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Updated Green Building Code and Developer's Carbon Impact Fee

Utilize city's Green Building Code & impose Carbon Impact fee to encourage green building feat. that go beyond state's standards.

Photo of CAP 2.0 Community Advisory Committee
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Written by

Kristel Wickham

How are you connected to Sunnyvale?

  • I live in Sunnyvale.

What type of applicant are you?

  • Community member

Stage of Development.

  • Idea with a working prototype

What problem are you aiming to solve? (100 words)

Must elim. emissions from new buildings,promote resilient elect. grid w/ onsite elect. & thermal storage, encourage h2o efficient practices that utilize rain that falls on property & restore ecosystem

Tell us more about your climate strategy or solution (500 words)

The city would impose Carbon Impact Fee on new development. Similar to other Developer Fees already in place that help offset impacts of new development on city services & school dists. Carbon Impact Fee would pay for greenhouse gas reduction actions identified in CAP 2.0 & future actions needed for climate adaptn. Developers would be able to reduce or completely avoid this fee by implementing green building features from wide menu of options that go beyond reqs. in California Building Code Title 24. Achieving zero carbon impact fee would mean development of site is expected to have positive envirnmntl impact over its useful life by drawing down carbon from atmosphere (or at least not emitting any), utilizing no more h2o in a year than falls on site, supporting elect. grid resilience, and restoring ecosystems onsite. Rating system would reward building sites that: - Plan to produce no greenhouse gas emissions (all-electric and utilizing SVCE), - Are net positive energy (those producing more electricity via renewable sources than buildings use on annual basis even if some energy use (like natural gas) generates greenhouse gas emissions, - Implement thermal/electric storage, and/or load shifting tech. to support a resilient electric grid - Implement energy & water efficiency measures beyond CA Building Code requirements, - Utilize rainwater catchment & have zero stormwater runoff - Use locally sourced &/or renewable materials in building design and construction - Restore ecosystems on site through combo of landscaping w/ native plants, trees, good soil management practices, & commitment not to use pesticides/herbicides. Rewards granted in form of reduced developer carbon impact fees. Projects that meet state standards subject to full carbon impact fees. Projects that are predicted to result in net positive impact over life of building in all areas would not pay any carbon impact fees. Discounted Carbon Impact fees levied in proportion to pts earned

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (100 words)

All-elect. bldgs. that use SVCE = no emissions. Sustainable bldg. materials sourced locally, lower greenhouse gas content. Energy Efficiency w/ bldg. siting, materials, archit. & HVAC/lighting tech. Grid resilience through thermal/elect. storage & load shifting tech. H2O efficiency via collection, onsite recycling & efficient fixtures/sys. Less wasteh2o treatment. Less stormh2o runoff w/ catchment for landscaping or drainage. Reduced Heat Island effect w/ 'cool roofs', living/solar roofs/trees

Explain how your idea would be implemented in Sunnyvale (700 words)

The developer carbon impact fee reduction would be based on the projected environmental benefit of the project during construction and over the useful life compared to the city's environmental mitigation costs associated with a development which meets the state building code standards. Environmental benefit would be carefully defined through the rating system and would include measures relating to projected greenhouse gas emissions (or net carbon sequestration), ecosystem restoration, water efficiency and stormwater runoff prevention, grid resilience, and reduction of heat island effect. projected water and wastewater use above existing baselines for the site, estimated stormwater runoff, and level of ecosystem restoration. Money collected from these fees would be used to accelerate climate action in other areas of the city's CAP 2.0. Audits would need to be conducted - perhaps every 5 years to confirm that projected values are met or exceeded. Fines could be levied if audits found significant differences between projected and actual performance. Reduced or zero Carbon Impact fees can be justified because the city is benefitting from zero GHG emissions, ecosystem restoration, reduced heat island effect, reduced stormwater runoff, reduced water use, reduced wastewater treatment and a more resilient electric grid. There would be some cost in defining the rating system, administering the program and conducting audits. Revenue is generated for the city to pay for climate action and climate adaptation.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (250 words)

