Monday, October 15, 2007

San Jose's 50 Million Square Foot Vision

Co-Star and others featured San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's big ten point vision that will green San Jose in fifteen years by 2022. Called the Green Vision, this plan artfully concentrates the vision's outcomes around "10 far-reaching goals that address energy consumption, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental impacts". Sounds nice, but the real estate market underwriter in me still makes me roll my eyes a little because it is intuitively doubtful that such big numbers can be achieved. Plus success will be measured several city administrations into the future leaving me wondering whether realistic accountability can be implemented. Nevertheless, it was still interesting to do a little fact checking to better assess San Jose's current real estate and sustainability context. Keeping this type of info in mind helps with future assessment of the Green Vision as it evolves. What Kind of Impact Will Retrofitting 50 Million Square Feet Have? The vision calls for retrofitting 50 million square feet in 15 years, or 3.33 million square feet of commercial real estate per year through 2022. Rosen Consulting puts the total size of the metro San Jose commercial real estate market at just under 552 million square feet . So mathematically, the mayor's retrofit proposal addresses roughly 10% of the current day San Jose commercial real estate market. 90% of the commercial square footage remains untouched for the same fifteen year period, making this objective not as exciting as it appears on the surface. But it may still be tough to meet. Rosen Consulting reports metro new construction amounts to less than 2 million square feet for 2007 with lower levels projected in the immediate years ahead. So somehow, this vision requires existing owners of commercial real estate to immediately begin retrofitting properties at the rate of more than 3 million square feet per year. Hmmm.... How and for how much paid by whom? Is San Jose a 'Sustainable City' in the First Place? San Jose ranks #23 -- between Phoenix and Dallas -- in Warren Karlenzig's How Green is Your City, where SustainLane ranks US Cities according to their sustainability criteria. San Jose gets lots of credit here for adopting far reaching sustainability measures way ahead of many US cities. 62% of all waste is already diverted away from landfills and the mayor's vision increases that to 100% in 2022. Air quality already ranks #7 in the nation and water is pretty clean at #12. The city's leadership has proven repeatedly that they get the tight connection between offering a top quality of life for residents and preserving the region's status as the hub of high tech. That said, room for improvement lies with a severe affordable housing shortage and a widespread allergy to public transportation. Nevertheless, city actions to enforce living wages, incorporating LEED standards into public buildings, and install five new renewable energy systems in 2008 are what make SustainLane praise San Jose as being a city "best situated to promote - and reap the benefits of - a transition to a greener economy." So while I'm not a big fan of grand statements, it helps to see a city with a positive track record try to push itself harder to stay competitive.

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