San Francisco’s

Green Building Proposal

The chairman of the mayor’s Green

Building Task Force answers

some frequently asked questions

By Phil Williams

In March 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom

convened a Green Building Task Force to

assess how the city could update its building

standards to meet aggressive greenhouse gas

reduction targets. !e recommendations, which are

currently under review by the San Francisco Board

of Supervisors, include the goal of having most

commercial developments achieve a LEED Gold

rating or higher by 2012. !ere are many myths and

misconceptions about this pending green building

legislation, and as the chairman of the task force,

I would like to take this opportunity to properly

inform people about the issue. Here, I answer a

number of questions that I have received about the

Green Building Proposal, and I attempt to demystify

the notions that may be confusing.

There is growing demand from the public for action, and city governments can typically act faster than their state and federal counterparts.

Why does San Francisco need a Green Building


!e need to improve the energy efficiency,

water usage and interior environment of buildings

becomes clear when you consider that buildings

consume between 40 to 55 percent of the energy we

use as a country, and most people spend more than

70 percent of their time in those buildings. !ere

is also growing demand from the public for action,

and city governments can typically act faster than

their state and federal counterparts.

A plan that is well-researched and written by

local building professionals, and which takes a

progressive, yet feasible approach to the situation,

makes much more sense than waiting for a program

to be authored by other groups on a state or national

level. Energy is not likely to get cheaper, nor is the

city likely to find new sources of quality water, so

now is the time to act.

I’ve seen the term eco-tough used to describe

this ordinance. How achievable are the new


!e ordinance is designed to phase-in over four

years. Beginning in the initial year of the program

(2008), only new commercial buildings greater than

25,000 square feet will have to meet the minimum

LEED rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s

certification system. For small to mid-size residential

projects, the first year is an orientation year, with no

mandated measures required. Over the next four

years, the requirements for commercial projects will

increase to higher levels.

Will these standards make it too expensive to build

in San Francisco?

No. One of the greatest myths about sustainable

(green) buildings is that they cost significantly

more to build. Current documented construction

costs now range from nearly zero percent to the

very low single digits for the basic level of LEED


Success depends on developing a plan, having

good team members and making smart choices

early in the design process. Quality products and

experienced subcontractors are now available with

little to no premium. !e LEED program has been

in use for almost 10 years, and the days when you

couldn’t get materials or trade workers with green

building experience are in the past.

Wouldn’t it be better for San Francisco to develop

its own sustainable rating system?

!e task force came to the unanimous

conclusion that using established, well-defined

and proven criteria, such as the LEED and GPR

systems, is the most effective way to proceed. !ese

rating systems are nationally recognized, respond

to changing technology and conditions and allow

building professionals and occupants to understand

the process and the end product.

It’s tough enough now to get good architects,

engineers, builders and sub-contractors. Where are

the consultants, designers and builders who know

about these Green Building requirements?

!e very fact that the USGBC LEED and Build

It Green GPR standards are mature and heavily

influenced by professionals from the greater San

Francisco Bay Area means there is no better place

to find the right people to design and build green

projects. Today, the definition of a high-quality

building is becoming synonymous with a highperformance

green building. !e two will soon

be synonymous, because green construction will

become a normal way of doing things.

How will the ordinance affect projects that are

already in the process of planning, permitting or


If a project has already applied for the site

permit, is into Department of Building Inspection

for permit check or is already under construction, it

will not be affected by the ordinance.

It already takes too long to get buildings permitted.

How much extra time will this add to the design,

permit, construction and TCO process?

!e ordinance was specifically designed

not to add time to the process. !e use of third

party verification of green criteria removes the

responsibility from the city’s Planning Department

and Department of Building Inspections (DBI).

How will Planning Department and Department

of Building Inspections handle these new


!e task force that helped author the legislation is

currently working with city departments to develop

a simple and effective process for integrating the

ordinance within the existing permit framework.

We envision a four-step process.

1) A completed LEED or GPR checklist,

delineating the necessary number of credits, is

submitted to the Planning Department along with

the initial site permit request;

2) !e LEED or GPR checklist, and proof that

the design information has been submitted for third

party review, is included with the permit addenda

containing the mechanical, electrical and plumbing


3) Upon the Substantial Completion, the

city receives verification that the balance of the

documentation has been submitted for third party


4) !e project receives approval when the final

third party verification is received.

Are there third-party organizations, other than the

US Green Building Council (LEED) and GreenPoint

Raters (GPR), that can rate my project?

Yes. To avoid forcing project teams to use

proprietary groups for verification, equivalent

third party verifiers are acceptable for rating and

establishing criteria compliance.

When is the ordinance likely to take effect?

While no one can predict the future, it could

realistically take effect by mid June or early July of this

year. !e ordinance was submitted by the mayor to

the Board of Supervisors in December of 2007. !e

board addressed the ordinance in its Jan. 8 meeting

and sent the measure to the Building and Inspection

Commission and the Land Use Commission for

review. !e ordinance is considered as legislation that

would create or revise major city policy and therefore

falls under Rule 5.40, also known as the 30-Day Rule.

!is means that the ordinance cannot be considered

until at least 30 days after the date of its introduction.

!e ordinance could conceivably reach the Board of

Supervisors in March, and if adopted, take effect 90

days after it is signed by the mayor.

Which of my projects will be affected?

!is is a comprehensive approach to buildings

in San Francisco. If a commercial project, new

ground up, commercial interiors or an upgrade

of an existing building is 25,000 square feet or

greater, it is covered by this ordinance. For smaller

projects between 5,000 and 25,000 square feet, the

requirements will also take effect at the planning

stage, however, those are limited and do not require

third-party verification. !ey will be part of the DBI

permit review.