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City of Santa Cruz – Green Building Program to Address Climate Change

Case Story

Climate Action Connection: Green Building

Tiered incentives to incorporate green building and energy efficiency measures into new and existing buildings are effective in reducing community-wide energy use and thus greenhouse gas emissions.

Community:Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)

Population: 56,300


In order to receive a building permit, all new construction and most remodeling projects in Santa Cruz are required to earn a minimum number of green points from the city’s customized green building program. Projects that exceed the minimum point requirement are eligible for an accelerated building permit or special council recognition, depending upon the number of points earned.

Program Highlights

  • Mandatory green building requirements apply to new construction, additions, and renovations for residential, commercial and industrial projects above a minimum size.
  • Residential and commercial projects earn city’s own customized green building points based on city checklists.
  • Tiered processing and recognition incentives encourage incrementally higher usage of green measures.

Lessons Learned

  • Utilize the building trades and architectural expertise in your community to create a green building program.
  • Take time for community education and outreach before deciding on a specific approach.
  • It takes a champion within the community or city hall to lead the green building program to fruition.
  • Regular program maintenance and community outreach are integral to continued success.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

In 2002, the Santa Cruz City Council established a 17-member Green Building Working Group, including representatives from the construction trades and residents, to evaluate the feasibility of a green building program. In 2006, although the city’s green building program began as a voluntary one, it required that all applicants for a building permit complete the city’s custom green building checklist to educate applicants and assist the city with program improvements. In 2007, the program became mandatory for all new residential, commercial and industrial projects, as well as for remodels and additions over 350 square feet for residential and over 1,000 square feet for non-residential projects.

Customized Green Point Program

Projects must earn a baseline number of green points to receive a building permit. The green point system is tiered, offering three categories for both residential and non-residential projects:

  • Minimum number of green points required to receive a building permit;
  • An incrementally higher number of green points earns an accelerated building permit; and
  • Highest number of green points earns the city’s green building award.

For single and multi-family residential projects, a wide-ranging checklist of green measures offers a total of 461 points. Applicants may choose those measures that work best for their project in order to earn the minimum or higher number of points required for an accelerated building permit or a green building award, as appropriate. The minimum number of required points is based on the size of the structure; the larger the unit the more points required.

For non-residential projects, Santa Cruz utilizes LEED. A total of 75 points are possible with 7 points required for a building permit, 33 points required for an accelerated permit and 40 points required for a green building award, regardless of project size.

All green measures must be indicated on construction plans and are monitored for compliance at both the intermediate and final building inspection stages.

Funding and Participation

The education and administrative costs of the Santa Cruz green building program is funded by a fee equal to .0025 percent of the value of the building project. In the first two years since the program became mandatory, the city approved over 300 building permits, including 230 residential and 70 non-residential permits. A total of 14 projects have received the city’s green building award.

Energy Evaluation and Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Work is underway to assess the individual and cumulative energy savings achieved from green building projects. In addition, the city has completed a greenhouse gas inventory and is preparing a climate action plan.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Air Resources Board.

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