Stockton’s green building ordinance probably won’t make Stockton greener

It’s not often that John Beckman and I kind of agree on something, but it turns out we both have some issues (albeit from different perspectives) with Stockton’s proposed green renovation ordinance.

On Sunday, The Record reported that, as required by Stockton’s 2008 lawsuit settlement with the Sierra Club, the city will soon consider an ordinance requiring residential renovation projects over $20,000 to also pay for an energy audit which could lead to an extra $2,000 to $5,000 in costs or more. The goal of the ordinance is to help Stockton reduce total emissions by making sure large renovation projects make homes more energy efficient.

While noble in purpose, this ordinance is very shortsighted and may have unintended consequences that actually increase Stockton’s emissions. Addressing single home renovations overlooks the actual cause of most emissions and energy use while also discouraging people from investing in Stockton’s older, more walkable neighborhoods.

In 2012, carbon emissions from transportation far exceeded emissions from residences. While Stockton is considering a policy to stem residential energy use, what is being done to address emissions from cars, the real culprit of valley air pollution? (Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Department of Energy)

For starters, this ordinance misses the big picture: emissions and carbon dioxide come from automobiles. The amount of energy used by our homes is not insignificant, but our cars use much more, especially in Stockton where most residents need to drive everywhere. According the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles were six times higher than residential uses in 2012, while total energy use by transportation was two and a half times greater than what was used in our homes.

In addition to failing to address issues of transportation, this ordinance also disproportionately impacts Stockton’s older homes which might actually increase driving by discouraging revitalization and pushing people towards suburban housing. Homes in Stockton’s core neighborhoods generally need more extensive repairs than their younger suburban counterparts. By requiring more costs for older homes, the city disincentivizes the purchase and renovation of older homes, making it more difficult for neighborhoods like Magnolia and Midtown to draw investment and new residents to the area. As a result, this ordinance pushes more buyers to newer homes on the periphery, which means that they will have to drive more, increasing energy use and emissions overall.

Moreover, with higher costs and more time wasted waiting for inspections, homeowners will be more inclined to bypass the permit process altogether, conducting renovations without city approval. Throw in the fact that city staff is already over worked and struggle to perform inspections in a timely fashion, and you’ve added a whole new layer of bureaucracy most people don’t want to deal with. If the ordinance pushes homeowners to skip getting permits, then the ordinance becomes counterproductive; Not only will homes continue to leak energy, but the city will lose out on permit fees as well.

Want to renovate this house in the Magnolia District? A new city ordinance may require homeowners and developers to pay thousands more in energy efficiency costs which may dissuade people from investing in older homes such as this one as they generally require more extensive renovations.

Want to renovate this house in the Magnolia District? A new city ordinance may require homeowners and developers to pay thousands more in energy efficiency costs which may dissuade people from investing in older homes such as this one as they generally require more extensive renovations.

So if this policy is counterproductive, are there better alternatives that promote greener building? I don’t have a quick answer to that. On a broad level, rather than saddling more costs on people who want to reinvest in existing homes, the city could incentivize green building standards by offering credits or breaks in fees at some level. This would make developers and home buyers more likely to consider better insulation, new windows and other energy-saving techniques because there would be a financial incentive to do so. But a greater policy that would have a more significant impact on pollution would be to incentivize residential development in the city’s core—whether it’s renovating an old Victorian home or building apartments downtown. Getting more people in older neighborhoods closer to amenities means fewer car trips, which in turn lowers emissions from cars. Greener policies are quite important, especially here in the Central Valley where we suffer from poor air quality. But that doesn’t mean any green policy is automatically a good one.

Tags: ,

Categories: Community Commentary, Smart Growth, Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

3 Comments on “Stockton’s green building ordinance probably won’t make Stockton greener”

  1. December 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    We need to look at greener policies as a bigger picture and for the long haul. Yes, not much GHG is going to be reduced by residential retrofits, but we need to start changing attitudes. The green ordinance would be very similar to the process that is required to occur (in California) to upgrade accessibility in commercial spaces, called Unreasonable Hardship, where a percentage of the cost to remodel needs to be spent improving access. Despite being a law for decades, its not enough though but it is better than nothing; we are still a long way from universal access (and the frustration that creates drive by litigation).

    We have a long way to go to meet AB 32. We lose the most amount energy in existing buildings (built before 1992 and current energy codes). We can gain the most amount of improvement (in energy improvement) with existing buildings. And AB 32 -the imputes behind the Climate Action Committee’s formation, purpose and this action-requires major shifts in the way we live our lives. Or we are penalized with reductions in state funding. We either learn to live a greener lifestyle now, or face more energy and transportation costs in the future and a lower standard of living and health costs for all of us. Creating incentives is great, but they are out there ready (for instance PG&E and PACE). We do need tax breaks, permit fee breaks that recognize as a community we need to improve the worse offenders to help us all be in a better place. What we need is level playing field -like this ordinance- that starts the process so we can get started on where we need to be.

  2. Jon Seisa
    December 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    It might be highly advantageous for Stockton to establish an exclusive “Stockton Urban Green Council” advocacy foundation group, like NYC has done, being a chapter under the U.S. Urban Green Building Council (USGBC), laser-focused on sustainable and resiliency design policies, research on local sustainability and applications to the Stockton urban and community development, and the promotion of smart instrumental strategies and education to enhance a more livable city. Interfacing and insightful and strategic recommendations can be made to the City Council and various municipal agencies and leaders.


  1. Stockton’s highest-polluting zip codes show need to curb sprawl, promote infill | Stockton City Limits - January 15, 2014

    […] but short-sighted green building ordinance under consideration by the city that would have required costly upgrades for energy efficiency in the renovation of older homes. In the article, I wrote that while older homes indeed use more […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: