Los Angeles got one step closer to carbon-free buildings when the Climate Emergency Mobilization Commission (CEMC) voted on September 20 to approve the Report on Equitable Building Decarbonization, authored by its city staff arm, the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office (CEMO). The report synthesizes findings and recommendations from CEMO’s stakeholder engagement process earlier this year, and now it will be delivered to the city council to confirm community priorities for building decarbonization legislation. The city council intends to review the report in committee in October.
CEMO’s Climate Equity LA series convened stakeholders across frontline communities, low-income tenants, Indigenous communities, affordable housing providers, service organization leaders, local governments, and other groups to discuss the potential pathways and impacts of building decarbonization. Local coalitions like Leap LA and RePower LA played key roles in peer education, designing and leading workshop conversations, and shaping the final report.
The CEMO report included 10 recommendations for the city council:
- Include frontline communities in the design, implementation, and evaluation of all building decarbonization policies and programs
- Leverage building decarbonization to improve public health and habitability
- Embed tenant protections into building decarbonization policies and programs
- Embed affordable housing protections into building decarbonization policies and programs
- Embed worker protections and new job opportunities for frontline communities into building decarbonization policies and programs
- Prioritize public funding for decarbonization of existing residential buildings in frontline communities
- Expand education, outreach, and technical assistance related to building decarbonization
- Leverage existing building decarbonization efforts to gather data on the technical and financial requirements of building decarbonization
- Design a flexible, equity-centered, multiphased approach to building decarbonization
- Identify all new and existing possible sources of public, private, and philanthropic funding to support equitable building decarbonization
Many community-based organizations commented in support of the importance of worker justice, necessary tenant protections, investment in frontline communities, and inclusive public engagement as the policy process unfolds. There is a strong base of support in Los Angeles for decarbonization pathways that uphold these provisions and that align with the preservation of housing affordability as buildings go all-electric.
The benefits of carbon-free buildings must be distributed equitably so that better air quality, affordable and efficient energy, and clean energy can benefit populations that are hardest-hit by the impacts of climate change. Public investment should go toward retrofits that improve quality of life for low-income Angelenos and communities of color, upgrade schools and senior living facilities, and keep affordable housing in healthy conditions. When governments use public funds, they also wield the most influence over strong labor standards, and co-benefits across health, affordability, climate emissions, and economic resilience can be realized.
What happens next
The city council is expecting to vote on an ordinance for decarbonizing new buildings in Los Angeles by the end of this year. Council sponsors Nithya Raman, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson already made clear that they want a sweeping policy that covers all types of residential and commercial new construction to be carbon-free.
CEMO’s report, along with reports from the Los Angeles Housing Department and the Department of Building and Safety, will be received and discussed in relevant city council committees before any final ordinance or action is voted on by the full council. The Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River committee intends to review and discuss these reports at its upcoming October meeting.
Additionally, the council plans to make quick strides toward a policy for existing buildings. A performance standard that requires carbon emissions reductions and energy efficiency gains across Los Angeles’s largest buildings is a much-needed policy tool for reaching the city’s climate goals and ensuring its buildings are climate-resilient. Public incentives will be needed for residential buildings to achieve deep energy efficiency and switch to all-electric appliances.
This is where inclusive public engagement must be held as critically important, as community leaders have expressed during the engagement process and in the extensive public comments. Determining the specifics of a policy—or a suite of policies—that ambitiously cuts emissions from buildings while preserving housing, energy, and worker justice needs to be developed in close consultation with the communities those buildings serve.
We are eager to see the city council’s next steps in crafting and communicating the proposed pathways for building decarbonization. Through this report and in their own words, Angelenos have already made clear the terms upon which communities would support policy actions.