Everything's Gone Green

On April 22 (Earth Day, no less) Los Angeles, a city better know for it’s smog, traffic jams, sprawl and overdeveloped car culture, became one of only 14 cities in the U.S., and the biggest to date, to adopt a green building ordinance (see LA Times article here) The ordinance affects new commercial buildings and high-rise residential structures with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space. It also would cover major renovations and low-rise developments of 50 units or more.
Rather than developing its own set of specific green building practices tailored to the needs and realities of L.A., the city decided to rely on the LEED standard. The ordinance (a draft of the ordinance can be found here) requires that developers submit a LEED checklist and an affidavit from a LEED Accredited Professional certifying that the project meets the “intent” of the LEED criteria. It does not require actual LEED certification for projects, an expensive and time consuming process.
Thus the ordinance is only as good as the LEED criteria. LEED is subject to a number of criticisms, particularly the way it weights its criteria. Relatively small design facets that have little effect on a building’s environmental impact, such as installing bike racks, are given the same weight as major energy saving elements. As a result it is possible for a developer to game the criteria and create a building that is LEED certified but not very “green.” The ordinance requires developers to comply with the LEED criteria in effect at the time building plans are submitted for review. If LEED improves the ordinance will improve.
The Times article noted that the new ordinance compared unfavorably to a proposed San Francisco green building ordinance which would affect structures with more than 25,000 square feet of floor space and require compliance with the stricter LEED Silver standard.