Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's directive to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent in all state buildings by 2015, per Executive Order S-20-04, came a few years ago. But the first San Diego area projects to follow this mandate are just beginning to be completed.
The San Ysidro Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is one of those, and it has just recently been crowned with the LEED Gold certification, based on the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system, which is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for benchmarking the sustainability of buildings.
The fact that the San Ysidro building has so many environmentally embracive components could easily take a backseat to the byproduct of those green elements: consumer-friendly design. DMV offices, which provide services such as registering vehicles, investigating auto theft and licensing and teaching drivers, have typically been known for their more lackluster approach to design. Not now.
The 14,656-square-foot DMV building boasts an increase in natural lighting via skylights and high-pressure sodium lighting, which in addition to creating a more pleasant work environment, means a reduction in heating and cooling costs. It also incorporates a modern irrigation system, has recycled half of its building waste and uses rooftop solar panels, called photovoltaics. These provide up to a tenth of the DMV's daily energy needs. The energy the panels produce on the weekends is purchased back by San Diego Gas & Electric, which in turn saves an additional 10,000 pounds of carbon emissions from being emitted. SDG&E has named the San Ysidro DMV a "Sustainable Communities Champion."
Mike Mirando, director of communications at the California DMV, reports half a dozen new offices planned statewide over the next five years, although it's not confirmed yet which, if any, will be in the greater San Diego area.
"A number of buildings in the next five years we will be competing for LEED certification on those projects," Mirando said. "Each building will have different types of benchmarks -- gold, platinum, silver. We are looking ahead aggressively at this because it obviously saves energy, has an economic development component and is a win-win for everybody to have it incorporated it into our strategic plan."
Looking beyond the government sector, going green is increasingly seen as prudent for private development as well.
"Look 10 years ago in commercial or residential construction, something like this was almost unheard of," Mirando said. "Now companies, developers and governments are all seeing the benefits of (green building) not only in cost, but to customers and employees."
According to Mirando, the choice to build with sustainability in mind is an obvious one from a financial perspective, too. For example, the energy saved at San Ysidro because of its green components is enough to offset the energy cost of two standard-sized homes over the course of a year.
Despite such facts and figures, some traditionalists still maintain that keeping with the old is better. When asked what he views as the biggest obstacle to the progression of green building, Mirando is realistic yet optimistic.
"I see it becoming more and more widely accepted and widely used. Certainly there will be challenges along the way, but I've been here a year and have seen two offices open -- and they really do set a standard by which others can duplicate and replicate moving forward," he said. "I say it's full-steam ahead. No pun intended."
Blackford is a San Diego-based freelance writer.