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Cover Story - May 2008

San Francisco Market Report

Two new projects highlight City’s green-building commitment

By David Silva

San Francisco City Hall has long marched to an unofficial slogan: “As America goes, so somewhere else goes the City by the Bay.”

In keeping with that independent spirit, the city is poised to enact what it calls the toughest green building ordinance in the nation. The move flies counter to other U.S. municipalities, which continue to turn their official noses up to the kind of get-tough green policies that began popping up in European cities in the mid-1990s.


San Francisco’s Building Inspection Commission voted March 19 to pass the new regulations on to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. The ordinance was proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who last year created a 10-member task force of local development, financial and engineering interests to explore the matter.

If approved, the ordinance would require all new commercial buildings over 5,000 sq ft, residential buildings over 75 ft high, and renovations on buildings over 25,000 sq ft to be LEED gold certified.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, various LEED initiatives, including legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies and incentives, are found in 75 cities, 23 counties, 17 towns, 27 states, 12 federal agencies, 10 public school jurisdictions and 36 institutions of higher education across the U.S.

Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order in December 2004 requiring the design, construction and operation of all new and renovated state-owned facilities to be LEED silver.

San Francisco Market ReportPreviously, San Francisco in September 2006 gave priority permit review to all new and renovated buildings that achieve LEED gold certification. And since May 2004, the city requires all municipal new construction, additions and major renovation projects over 5,000 sq ft starting conceptual design on or after Sept. 18, 2006, to achieve a LEED silver certification.

Though most progressive cities and counties in the state are requiring LEED silver, the only other city rivaling San Francisco is Costa Mesa, which, in September 2007, became the first municipality in the state to require all new municipal construction to achieve LEED gold, with no size or cost minimums.

The proposed San Francisco ordinance would require affected projects to start off at LEED certified, and gradually move to LEED gold by 2012. (The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the ordinance later this summer.)

555 Mission Street -- going for the silver

It was hardly by chance that Newsom chose the development at 555 Mission Street in downtown San Francisco as the venue for his press conference announcing the proposed ordinance. New York City-based developer Tishman Speyer, which is building a 33-story, 670,000-sq-ft office tower on the spot, is seeking -- at minimum -- LEED silver certification for the project. Moreover, one of the project’s two principal designers, the San Francisco architectural firm of Heller Manus, is a huge believer in the benefits of building green.

San Francisco Market Report“The world’s changing really fast, and our firm has been heavily involved in the whole sustainable-design issue,” says Heller Manus President Jeffrey Heller. “About a year and a half ago, San Francisco instituted an incentive program where, if you planned a LEED-goals building, you received accelerated-approval treatment.

“That program met with such strong success that the Building Department was overwhelmed by projects wanting to do that. City Hall sensed that the move toward green building was happening really fast, so now it has started the process of mandating green building in the city.”

New York-headquartered Kohn Pederson Fox is the other project architect for the project, for which groundbreaking was held in October 2006. The San Francisco office of Turner Construction Co. is general contractor.

When completed in September, the glass-curtained tower will include 4,000 sq ft of ground-floor retail space, an 11,000-sq-ft plaza at street level, and approximately 600,000 sq ft of Class-A office space in the floors above.

Green elements include a recycled water-distribution system for landscape irrigation, a reflective roof, a recycling goal of diverting 80% of construction-generated waste to recycling and take-back centers, and low-flow toilet fixtures.

Nation’s ‘Most Sustainable’

It was also no accident that Newsom’s press conference included much praise for the work of Phil Williams, chairman of the mayor’s Task Force on Green Buildings. Williams is vice president of San Mateo-based Webcor Builders, and Webcor happens to be general contractor for a project frequently called “the most sustainable urban building in the nation”: the 12-story San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters in the city’s Civic Center area.

Work has yet to start on the $178 million, 254,000-sq-ft project, but as designed by KMD Architects of San Francisco, it will sport photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, natural daylighting, passive ventilation, water efficiency (including waterless toilet fixtures) and onsite water recycling to reduce its burden on sewer infrastructure.

The “ultra-green” PUC building will produce 40% of its total energy needs, reducing demand on the city’s power grid accordingly.

The PUC headquarters will also feature an onsite child development and daycare center. It would also serve as an emergency operations center in the event of a major disaster, such as an earthquake.

Matt Rossie, project director for Webcor, said the firm is “finalizing its design-development documents” and anticipates an October groundbreaking, with a 24-month construction schedule.

“The primary focus of the building is the PUC’s own unique mission, which is energy and water,” Rossie says. “Much of the focus has been on energy generation through wind turbines, with a substantial focus on water recycling. For commercial clients, this could be much more economical. With the PUC itself a power generator, I’m not sure what the cost savings would be. But it’s the right thing to do.”


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