to invest in what works, instead of something experimental. There's a lot of things that I can invest in that are not ground-truthed. They sound very cool and sound like they could theoretically work, but we need to stick with what works so that our investments go far.

Sean Crumby: I mean, I couldn't agree more with everything you said, Marta. I do feel that communication, coordination, and standardization are the things that we really need to work on. I feel like the things that that we're doing are emerging and evolving at such a rapid rate, that there definitely is some misinformation out there.

You hit the nail on the head with the metrics. I think creating standardized metrics where we can all report out together is really critical. I’d like to see that.

Ben Stapleton: We sort of have communication, collaboration, and data collection. We have a lot of engineering community here, but it's also always the human elements.

Rita Kampalath: I think those are great answers so far. I'll add that I think that we need to really address our equity issues in building capacity for people to participate in processes more. We are such a wealthy, well-resourced region if you look at things on average. Yet certain communities are way behind. I think part of that is building capacity, again, for people to participate and really understand issues and be on full footing with decision making and policy making.

Beyond that, also building a bigger tent for sustainability is a big issue. We need to be helping other professions understand their place around this area. We're talking about how green buildings and designers can help in sustainability. We need designers and artists and all sorts of different professions to understand how they can contribute as well. 

Lucius Martin: I think we see a lot of us are coming along, but there are a lot of cities that aren't embracing the change. They're actively fighting against housing affordability and not really facilitating new housing construction. I think that's something that we're really proud of in Long Beach.

I just think we really have got to bring other cities along to physically build. One city can succeed, but we're one region; we're all in this together.


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