Motion to amend LA's building code

Natural gas has been in short supply in Los Angeles since the 2015 blowout in the Aliso Canyon storage field and the 2017 explosion of one of the few pipelines that brings it into the Los Angeles area [1].  The pipeline is still out of action two years later, costing Californians an extra billion dollars so far, according to the LA Times [2].

The LA Times also notes smog has been on the rise in recent years in Los Angeles, exceeding the legal limit for months on end this year and the past two years, contributing to an increase in asthma and premature deaths [3].  The South Coast Air Quality Management District says getting smog under control, and in particular meeting the 2015 8-Hour National Ambient Air Quality standard for ozone of 70 parts per billion (ppb), will require increased energy efficiency and use of zero-emission equipment and appliances even more than currently planned [4a, 4b]. And the Times also notes zero-emission stoves can help improve indoor air quality [5].

Mayor Garcetti said, “we must redouble our efforts to reduce our dependence on natural gas and take this opportunity to move to a carbon-free future based on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy” [6a], and set a goal of new-building decarbonization by 2021 [6b].

One way to do this is via the building energy code.  The state updates this code every three years. Cities may set higher efficiency goals if they wish [7].  Cities that do this must show that their local code changes are cost-effective. LADWP has also already completed its own cost-effectiveness study showing that requiring new low-rise residential buildings to use highly efficient zero-emissions appliances will save homeowners money [8].

Federal law currently does not let local building codes require appliance efficiency higher than federal standards unless an alternate, non-preempting way to comply is also provided [9].  The state’s energy code provides cities the option of requiring Calgreen Tier 1 [10], which reduces emissions and increases efficiency without preempting federal standards. Studies showing that Calgreen 2019 Tier 1 is cost-effective for new low-rise residential buildings are available [11].

In order to save ratepayers money, reduce health problems caused by both indoor and outdoor smog, reduce the chance of natural gas shortages, and fight climate change, we SUPPORT the Mayor’s goal of decarbonizing new buildings by 2021.  To do this while still giving builders flexibility, we suggest that the city update its building code to require all new low-rise residential buildings approved on or after January 1, 2021 to either 

  • a) be zero-emission buildings (i.e., use only high-efficiency zero-emission heating and appliances, and have no supply lines or meter for non-zero-emission fuel); or
  • b) conform to Calgreen 2019 Tier 1.
















Decarbonization in other cities

Note: the above Clean Building Code motion proposes giving developers a choice between zero-emission and more-efficient-but-still-emitting heating, as most cities trying to decarbonize are doing.  Berkeley is unique in that it is trying a hard ban on natural gas connections to new buildings.