When I was working on my story about green residential development, a common complaint I heard from developers and green-building activists alike was that the city of San Diego doesn’t back up its “pro-green” stance with any action.

But in the last couple of days, I’ve had the chance to speak to more representatives from different offices across the city. Most of them acknowledge that there’s still a lot to be desired when it comes to being user-friendly. But they say their departments have taken significant steps toward greener pastures, as it were.

Dennis Williams, spokesman for the city’s Environmental Services Department, said the city adopted a sustainable building policy in 2003 that expedites the planning process for buildings or homes deemed “sustainable.” He said that designation applies to any building that gathers at least 50 percent of its own energy from solar panels.

Williams also said that all new and major-remodeled commercial or office buildings in the city must be built to reach the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver rating.

While Williams said his department is home to the energy and conservation management division, which is responsible for making sure the buildings incorporate the green features, he didn’t know how the policies are enforced after the building is built.

Garry Papers from CCDC weighed in on the topic, as well. He pointed me to the newest downtown community plan, in which CCDC addressed sustainable development in its chapter on “Urban Design”.

He seemed excited about one program in particular – the “eco-roof” project, where developers can be allowed additional floor area by incorporating rooftop gardens on their projects. These eco-roofs absorb rainwater and decrease the effects of heat reflection from concrete buildings.

Papers said San Diego is behind several metropolitan areas in the country, but said, “We’re trying to catch up.” He said San Diego will be able to learn from the trial-and-error problems in other cities to get caught up quickly. And the best way to convince developers, Papers said, is for buyers to start demanding these features.

“When the buyers start asking about it, then everyone will respond,” he said.

Carolyn Chase, founder of EarthWorks, said builders and developers need to pick their battles when it comes to dealing with city planning reviewers.

“It’s easy to point at the city and say, ‘Oh, it’s the bureaucracy,’” she said. “But there are buyers who are looking for these kinds of things.”


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