Green Building Proposal
The chairman of the mayor’s Green
Building Task Force answers
some frequently asked questions
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