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L.A. considers green building codes

Marketplace Staff Nov 28, 2008

L.A. considers green building codes

Marketplace Staff Nov 28, 2008


Bob Moon: Imagine a city that decides to part ways with its polluting past. A city where green jobs are created for its poorest residents, all working together to save the environment. No, this isn’t some feel-good scene out of the 1970s where everybody breaks into a chorus of, “I Can See Clearly Now, the Smog is Gone.” It’s pretty much the plan Los Angeles is laying out for itself with a series of new “green” building codes. Here’s the story from Rob Schmitz of KQED.

Rob Schmitz: Three stories below downtown Los Angeles, cars descend into the West Coast’s oldest underground parking garage. The city built the Pershing Square garage in the 1950s, when energy was abundant and cheap. City of L.A.’s Dan Eason shows off a relic from that period.

Dan Eason: We’re headed down into some of the exhaust fan rooms right now.

Eason walks down a stairway to inspect a 10-foot turbine; It’s a box fan on steroids — an energy gobbling monster.

Eason: When these were built, the technology that was available is what you currently see: turn ’em on, let ’em exhaust.

This old clunker will be among the first things replaced if L.A. approves an ordinance to make hundreds of city-owned buildings more energy efficient. Nancy Sutley is the L.A. deputy mayor for energy and environment:

Nancy Sutley: We have a history here in Los Angeles of pushing the environmental envelope.

OK, stop laughing. She’s serious. Earlier this year, the city famous for its smog became the first big city in the country to require all new large commercial buildings to meet strict environmental standards. Those same standards are also part of the plan to retrofit 500 of the city’s oldest structures to use less electricity. It’s all part of L.A.’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 35 percent from 1990 levels over the next 20 years. L.A.’s targeting buildings because they account for almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Sutley says one of the goals is to serve as a model for the private sector.

Jack Kyser: It’s going to be difficult.

But Economist Jack Kyser of the LA County Economic Development Corporation says the cost of green retrofits could give many building owners pause.

Kyser: The next two years are going to be very rough for the economy. They will pay attention, but it’s not something they’re going to do immediately.

But a slow economy doesn’t seem to be stopping L.A.’s clean air goals, goals that will require a lot of work. To do the retrofits, L.A. plans to create up to 500 so-called “green collar” jobs, union jobs that’ll include revamping lighting systems, putting up solar panels and installing lo-flo toilets to save water. The city plans to recruit these workers from L.A. neighborhoods with high unemployment.

This is all good news for electricians standing outside their union’s dispatch hall in South L.A., waiting to be called up for a job. A slump in home and commercial construction means rising unemployment. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Kevin Norton says L.A.’s retrofit program is part of a new, green economy he hopes will spur job growth.

Kevin Norton: We definitely need to be on the forefront of new technologies because that will be a tremendous amount of work in the future.

L.A. City Council plans to vote on the retrofit program later this fall. In the meantime, Norton says, his members will have to settle for the only economic sector that’s hiring more of his workers these days: the industrial sector. Why? — Because of a construction boom in oil refineries.

In Los Angeles, I’m Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.

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