By Laura Fishman

The beginning of 2007 marked a new era of environmentally conscious growth for the city of Santa Cruz, as its Green Building Ordinance formally took effect.

The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance with a 7-0 vote in October 2005. Beginning as a voluntary program in 2006, it became mandatory this year.

The ordinance mandates regulations on residential construction projects over 350 square feet and non-residential projects over 1,000 square feet. Green regulations include the use of solar water heating, insulated windows, natural linoleum and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“The purpose of the Green Building Ordinance is to conserve energy, conserve resources and to provide a quality indoor environment,” said John Ancic, deputy building official of the City Department of Planning and Development.	

The recent ordinance, based on a similar program in Alameda County, is the first of its kind in the Santa Cruz area.

The Green Building Ordinance runs on a system that awards points for each green construction characteristic a given project has. For example, one point is given when low-emission paints are used. In order to get a city building permit, a minimum number of points are needed depending on the size of the project. 	 “We are giving people the freedom to choose the characteristics they want in buildings by using the point system,” Santa Cruz City Councilmember Mike Rotkin said.

Council members are in agreement that the new ordinance will strongly impact the community. They believe green building will significantly cut down the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a vital step towards stopping global warming.

Many community members are happy with the Green Building Ordinance as well, but there is some grumbling over how the new system operates.

“It’s going to be a pain in the butt until everybody figures it out,” said local architect Leif Rideout, adding that he agrees with the ideology behind the ordinance but is somewhat annoyed by extra work involved.

“I have to do additional calculations to make sure I’m following the regulations, so it is additional work,” said Rideout, who now charges his clients more money because of the increased workload and higher cost of green building materials.

However, local home designer Dana Jones believes that enforcing green building regulations in the city is worth higher operating costs.

“It will cost about 10 percent more money, but it’s a good tradeoff,” said Jones.

Rotkin believes that while green building is more costly, the ordinance will actually end up saving Santa Cruzans’ money in the long run.

“It may initially cost more money,” Rotkin said, “but people will end up saving money with lower energy bills and water bills.”

One large green construction project currently underway is the development of Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School, which is moving to a new location in a 55,000-square foot building on Encinal Street.

“We’re all in favor of the green regulations,” said school administrator Josh Karter. “As educators we want to teach students about green building and do educational projects on sustainability.”

Because community response to the Santa Cruz’s Green Building Ordinance has been largely positive, surrounding cities like Capitola and Scotts Valley are working on implementing similar laws. A UC Santa Cruz group is also working to incorporate green building practices into the school’s Long Range Development Plan.

“We haven’t enacted anything at this point,” Scotts Valley Community Development Director Steve Russell said. “But in an estimated six months we’ll be taking action with the regulations.”