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CALIFORNIA / News and Insight on Business in the Golden
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Cal / EPA Accused of Not Meeting Own Standards

Environment: Officials are making last-minute changes to plans of new headquarters to make it more energy-efficient.

April 23, 1998|CATHERINE BRIDGE | CAPITOL ALERT NEWS SERVICE

Just three months before breaking ground on a new $172-million headquarters, the California Environmental Protection Agency is facing criticism that its planned 25-story tower fails to meet the tough environmental standards it typically enforces.

State officials are now scrambling to revise building plans before July in hopes of turning the proposed tower near the state Capitol into a "green" showcase.

The sprawling agency, whose air, water and waste divisions lay down some of the toughest environmental standards in the nation, is finalizing a last-minute $75,000 contract with a leading environmental consultant to review the building's design and recommend improvements. Additional consulting services could double that cost, and officials have no idea how much any building improvements could add to the cost of the project.

"This should have been a true green building [from the start]," said Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), who chairs the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee. She began pressuring state officials last year to include more energy-efficient design features.

"We're trying to push other state and private agencies and local companies to do a better job with preventative, Earth-easy design, and you do it by showcasing these practices."

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The building's architect, David Martin of A.C. Martin Partners of Los Angeles, passionately defends the original plans, saying the building is well-designed and a model of energy efficiency. The firm, whose founders designed Los Angeles City Hall among other notable local structures, has already added several environmentally friendly touches at the urging of Cal/EPA.

B.B. Blevins, Cal/EPA undersecretary representing the agency in the design process, said his agency and the state "all have an interest in making this building go the extra mile--to make it not just upper edge but place it on the cutting edge, and make it extraordinary."

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The tower, scheduled to be completed by 2001, will sit across from Sacramento City Hall and, along with a new federal courthouse currently under construction, will help redefine the capital's cityscape. It will house 3,500 state workers and the agency's six environmental control boards, with room to accommodate other departments.

One of the divisions moving into the building will be the Integrated Waste Management Board, which has strongly advocated making the new headquarters a true green showcase, going as far as offering $150,000 from its own budget to hire environmental consultant David Gottfried. The board is charged with enforcing the state's aggressive recycling rules, including regulations that force local governments to divert 50% of all waste products from landfills by 2000.

But it wasn't until state legislators threatened last year to hold up approval of Cal/EPA's $714-million proposed budget--and the $567-million budget of the Department of General Services, which oversees new building development--that officials had a green conversion.

John Golemon, the project executive for General Services, now talks of a "green epiphany," which he describes as his yearlong process of learning the finer points of environmentally friendly architecture.

"I'm a schedule-and-budget person," he said, "but this makes a lot of sense because it's about maximizing your resources.

So-called green buildings go far beyond the energy-efficient standards now commonplace.

Typical features include photovoltaic cells that supplement traditional energy sources with solar power, and the use of recycled concrete and steel. Green architecture evangelists also promote "daylighting," or the use of multitudes of windows that can be opened, and the installation of heating and ventilation systems that provide better indoor air.

But with the groundbreaking looming, it's not entirely clear what extra green features can be added. The most likely additions could be solar photovoltaic cells added to the roof, with a backup fuel cell filling in when bad weather hits. That addition, proponents say, could reduce the building's energy requirements by as much as 50% below state-mandated regulations. Also, planners can focus on using more eco-friendly materials for interior design features, such as furnishings and carpeting.

State officials are optimistic that the costs of any extra features would be within the planned $172-million budget. If not, funds will have to come from state coffers.

All of the talk of green improvements, however, makes building designer Martin bristle.

In response to earlier suggestions by Cal/EPA officials, his firm designed an air filtration system along the outside spine of the building so that each floor is routinely flushed with fresh air. The design frees the perimeter of each floor, opening up offices to natural outside light, which will shine in through high-tech thermal glass, he notes, one of the hallmarks of green design and not a project requirement.

"If something will really affect the environment, we designed it in already," he said. "The rest is hype, like using eucalyptus in the lobby instead of Italian marble."

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