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10 Downtown News

April 18, 2011



For Them, every Day Is earTh Day Williams Tells

the buildings were built [before] the modern building codes, you’ll find a lot of things that are harmful. There are also things like the quality of the paint, or materials that have maybe leeched into the rugs or walls.

The ABCs of Creating Environmentally Friendly Buildings by Ryan VaillancouRt

Q: When old buildings get demolished and rebuilt, like the upcoming plan for the Wilshire Grand replacement, do owners commonly reuse some of the materials? A: If the developers are smart and if they’re going to do the new building to LEED standards, the wrecking ball is just going to be a means to an end. Somebody’s got to make a determination as to what materials will be used. You get credits for doing that. It’s an integral part of what you’re supposed to do. I’m not an expert on that, but I would say they could reuse the foundation materials, the metal, the things that have a longer lifecycle.

staff wRiteR


n recent years, sustainable building practices have inched closer to the norm, and away from being a kind of design exception. The US Green Building Council, which oversees the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, is largely responsible for that shift. Lance Williams, executive director of the USGBCLA, talks about recycling buildings and why the LEED stamp of approval is worth its cost. Los Angeles Downtown News: Is it more difficult for an existing building to get LEED certified than a new project? Lance Williams: It’s a different process, but yeah, it is more difficult. With new construction, once you certify a building, that’s it. With existing buildings you have to demonstrate that you have really put your money where your mouth is because it’s about tracking and measuring performance.

photo courtesy USGBC-LA

Local Leaders Reflect on Sustainable Lifestyles, and How Everyone Can Go Green

Q: What’s the most environmentally unfriendly feature of older buildings? A: Sustainability is about preserving life and health, so a toxic substance, i.e. asbestos, has got to be one of the most unsustainable materials or substances that you’re going to find in an existing building. When you’re looking at a place like Downtown, in which many of

Q: Property owners pay to go through the LEED process. Why not just do the renovations for the sake of lower utility bills and, to save money, forego LEED certification? A: For one thing, it’s a great stamp that you’ve actually made a commitment to sustainability. In doing that you are recognizing that people are looking for buildings that have that kind of value, that kind of benefit. People recognize that LEED, because of its third party verification and its process, is a very rigorous standard. It’s not just you waking up one morning and saying I guess I’m going to renovate to sustainable standards. Research shows that people prefer to be in a building that has a plethora of sustainable features as opposed to something where the building owner advertises that it’s a “green building” without a sense of by whose standards? Q: Imagine you’re mayor for a day, on Earth Day of course, and you can implement one planning or policy change. What is it? A: I would mandate that we would build

Lance Williams, executive director of the US Green Building Council’s Los Angeles branch.

a building in every low-income community that’s at least a LEED gold building and mandate a continuous education program — everyone in the community must attend a seminar on sustainability in that building at least once. Sustainability is not just for the wealthy or the educated. Get kids in all communities to really be mindful that they’re the future and they have to build communities that have to be sustainable. Information on the US Green Building Council’s Los Angeles branch is at Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at

Power to the Planting The Upsides and Frustrations of Urban Green Spaces by Ryan VaillancouRt staff wRiteR


elani Smith is the president of the Downtown-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Melendrez. Their work includes Staples Center and the LAPD headquarters building. Smith discusses sustainability as a guiding force in the firm’s practices. Los Angeles Downtown News: When it comes to landscapes and plantings Downtown, what practices strike you as the most environmentally inappropriate?

Melani Smith: We always speak up against the indiscriminate use of turf. We thought that the turf at LAPD headquarters was a really important feature that was going to be used and you needed that open, accessible green space. But when you see turf parkways for no good reason it just kind of kills us. When you see really thirsty plant palates where people aren’t thinking of the potential functions for landscaping, like where plantings are used just for planting sake and not as a means to also provide shade, that can be frustrating. Q: What’s the most Earth-friendly way to green

up a small balcony, patio or window box? A: We’re all thinking more about where our food comes from and what distance it comes from. It’s amazing what you can do in a little space. You can plant it so that you can get some edibles in there and get a little bit of food production going. You have to use water and soil as inputs but you’re producing something you can eat so it’s a higher rate of return. Q: The LAPD headquarters is full of native gardens, but also includes a near-acre patch of grass. Why not plant it entirely with droughtContinued on next page

photo by Gary Leonard

Melani Smith, the president of the Downtown-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Melendrez.

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Los Angeles Downtown News is a free weekly newspaper distributed in and around downtown Los Angeles.


Los Angeles Downtown News is a free weekly newspaper distributed in and around downtown Los Angeles.