Inter-Departmental Correspondence





April 13, 2009


April 28, 2009







Honorable Board of Supervisors



Lisa Grote, Director of Community Development



Direction to hold public meetings to discuss potential amendments to Division VII, Chapter 14, of the San Mateo County Ordinance Code (the Building Regulations) to amend the “Green Building Program” requiring minimum standards for new construction or remodels or additions of residential single-family, low-rise multi-family buildings, commercial and industrial buildings.





Accept the current progress report on the Green Building Program to:



Direct the Green Building Task Force and staff to conduct public outreach meetings to discuss potential amendments to Division VII, Chapter 14, of the San Mateo County Ordinance Code to amend the Green Building Program requiring minimum standards for new construction, remodels or additions of residential single-family, low-rise multi-family buildings, commercial and industrial buildings.



Return to the Board of Supervisors in the Fall 2009 with an updated progress report and any proposed Program amendments.



Present a Certificate of Appreciation to Mike Dethlefsen for completing the first new single-family residence under the San Mateo County’s Green Building Program.




Commitment: The Program keeps the commitment of “Preserve and provide people access to our natural environment.”


Goal 14 states: “Important natural resources are preserved and enhanced through environmental stewardship.”


The Green Building Program continues to encourage, among other things, the use of recycled materials and energy efficient appliances in building projects. The Program lowers energy usage, reduces the operating and maintenance costs for buildings, provides a healthier indoor environment, and reduces waste in landfills.




Chronology: The Green Building Task Force was created under the direction of Supervisor Mark Church and the Board of Supervisors. Its membership includes contractors, architects, environmental advocates, and homeowners, as well as County staff from the RecycleWorks Program, Planning and Building Department, and Board of Supervisors staff. Community Development Director Lisa Grote chairs the Task Force. Since the adoption of the Green Building Program regulations by the Board on February 12, 2008, and the subsequent amendments to the Program by the Board on October 7, 2008, the Task Force has continued to meet monthly. On March 24, 2009, Community Development Director Lisa Grote and Deputy Director Jim Eggemeyer attended the Board’s Environmental Quality Committee (EQC) meeting and provided a status report on the Program under oral communications. No formal action occurred.


Planning Commission Action: The Planning Commission considered this item at its March 25, 2009, public hearing. The Commission recommended that the Green Building Task Force and staff conduct public outreach meetings to discuss potential amendments to the Green Building Program. The Commission also requested that Planning and Building staff return to the Commission in the Fall of this year with the results of the public meetings and the recommended additional amendments to the regulations for discussion during the public outreach meetings.










On February 12, 2008, the Board adopted an ordinance establishing the Green Building Program for unincorporated San Mateo County. This ordinance went into effect on March 27, 2008. The regulations established the minimum standard of 50 GreenPoints or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for new construction or substantial remodels (major remodels - 50% valuation or greater as determined by the Building Official) of residential single-family, low-rise multi-family, commercial and industrial buildings. Incentives for projects submitted for 75 GreenPoints or higher or LEED certification include expedited building permit processing for residential, commercial and industrial construction. In addition, projects submitted for 100 GreenPoints or higher or LEED “Silver” certification receive guaranteed building inspections within two working days of a request.


At the conclusion of the Board’s February 2008 public hearing, it directed staff to return at six-month intervals to report on the effectiveness of the Program. Specifically, the Department was to report on the number of applications received that are subject to the Program’s requirements, expenses incurred by applicants for third-party raters, potential impacts on processing of other building permits (minor type building permit applications), community outreach, and implementation effectiveness.


On September 10, 2008, staff returned to the Planning Commission with a progress report discussing those items outlined above and a proposal to amend the ordinance clarifying certain standards and requirements to improve the effectiveness of the Program. The revisions included: updated definitions, reducing the bond amount from $10,000 to $5,000 and changing the timing for when the bond would be required. The Planning Commission recommended these modifications to the Board and on October 7, 2008, it adopted a new ordinance (No. 04444) with the proposed amendments. The Board also directed staff to investigate the possibility of a “feebate” system, and additional tiers or types of construction projects that could be included in the Program at the next six-month update.


Indicated below is updated information regarding the Program, including the number of applications, third-party rater consulting fees, potential impacts to the building permit process, community outreach, and possible amendments to the Program that staff would like to discuss with the general public.



