- Written by Dick Platkin
19 Oct 2012
DEBUNKING ‘GREEN’ MCMANSIONS (A Series) - In previous columns I explained how the widespread mansionization of Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Valley Village and Beverly Grove, is not an unfortunate and unintended consequence of poorly prepared ordinances. It is their predictable and logical outcome.
City Hall’s fathers and mothers have meticulously prepared, adopted, and maintained these mansionization ordinances over the past six years. Furthermore, City Hall’s commitment to these pro-McMansion codes has not waned as the painfully visible appearance of McMansions has accelerated over much of Los Angeles.
In response, the patrons of mansionization have simply adapted. For example, from 2008-2010, the investors and contractors building McMansions could simply claim their projects were “green”, that is they were energy efficient through LEED Certification. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design of the US Green Building Council, a non-profit organization.)
In 2010 construction in Los Angeles, including McMansions, switched over to a new rating system, the Los Angeles Green Building Ordinance. For those not familiar with it, this is 125 pages of legally adopted building code provisions whose purpose is to foster green, that is to say, energy- and resource-efficient, buildings.
Just as the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance was a misnomer that allowed the mansionization of Los Angeles to continue unabated through LEED Certification, the switch to the Green Building Ordinance allowed the same “green” ruse to continue. Contractors could still continue to bump up the size of their McMansions by 20 percent by claiming they followed the new green building standards.
This entire process is, however, nothing more than greenwashing real estate speculation gone wild. This is because there is no evidence whatsoever that McMansions of any size are green. In fact, McMansions are the antithesis of energy efficiency. Puffing them up, even if they include a charging station for a future electric car or low flow shower heads, only leads to greater, not less, energy use.
Furthermore, no McMansion contractor or investor ever needs to demonstrate that his project results in reductions of energy or water use. That’s right. Even though the City of Los Angeles has detailed historical data on each house in the entire city, these City of Los Angeles databases are never tapped to determine if LEED Certification or the Green Building Ordinance produce green McMansions.
Other sources of data on energy savings, such as automotive records or Southern California Gas Company billing statements, are also never examined to confirm energy savings. This obvious omission is hardly an oversight. If a contractor or investor in these spec houses was required to demonstrate that LEED Certification or the Green Building Ordinance produced energy savings as a condition for obtaining building permits or certificates of occupancy, they could not.
This is because houses that are much larger and boxier than surrounding homes also use much more electricity and water than surrounding homes. As previously explained, these over-sized houses have enormous heating and air conditioning bills, pushed up, in fact, by special McMansion building code provisions that encourage flat roofs, high ceilings, and attached garages.
Then, when the McMansions’ large cars and SUV’s, heated swimming pools, spas, whole house vacuum systems, multiple bathrooms, large appliances, electric driveway gates, and other luxuries are factored in, the energy savings resulting from such features as double-paned windows and insulated walls vanish.
But since the real purpose of LEED Certification and the Green Building Ordinance is to increase the size and profitability of McMansions, not to reduce energy use and the Green House Gases responsible for climate change, the missing data make no difference. City Hall’s veiled agenda, greasing the wheels of real estate speculation through “green” gimmicks, is what really matters.
Claims of addressing climate change are just window dressing for an extremely harmful business model.
Nevertheless, this subterfuge has serious consequences. It has greater impacts than degrading neighborhood aesthetics and the loss of privacy and home values for the neighbors of McMansions.
The heavy energy use of McMansions is part of a larger process that is accelerating climate change.
For example, the latest climate predictions are that Los Angeles will be 4 degrees hotter by mid-century, with about 100 days of heat waves. In response, the city’s McMansions -- if they have not been abandoned because of their high energy bills -- will have to crank up their air conditioning even more. They are integral to a downward climate spiral that can only be stopped by governmental policies and programs that truly reduce energy use and emissions.
Policies, like green McMansions, that purport to be green, but are actually its opposite, are, therefore, a cause of environmental degradation, not a solution to it. The rapid, ongoing mansionization of Los Angeles has dreadful climate impacts, worsened by the Los Angeles Green Building Ordinance and LEED Certification.
So, when Los Angeles has an increasing number of heat waves and a new temperature records are set, as was the case from August through October of this year, and when you hear the noise of the pool parties and the air conditioning of the McMansions whining 24/7, remember to connect the dots.
But don’t stop there, connect the dots one step further to the officials who quietly designed, nurtured, and protected the green McMansion deception, all the while claiming they were engaged in heavy lifting to reduce the emissions of Green House Gases in order to stem global warming and climate change.
What they have done on their watch could haunt us for decades to come, and much of the destruction they are responsible for has not yet appeared. With concerted action, however, this damage to both neighborhoods and the environment can be averted.
This public push back will not be easy, and it will require a host of political, legal, and administrative responses. Luckily, some solutions have already been implemented in selected Los Angeles neighborhoods, while many nearby cities have effectively stopped mansionization.
All of these examples – to be discussed in future columns -- can be replicated throughout Los Angeles, and both local neighborhoods and the global environment will be their beneficiary.
Vol 10 Issue 84
Pub: Oct 19, 2012