How developers use a popular environmental certification program to sell projects and mislead the public
No deal was reached for 350 Bush, and as Regional Public Affairs Officer Traci Madison said, "There was no other option to choose from."
Although it's a measure of a structure's material sustainability, LEED does not consider a building's life cycle, or even its use. Consider 8 Washington. The developer has boasted that it's the most expensive housing project in San Francisco history, with a hefty price tag of $3 million to $10 million per apartment.
"Who can afford these luxury condos, and what do they use them for?" Paul asks. "These guys who work for hedge funds on Wall Street," who use the condo as a second or third home and commute on their private jets to get there.
Johnston said 8 Washington will be marketed to a "mix of buyers, including young professionals, empty-nesters looking to move back to San Francisco, and families ... The project has many two- and three-bedroom units, encouraging family living," he said. But it's unlikely that those who can afford a condo of this luxury will make it their only home.
"[Board President] David Chiu says he's worried about SF becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley," said Paul. "I'm more worried about this being a bedroom community for New York, Boston, L.A."
Instead of providing the affordable housing that San Francisco so needs, projects like 8 Washington attract the wealthy, who aren't using public transportation. Instead, Paul said, they burn tons of fossil fuels using their new condos as weekend getaways.
LEED FOR THE RICH
LEED certifies buildings as "sustainable developments" based on the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design and regional priority.
Earning points in each category brings a building closer to LEED certification, which requires at least 40 points. Above "silver" and "gold" status, a "platinum" LEED certification requires 80 points. But how builders get the points is what matters. For example, a developer might skimp on the insulation to install extra solar panels and get more points for a less efficient building.
Does LEED consider a building's actual use? "The short answer is no," said Jennifer Easton, a communications associate at the USGBC who added, "We want [LEED] to be used by every type of project." But despite its billing, LEED tells an incomplete story.
"It's just green drapery," said SF attorney Sue Hestor, a slow growth advocate. "They've really had a PR machine. They keep touting all this greenness."
LEED certification has value, Paul said, but it doesn't turn multimillion dollar condos green. "There is absolutely no need for high-end luxury housing in the city right now," he said.
Building luxury condos in place of affordable housing encourages the "Manhattanization" phenomenon, attracting wealthy out-of-towners to expend fuel on their private jets to get to their new crash pads.
"They aren't gonna be living there all year," Olague said of residents of luxury housing. "We hear a lot of, 'We need more housing.' If you keep building housing for the top 2 percent, how does it lessen the demand on your average workforce?"
But not everyone sees luxury condo-building as counterproductive. "Building that project actually allows for more affordable housing," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association). "It'll provide housing for some people, and that can only be helpful to the housing market. If you don't build new condos, then people just compete for the crumbs, and that means people who are rich push the rest of us out."
In other words, if you give the rich housing, then they won't take over your flat in the Mission — if they ever really wanted it in the first place.