Number of Applications


Since the Program went into effect (March 27, 2008), 66 applications for construction have been submitted that require compliance with the new regulations. Sixty-four (64) applications are for new or remodeled single-family residential dwellings and two applications are for new commercial buildings. There have been no applications for either low-rise multi-family or industrial construction. Thirty-four (34) applications were submitted at 75 GreenPoints or greater, or LEED Certified or better, thus qualifying for expedited building permit processing. Sixteen (16) of those 34 applications were submitted for 100+ GreenPoints or LEED Silver or better and are also guaranteed building permit inspections within two working days of a request. For a summary of this information, see Attachment A, Green Building Program - Permit Summary Charts 2008 and 2009. In each of these 34 cases, the applicant received the first round of comments on the building permit within the 30 days required by the ordinance. The range of days for the first round of comments was from 1 to 30 and is also summarized in Attachment A.



Third-Party Raters


Since the last progress reports to the Planning Commission and the Board, staff has been discussing costs for third-party raters with applicants to obtain the most current information. Raters are currently charging between $1,000 and $1,400 per project and are averaging closer to $1,300. The cost of the third-party rater remains a small percentage of the overall building costs. Staff continues to recommend that the expense for these rating services helps provide long-term public and private benefits by providing healthy, energy and resource efficient buildings in San Mateo County.



Potential Impacts on Building Permit Processing


Since March 27, 2008, the Planning and Building Department has received a total of 1,868 permits for all types of construction. The 66 green building applications subject to the Green Building Program represent 3.5% of this total workload and the 34 applications qualifying for expedited services is only 1.8% of the Department’s workload. As stated previously, the range of days for all County departments to provide first round comments on applications receiving expedited services is between 1 and 30 days. Implementation of the Green Building Program continues to have no appreciable impact on services to other applicants, processing times, or departments. For a summary of this information, see Attachment A, Green Building Program - Permit Summary Charts 2008 and 2009.



Community Outreach


During the past year, Planning and Building Department staff have attended and made presentations at meetings with the public to provide information and answer questions about the County’s Green Building Program and regulations. These meetings included Countywide forums sponsored by the San Mateo County RecycleWorks Program and presentations to the Midcoast Community Council. Department staff also met with city officials from Redwood City and the City of Santa Cruz to discuss details of the County’s Program implementation and their programs’ status. Staff will continue to participate in public outreach and answer questions upon request.



Green Building Task Force


For the past year, the Green Building Task Force has continued to meet on a monthly basis. At these meetings, staff has provided permit summary information, invited guests to attend and provide direct feedback to Task Force members about the Program, reviewed current proposals from Build It Green for its new GreenPoint Rated Existing Home Checklist, discussed modifications to improve the effectiveness of the County’s Program and proposed possible amendments to the ordinance.


At the September 2008 Planning Commission and October 2008 Board of Supervisors public hearings, the Commission and the Board directed staff to research and propose additional modifications to the Program, including investigating “feebate” incentives and additional types of projects (i.e., lowering the threshold for the types of projects) that would require compliance with the Program.


Given the Board’s direction and Green Building Task Force discussions during the past few months, the Task Force and staff are proposing to conduct public outreach meetings. Improvements and amendments the Task Force and staff would like to discuss with the public include: (1) requiring all remodeling and additions for existing single-family residences, two-family residences and low-rise multi-family residential projects to fill out a GreenPoint Rated Existing Home Checklist, including a minimum of 5 points on the checklist, with incentives to be provided if additional points are included; (2) creating standards for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) replacement systems in existing structures; and (3) decreasing the qualifying minimum square footage from 3,000 sq. ft. to 1,000 sq. ft. for new or additions to commercial or industrial buildings.


At the Planning Commission March 2009 public hearing, it directed staff to also include in the public outreach meetings discussions regarding establishing new standards for HVAC replacement systems in commercial and industrial buildings, similar to the new standards under discussion for existing residential buildings. They also requested modifying the commercial threshold so that all new commercial and industrial buildings (no minimum square footage) and 1,000 sq. ft. and larger additions would comply with the Program.


Remodels and additions that do not exceed the 50% threshold are considered to be “minor” building permits (less than 50% valuation). Types of permits that tend to fall in the minor category include remodels (no additional square footage), additions, bathroom remodels, and kitchen remodels (conditioned (heated/cooled) space). These minor projects provide substantial opportunity to increase energy efficiency and reduce water consumption within existing homes. These projects represent approximately 11% of the total number of building permits. Certain types of projects could still be exempt from the Green Building Program requirements. Exemptions might include any unconditioned space or structures; e.g., carports, detached unconditioned garages, detached accessory buildings/sheds, foundation repairs, dry rot repairs, re-roofs, etc., or any minor building permits determined to be exempt by the County Building Inspection Manager on a case-by-case basis.


