This article is part of a regular series about some of the latest developments heard in legislative circles “around town”.
Court Construction Funding Taken
For the second year in a row the state budget has taken money from the court construction fund and placed it into the state general fund for general state operations. This move was recommended by the Governor in his May Revised budget in response to the state budget deficit and competing demands for state services.
The money that was taken would have been used to acquire land and pay for the services of design professionals.
Last year the state budget took $310 Million from the fund. This year the state budget took $240 Million from the fund.
This will have an impact on the majority of firms that have been selected to design projects for the courts $5 Billion court renovation and construction program. The Governor, in proposing this taking, said he wanted to delay the court construction program for a year, use the money for other purposes, and to evaluate the program and make any necessary changes before it continues.
The AIA California Council, and several other design and construction associations, and the Judicial Council, argued against taking money from the construction fund. The AIACC argued that the design and construction industry has been incredibly harmed by this recession and would be helped by the construction program moving forward without interruption. Additionally, we argued this is a good time for an owner to move forward with projects; any delay likely will result in the projects costing more to complete.
CEQA, LEED, and CALGreen
In what is perhaps the most effort over a law that may never be used, the AIACC joined other groups to urge that a state law enacted in the closing hours of last year’s legislative session be amended this year to allow CALGreen Tier 1 to be recognized as the equivalent of LEED Silver.
Last year, on the second to last day of session, AB 900 was amended to help the development of large projects ($100+ Million). The help was in the form of bringing greater certainty to the developer by offering an expedited review of CEQA litigation. In return for this expedited review of any CEQA litigation, the project had to meet certain requirements, including paying prevailing wage and living wages jobs, are either clean energy projects, or infill residential, retail, commercial, sports, cultural, entertainment, or recreational projects that meet specified environmental goals, including a requirement that the projects are certified as LEED Silver or higher.
The AIACC and others argued unsuccessfully that linking a pre-development process (expedited CEQA review process) to a post-occupancy event (LEED Certification) was problematic, and we argued that CALGreen Tier 1 should be used instead of LEED Silver, as CALGreen Tier 1, unlike the LEED rating, is a California regulation developed and adopted according to California’s open meeting laws.
This year, SB 52 is offered to make clarifying amendments to the AB 900 law. It does fix the pre-development/post-occupancy issue by requiring the project to be “design to be certified as LEED Silver or better.”
However, it does not allow CALGreen Tier 1 to be used.
The AIACC and others did ask for an amendment to include CALGreen Tier 1, so that the developer could chose LEED Silver or CALGreen Tier 1 as the standard to produce a higher performing building. We argued that if state law is going to offer a benefit for developing a higher performing building, the standard to be used should include CALGreen Tier 1 as an option, as CALGreen Tier 1 is a state regulation developed and adopted in an open process that allows the public to legally participate. Here is our letter stating our arguments. Unfortunately, the author of SB 52, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, did not want to make CALGreen Tier 1 an option, arguing that LEED Silver offers a higher green standard than CALGreen Tier 1 (an analysis done by the California Building Standards Commission a couple of years ago, and confirmed by an outside engineering firm, shows that CALGreen Tier 1 is nearly the equivalent of LEED Gold).
While it is disappointing that the amendment we suggested was not accepted, our ask was more on principal as many believe that the costs of meeting the eligibility requirements for the alternate CEQA litigation review process are so high that few developers will seriously consider using this process.