Andrea Chow

Andrea Chow

In an effort to support sustainable construction in San Mateo, city officials approved incentives for developers of new construction in the city to electrify their buildings, requirements for solar panel installation and expanding the capacity of parking spaces to charge electric vehicles.

The city adopted “reach codes,” or ordinances cities can adopt that are more stringent than California’s Energy and Green Building codes, in 2016. However, city officials have been exploring a set of rules regarding electrification of buildings, solar panels and electric vehicle charging readiness during the 2019 building code cycle, explained Andrea Chow, the city’s sustainability analyst, at the City Council’s Monday meeting.

She said city officials have been able to scope the cost effectiveness of strategies to encourage those taking on new building projects to reduce their use of natural gas with support from the California Statewide Codes and Standards Program, which has produced cost-effectiveness studies cities can leverage in adopting reach codes, as well as Peninsula Clean Energy, which has helped develop model reach codes. Chow added the California Energy Commission requires cost-effectiveness studies to show local amendments are cost-effective and do not cause an unreasonable burden on builders.

Councilman Rick Bonilla was pleased to see the city take steps to reduce natural gas use in buildings and make driving an electric vehicle more feasible in San Mateo, joining his colleagues in voting 4-0 to approve the ordinance up for review Monday. Councilman Joe Goethals was absent from the meeting.

But he urged officials to consider extending the city’s reach codes to include multi-family buildings, which were excluded from the rules officials adopted with regard to reducing natural gas use and requiring electric vehicle outlets at residential units. Because several multi-family developments have been proposed in the city, Bonilla hoped officials could review rules pertaining to multi-family homes as quickly as possible.

“I’d like to see this come back as soon as possible,” he said, noting developers could face expenses in the future if they have to change the infrastructure in their buildings under new requirements. “This would be something that would save them a lot of money in the future.”

Two options

Up for review at Monday’s meeting was the creation of two options for builders of new construction to reduce natural gas consumption within their developments. By either building an all-electric structure at the minimum efficiency required by the state’s energy code or designing a mixed-fuel building using natural gas and electricity at a higher efficiency level, developers can meet the proposed reach code for electrification, according to a staff report.

For single-family and duplex projects, builders can either construct all-electric buildings or design a mixed-fuel building exceeding the state code’s energy efficiency requirement by 15%. The California Statewide Codes and Standards Program’s cost-effectiveness study estimates builders of all-electric single-family homes typically save $5,300 compared to the construction of a comparable mixed-fuel home, according to a staff report prepared for the City Council June 3 study session.

For office projects, builders can either construct all-electric buildings or design a mixed-fuel building that exceeds the state code’s energy efficiency requirement by 10%. Chow said city officials are awaiting a cost-effectiveness study scoping the costs of extending the rules to multi-family projects, which they believe will be completed by the California Statewide Codes and Standards Program in the fall, before proposing a rule in the city extending to those types of buildings.

Chow explained the city adopted a reach code in 2016 requiring all new construction to install a minimum-size solar panel or solar thermal equipment and, in 2019, the state code will require all residential projects three stories or fewer to install solar panels. To maintain the city’s previous requirement, officials approved a rule requiring the solar panel requirement for multi-family and non-residential structures, she said.

Officials also approved a requirement for developers to provide a higher number of electric vehicle capable parking spaces — meaning the spot is equipped with an electrical panel and a conduit connecting the panel and the charging space — than what is required by the state for new construction projects. In response to community feedback, staff recommended a rule that builders of one- and two-unit developments and townhomes install an electric vehicle outlet labeled “EV READY.”


Multi-family developments were excluded from the EV rules because parking in those types of developments is typically located in a common area that is not sub-metered for parking, said Chow.

Resident Alan Mattlage described the proposed rules as a step in the right direction, but also urged officials to consider eliminating the option for space and water heating in new buildings to be provided by natural gas, which he noted would not ban natural gas entirely but would help facilitate a shift toward all-electric buildings. Also a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby in San Mateo, Mattlage advocated for requiring builders to install complete circuits and EV-charging outlets in multi-family buildings.

“The challenge of decarbonizing our transportation sector is particularly acute and the adoption of EVs is critical to this,” he said. “Building the infrastructure now will accelerate that transition.”

Councilman Eric Rodriguez was joined by his fellow councilmembers in voicing support for the staff recommendation Monday and also asking staff to keep the City Council informed about the cost-effectiveness study on multi-family buildings to be released this fall.

“I appreciate how San Mateo is continuing to be a leader here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to expanding reach codes to multi-family once we get more information.”

Chow said that if the rules are adopted later this year by the California Energy Commission, they will go into effect Jan. 1, concurrent with the effective date of the 2019 state building code.

In other business, the City Council voted 4-0 to exempt former Fire Station 26 at 1812 S. Norfolk St. from a section of the city’s zoning code to allow for renovations establishing a police substation and sleeping quarters there. Currently used as a rest area for American Medical Response employees between ambulance calls, the building will be renovated to include a police substation, vehicle storage and sleeping quarters with 12 bunk beds divided across three bedrooms for off-duty police officers under plans officials have been shaping since spring 2019.

City staff have worked with AMR to arrange for its staff to vacate the space by Sept. 1, and have scoped the costs of reconstructing the barracks, creating separate restrooms and installing a new air conditioning unit, which total an estimated $520,000. Estimated to take a few months, construction of the improvements could be completed as early as January of 2020, according to Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum.

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