Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Council member Nithya Raman introduced a motion to require all new residential and commercial buildings in LA to operate on a zero-carbon basis.
Specifically, the motion would require new buildings to be constructed to source their power from the city’s energy grid — which is anticipated to be carbon-free by 2035 — rather than from fossil fuels. If approved, LA’s Department of Building and Safety would have to report back within 180 days with a plan to implement an ordinance or regulatory framework, effective at the start of 2023, mandating zero-carbon for new buildings.
In the motion, Raman cites the city’s worsening heatwaves, wildfires, and drought, along with harmful air pollution and native species endangerment, as pressing concerns requiring “bold solutions.” Buildings in Los Angeles account for 43% of greenhouse gas emissions—more than any other sector in the city, including transportation, and more than they comprise at nationwide (30%) and statewide (25%) levels. In addition to combating climate change, zero-carbon buildings improve indoor air quality, lower construction costs, and entail fewer safety risks—especially during earthquakes.
Raman, who was elected in 2020 on a platform that centered LA’s housing and homelessness crisis, emphasized that measures be taken to ensure the requirement won’t slow down housing production or spike rents, displacing low-income residents:
“The importance of doing this work in a way that centers equity and environmental justice cannot be overstated — no one must be left behind. We cannot balance the bill of decarbonizing our buildings on the backs of renters who are already struggling to make ends meet. Our motion requires that the policies we develop here protect renters and do not negatively impact affordable housing construction.”
Additionally, Raman called for the creation of new, quality jobs for workers in industries impacted by the transition.
To facilitate a just transition, the council launched the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office in January 2021 to act as a liaison between itself and community groups. A separate motion approved in December requires CEMO to incorporate its findings from community assembly meetings into its recommendations for implementing building decarbonization strategies in accordance with energy and housing justice principles.
The motion is supported by Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Koretz, and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, all of whom co-sponsored it. It is seconded by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, meaning six of the council’s 15 members have already endorsed it.
Los Angeles is also moving to decarbonize its transportation sector — its second most polluting sector, responsible for a third (33%) of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. In November, LA’s Department of Transportation was awarded a $6 million grant to install one of the largest EV fleet charging systems in the United States that will be powered by a solar and storage microgrid.