Oakland and San Francisco Mark Earth Day by Increasing Efficiency Requirements

Oakland Planning Commission Adopts Green Building Standards

Last night, the Oakland Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt new green building standards that apply to private development, a culmination of nearly three years of work by the Planning Commission and staff. Agency staff has been meeting with stakeholders periodically during the development of the standards, which resulted in their widespread support – developers, community groups, historic preservationists and architects all spoke in favor of the measures.

Depending on the category and scope of a proposed project, one of two industry-standard green building rating systems would be applied. Build It Green is a residential green rating system developed by a non-profit to be specifically applied in California. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a national green rating system that applies to both residential and commercial projects developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Both include checklists, with each checklist item earning a project a certain number of points. Both systems require a project to attain a certain point total to become certified at one of the system levels. The checklists focus on categories such as site location, water and energy efficiency, material types, and indoor environmental controls.

The new green standards will apply to:

  • all new residential construction
  • new non-residential construction of 5,000 square feet or more
  • residential additions or alterations of 1,000 square feet or more (although green rating systems for additions to 3+ unit buildings are not yet available)
  • non-residential additions or alterations of 5,000 square feet or more
  • all new mixed-use construction (except non-residential areas under 5,000 square feet)
  • landscape plans of 500 to 25,000 square feet


The Commission also tailored some aspects of the green building standards to meet the unique needs of the city. Finding that LEED may be too strict and discourage small commercial development, projects proposing new construction, additions or alterations of non-residential buildings of up to 25,000 square feet must comply with an Oakland-specific Small Commercial Checklist. Also, in order to discourage demolition of historic buildings, buildings that are proposed to replace historic buildings with a local historic rating of A, B or C must obtain higher levels of compliance.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 72% of all electricity consumption in the nation and green building operating costs are as much as 9% less than traditional buildings. A 2003 report by the California Sustainable Building Task Force estimated that the up front costs of constructing a building that is LEED certified are about 2% of construction costs.

The green building standards will be voluntary until January 1, 2011, when they will become compulsory. The green building standards now go to the Oakland City Council for final approval. Email us if you would like a copy of the ordinance.

SF Board of Supervisors Committee Approves New Lighting Standards for Commercial Buildings

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee approved amendments to the Building Code that would require all non-residential buildings (and non-residential areas of mixed-use buildings) to meet energy-efficient lighting standards by December 31, 2011. Specifically, new 4-foot and 8-foot linear fluorescent bulbs must have a mercury content of no greater than 5 mg and 10 mg, respectively. In addition, each lumenaire that utilizes a 4-foot or 8-foot linear fluorescent bulb must either emit 81 lumens per watt or be controlled by an occupancy sensor control device. The ordinance exempts lighting on equipment and display cases.

While the ordinance states that failure to comply by the December 31, 2011 deadline will constitute a public nuisance that may be abated by the city, Cal Broomhead, Energy Program Manager at the Department of the Environment, testified that enforcement will consist of the city’s refusal to approve any future electrical permits until the building comes into compliance. Further, Mr. Broomhead testified that building owners or tenants will not have to replace working, non-compliant bulbs. Since such a requirement would in fact not be energy efficient, these bulbs must only be replaced once they burn out.

The ordinance will now go to the full Board of Supervisors for final passage.

Financial assistance is available for these upgrades. Go to “http://www.sfenergywatch.com/” for more details. Email us for a copy of the new legislation.

Reuben & Junius, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leases, purchase and sale agreements, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

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