'Accelerates use of green building technologies in the city and spurs demand which will reduce costs for others. Reduces building greenhouse gas emissions faster than implied by the state building code. Improves safety as gas lines are capped in favor of clean electricity. Could reduce costs for the city and for the building owner/operator over the life of the buildings (payback time for many green building technologies is less than 6 years). Gives developers a lot of flexibility to choose how and what to implement while clearly defining end goals - zero GHG emissions, net positive energy, zero stormwater runoff, ecosystem restoration, grid resilience, reduced heat island effect, energy efficiency and water efficiency.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of people affected. (250 words)

This would reach all developers doing business in Sunnyvale. The city would be recognized by others in the region as a leader on climate action strategies. The city would set the example in developing the Civic Center and try to achieve full points (zero developer fee) for itself. The city would publicize its policies and rating system to maximize awareness of the program and offer case studies and success stories. This may improve adoption by developers and spur interest in green building methods and technologies by homeowners and small businesses.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (500 words)

Feasibility would need to be studied by city staff in planning, finance and environmental services. Carbon fee pricing and discounts would need to be studied to find the point at which developers are interested enough in the savings to make the investments in beneficial technologies and actions. Often the total cost of ownership of a building is lower with energy and water saving features. If total cost of ownership reduction cannot be demonstrated for some features at this time, it may be unlikely for developers to utilize them thus delaying adoption. Developers would be unlikely to support this plan because it will mean higher costs for them. They may flee to other cities that do not have a carbon impact fee. Those who do choose to develop in Sunnyvale and pay the fee (or pay to implement the 'above and beyond' green building features) will likely pass on their costs to future residents or commercial tenants. This will put strain on the already unacceptably high cost of housing in the area. These are serious concerns, but through good program design and review of lessons learned by other cities (such as Watsonville) they could be overcome. The payback time for implementing many green building features can be six years or less and operation and maintenance costs of buildings with these features is often much lower than those without.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (300 words)

Help needed:- Determine when city will revise existing green building standard- Determine how well state Green Building Standards issued in 2016 are being enforced. Is there an audit periodically? - Determine status of CAP 1.0 actions relating to green building & energy & water efficiency. EC-4.1, EP-2.1, EC-5.1, WC-2.1, OS-3.3, EC-1.3, EC-2.2, EC-2.3, EC-4.3, EC-6.2- Identify cost & feasibility of this proposed program.- Conduct rigorous program design effort incld. predictive methods for key metrics (GHG, stormwater runoff, grid resilience, energy & water efficiency, heat island effect, water/wastewater usage, ecosystem restoration, etc.), performance indicators & rating system.- Study & define pricing of carbon impact fees to correspond to cost of climate adaptation measures & cost of implementing defined CAP 2.0 actions relative to size of development. Define sliding scale from 0 - 100% fee reduction based on rating system.- Determine whether there might be legal challenges or unintended consequences to program such as this. Prepare mitigation plans.- Research programs, & lessons learned from other key municipalities that have implemented Carbon Impact Fees (Watsonville)

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with our partners?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you came up with your idea.


Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far

1. From a range of 1-5, how interested/compelled are you to bring this idea into your own life or into the city?

1 - Not Interested - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 100%

4 - 0%

5 - Very interested - 0%

2. From a range of 1-5, does this idea provide benefits aside from reducing carbon emissions?

1 - Low co-benefits - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 100%

5 - High co-benefits - 0%

3. From a scale of 1-5, what do you feel is the feasibility of this idea to work well in Sunnyvale?

1 - Not feasible - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 100%

4 - 0%

5 - Very feasible - 0%

4. From a range of 1-5, what is your hunch about how much this idea will cost the Sunnyvale community to implement properly?

1 - High cost to the community - 100%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 0%

5 - Low cost to the community - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Barbara F

Wow! This would either raise funds for CAP implementation, accelerate the construction of buildings built to a higher standard, or both. Great idea!

Overview of Watsonville’s Innovative Carbon Fund Program (powerpoint):

Powerpoint for the Local Government Commission:

City of Watsonville Fact sheet on Carbon Fund Program:

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