Los Angeles Passes Ambitious Building Efficiency Policy

I grew up in Los Angeles in the late eighties and early nineties when it was unsafe to go outside during school recess because of the smog. Now my hometown just passed the most comprehensive building efficiency policy among the big cities in the nation, and it’s been so inspiring to be part of the process.

Los Angeles’ Existing Building Energy and Water Efficiency ordinance was over two years in the making. But all of the effort the City and stakeholders put forth bore wonderful fruit. The ordinance touches most City-owned buildings of 7,500 square feet or more and privately-owned buildings of 20,000 square feet or more. Annual benchmarking of energy and water use and transparency of that data is required, with buildings over 100,000 square feet complying by July 1, 2017. Then, beginning in 2019, buildings will have to undergo an energy and water audit and retro-commissioning (sometimes known as “re-tuning”) every five years. If the building can demonstrate sufficient energy and water efficiency improvement, it can be exempted from the audit and retro-commissioning requirements.

With the innovative inclusion of a water retro-commissioning requirement and a compliance threshold of 20,000 square feet, Los Angeles’ policy is truly the leader across the nation. And the ordinance will reduce L.A.’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10 percent in 2025, and energy consumption by 7 percent, compared to business as usual. Residents and businesses are expected to save over $368 million on their utility bills in 2025 because of the ordinance.

                                                                                   

City of Los Angeles

The ordinance is the result of a lot of hard work to determine how to achieve ambitious sustainability goals. Back in 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) pledged to reduce energy usage by 15 percent by 2020, and the Mayor issued an Executive Directive aimed at reducing per capita potable water use by 20 percent by 2017. To help achieve these commitments, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a motion in December 2014, which directed the Department of Building and Safety, in coordination with the City Energy Project, to convene a stakeholder process to develop a package of policies and programs to improve the energy and water efficiency of Los Angeles' existing buildings.

The City set out to conduct several transparent and inclusive stakeholder dialogue meetings from January to July 2015 that were professionally facilitated by staff at Global Green. These meetings, attended by over one hundred and fifty people,  gave building owners, property managers, institutional partners, environmental groups, and a variety of other stakeholders the opportunity to provide their perspectives on the potential programs and policies that could be included in the citywide water and energy efficiency ordinance. City staff also met with industry leaders like the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Greater Los Angeles and US Green Buildings Council Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA) at their regularly scheduled meetings to brief their membership on the policy and answer any questions.

During this process the first-ever Los Angeles Sustainable City pLAn was released in April 2015. It identified two near-term energy efficiency outcomes that the City wanted to achieve by 2017: (1) Create a benchmarking policy to monitor and disclose building energy use and (2) Develop a policy package (e.g. audits and retro-commissioning) to address energy consumption in the city's largest buildings (both public and private). With these guideposts, the stakeholders and City continued to discuss and refine what made sense for Los Angeles.   

This whole process culminated in Councilmembers Huizar and Blumenfield introducing a policy thoroughly vetted by stakeholders. BOMA Greater Los Angeles, USGBC-LA, LA Better Buildings Challenge, real estate leaders like Kilroy Realty, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, California Housing Partnership Corporation, NRDC, and other all expressed strong support for the policy. The ordinance passed unanimously out of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee in early December, and passed unanimously (14-0) out of the full city council on December 13, 2016. The Mayor, surrounded by city leaders and stakeholders signed the ordinance two days later.

I really cannot express, as a native to Los Angeles, how much working on this ordinance over the last several years has meant to me: to remember how things were and to be part of the process to make things not just better, but the best in the nation. Los Angeles is now the city to beat when it comes to building efficiency, and I’m incredibly proud.    

About the Authors

Kimi Narita

Deputy Director, City Energy Project

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