As stated above, all applications for “minor” building permits would only be required to submit a GreenPoint Rated Existing Home Checklist, filled out by the applicant (third-party rater not required), indicating how the project proposes a minimum of 5 GreenPoints at time of application for a building permit. This part of the Program could be used to educate the public about methods for improving opportunities to include green building products and methods in their construction projects. Incentives would be provided for including more than the minimum 5 points on the checklist, which could be the same as the existing incentives for larger projects. No minimum points would be required in any category (as is required by new or substantial remodels (greater than 50% valuation)) or “prerequisites.” In addition, no final certification by Build It Green would be required prior to a building permit final because the cost of the rater for these smaller projects can often exceed the cost of a rater for a larger project. This is because it is often harder to establish a baseline and evaluate features that are located in only a portion of an existing house.


Another amendment to the Program the Task Force has discussed could include requiring any new heating, ventilation, and/or cooling system (HVAC) to be 10% more efficient than the existing home’s heating/ventilation/cooling system. This could require the applicant to conduct a “duct test” to verify the current condition(s) and if the existing system is leaky and inefficient, seal, repair, or renovate the existing system and retest to verify a 10% improvement in the existing system. Alternatively, the applicant could propose to replace the existing HVAC unit with a new unit 10% more efficient than the existing unit. Documentation would be required from the applicant and could be field verified by a building inspector from the County Building Inspection Section. The Planning Commission has also recommended that staff include in the discussions at the public outreach meetings the same requirement for a 10% efficiency improvement for replacement systems in existing commercial and industrial HVAC systems.


Additional amendments to the Program could also include reducing the threshold for new or additions to commercial or industrial buildings from 3,000 sq. ft. to 1,000 sq. ft. for LEED certification. Task Force members and staff believe reducing the qualifying square footage would only be a minor amendment, but would increase the opportunities for additional commercial and industrial projects to participate in the Program. The Planning Commission recommended that staff research and discuss with the public an even lower threshold, whereby any size new commercial or industrial building and any addition greater than 1,000 sq. ft. would be required to comply with the Program.


The lack of available information regarding feebates adopted by other City and County jurisdictions has made it difficult for staff and the Task Force to develop a “feebate” program that fits San Mateo County. The goal is to propose a fee structure that is beneficial to applicants and will provide a “no net impact” on the Planning and Building Department budget. Application fee deferrals have been discussed, as have fee adjustments for projects reaching certain point thresholds. More research is needed in order to present a program that will best fit San Mateo County.


All of these ideas will be explored more fully during the public outreach meetings prior to recommending possible amendments to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors this Fall.



Program Monitoring


The Planning and Building Department will continue to monitor projects and meet with the Green Building Task Force on a monthly basis or as needed to address the effectiveness of the Program. Staff recommends that another update be provided to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in August/September 2009 to recommend Program amendments, based on input from the general public. Staff further recommends that once amendments are in place, annual reports be given to the Commission and Board. During the upcoming six months, staff will continue to track the permits, research “feebates,” and conduct public workshops on possible amendments.



County’s First Certified Green Building


Located in the Unincorporated Midcoast area of El Granada, the County’s first certified green building is a contemporary style two-story single-family residence. The home is approximately 1,700 sq. ft., with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths on a 5,250 sq. ft. parcel. The original building permit application was submitted at the 50-point level and received final certification from “Build It Green” at 98 points. The main living areas are on the second floor and take advantage of ocean and marina views from the second story decks and window placement. The project includes many recycled products including the decks and railings on both the front and back, no formaldehyde insulation, recycled material carpet pads, Oriented Strand Board (OSB) in portions of the framing, and a tankless water heater. The landscaping consists of native plant materials and does not have any lawn area to increase overall water conservation on the property. The builder, Mike Dethlefsen, considered many options for materials and cost factors during the construction process and with the flexibility of the Build It Green Checklist, in conjunction with the County’s Green Building Program, was able to achieve final certification easily above the minimum 50 points required by the County.


The Planning and Building Department is very appreciative of all the effort and consideration Mike Dethlefsen has taken in this project. It truly represents an excellent example of what can be achieved through the County’s Green Building Program. This project increases energy efficiency, reduces water consumption and provides a “healthy home” in San Mateo County.





Building Inspection Section


County Counsel









Green Building Program - Permit Summary Charts 2008 and 2009