City works on green building ordinance

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Lower permit fees could be used as an incentive to get developers/homeowners to build environmentally friendly.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Pressured by impending deadlines for compliance with state-mandated sustainable development standards, the Malibu City Council and Planning Commission held a joint meeting at City Hall last week where staff was directed to continue drafting a citywide sustainable development ordinance.

The budding sustainable development ordinance would consist of mandatory standards for approval of new construction and major remodel projects. It would also require larger projects to be certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, a green building rating system that verifies the sustainable qualities of different building types.

Nonresidential Malibu construction by Aug. 1 must comply with standards addressing water use for landscape irrigation, weather-proofing, collection areas for recyclables, formaldehyde content in wood products, air conditioning refrigerants, and minimum outside air ventilation.

However, the city is most concerned about meeting residential construction standards effective Jan. 1, 2011, as “ninety-nine percent of development in Malibu is residential, and 95 percent of those residential developments are remodels or additions,” Vic Peterson, the city’s community development director, said during the meeting.

While it is not yet clear whether the unchanged portions of a recently remodeled house must also be upgraded to match new renovation standards, residential construction requirements in January 2011 will call for sediment and runoff protection from construction sites; diversion of at least 50 percent of construction waste; low or no use of volatile organic compounds such as indoor adhesives, paints and coatings; low formaldehyde indoor finish materials; and maintenance and operation manuals for homeowners.

Additionally, residential construction starting July 1, 2011 will be required to meet a water efficiency standard that calls for a 20 percent reduction in indoor water use.

Though the city currently has requirements in place for water conservation landscaping, some residents at the meeting said they are not enforced.

“I think our biggest problem is water in Malibu,” Planning Commissioner Regan Schaar said at the meeting. “The issue of people submitting plans [development applications] without any landscaping plans is a way for them to get around the issue. We need to put landscaping plans in place and make sure they’re low water usage.”

The council, commission and a few public speakers debated various components of the potential ordinance, including green building, low impact development implementation, outdoor water use reductions, amendments to the city’s zoning and Local Coastal Program, and research on wind turbines.

Bonnie Blue, the city’s associate planner, noted an increase in residents’ inquiries about the implementation of residential wind turbines.

“We don’t have any rules that prohibit this currently, but the issue is the typical ways to install wind turbines really conflict with some of our [building] codes,” Blue said during the meeting.

Though the council and commission voted to direct staff to continue researching the possibility to utilize wind turbines in Malibu, Planning Commissioner John Mazza was opposed to the idea.

“If we try to define wind turbines and change our code we are wasting our time,” Mazza said. “There is an economic reason you don’t see any. I think it’s a lot of work for something that’s never going to happen.”

Of particular interest to resident attendees were proposed incentives used by other cities to encourage green building, which could potentially be offered to applicants in Malibu who implement green building measures beyond the minimum required for project approval.

One such incentive would grant increased development potentials, such as additional square footage and increased building heights. Included in this incentive are roof overhangs, known for environmentally keeping homes cool during summer months by reducing the need for air conditioning.

Though the city’s building code allows them, the overhangs have been problematic in Malibu due to applicants who install them and then build walls around them to create additional rooms to their houses.

Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky, Councilmember Jefferson Wagner and Planning Commissioner John Mazza suggested overhangs only be implemented on the sun-facing sides of homes, but staff in their report warned the incentive may be poorly received by other residents who oppose new development.

Permit expediting, another proposed incentive to encourage green building, was largely supported by most meeting attendees. However, Blue said, “We don’t think we have control over the review process to expedite permits.”

A city staff report explains the city does not control all timing aspects of permit issuance and that the speed at which applications are approved also depends on how quickly and thoroughly the applicant responds to staff comments, especially pertaining to complicated issues regarding geology, wastewater or view protection. Additionally, the staff report states that appeals and lawsuits filed after permit-approval delay and negate the effect of permit expediting.

A different proposed incentive, the reduction or waiving of permit fees, was deemed unrealistic by council members and commissioners because the fees are a main source of revenue for the city, which has already cut its 2009-2010 fiscal year budget by $1.2 million. Yet, the city will consider reducing fees for green projects while increasing fees for conventional projects as an alternate approach.

“Malibu is a small city, we have limited resources and special environmental concerns,” Blue said. “Everything here is under a lot of scrutiny both by regulators and the local community itself. That’s part of the whole process of building or developing anything here.”