AQMD Rules to Affect What Projects Built : Development: New Air Quality Management policy will influence all major projects, including office buildings, shopping centers and industrial parks.

<i> Herbert Nadel is chief executive officer and president of the Nadel Partnership, an architectural, planning and interior design firm with offices in Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento counties</i>

The Southern California real estate development industry will soon undergo the most dramatic changes since the imposition of environmental impact reports in the 1970s. Why?

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), under the mandate of the state and federal governments, is determined to improve Southern California’s air quality by regulating all significant direct and indirect sources of pollution--including buildings.

Earlier this year, the AQMD board adopted a policy of evaluating and commenting on every regionally significant real estate project that requires an environmental impact statement, including office buildings with more than 250,000 square feet, shopping centers with at least 500,000 square feet, industrial parks employing more than 1,000 people and even residential developments with 500 or more dwellings.

The AQMD will recommend air-quality mitigation measures for local government to consider on these projects.


To thrive under these new circumstances, developers and architects must carefully study proposed AQMD regulations that will affect what, how and where projects are built. With this knowledge, developers and architects can effectively plan the building of the future--one that will meet the impending municipal or AQMD pollution-reducing requirements.

“Sources of a building’s pollution emissions fall into two categories: direct and indirect,” said James M. Lents, AQMD chief executive officer. “The direct pollution primarily comes from building systems and maintenance work. The indirect sources are the building’s energy consumption, which causes pollution at distant power plants, and the automobiles used by employees for commuting to work.”

The most common source of direct pollution comes from architectural coatings that protect and color the facades of office, industrial and retail buildings. The solvents in many paints contain large amounts of “reactive organic gases” that are destabilized by sunlight and then combine with nitrogen dioxide in the lower atmosphere to form smog.

To replace these pollution-generating coatings, proposed AQMD regulations would require water-soluble, lower-solvent and higher-solid coatings. In addition, developers may be required to use permanent materials like concrete or brick, which do not require any pollution-generating coatings.


Another source of direct pollution at commercial buildings is water heaters and the boilers for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, which produce carbon monoxide as a major byproduct of natural gas combustion. To reduce these carbon monoxide emissions, developers may be urged to install more efficient boilers.

One potential technology, now under study by the AQMD, is the “fuel cell.” In this system, each building has its own on-site generator powered by natural gas, which is converted to clean-burning hydrogen before its combustion in the fuel cell. The waste heat of this generator is reclaimed and warms the hot water tank and the boiler, which supplies the building’s heat.

For office and retail buildings, indirect sources are the major cause of pollution.

The most important indirect source is the exhaust from the motor vehicles that take people to and from work or on personal errands during the day. Motor vehicles alone account for 90% of the carbon monoxide, 70% of the nitrogen oxides and 50% of the reactive organic gases that degrade Southern California’s air quality.


With the recent implementation of Regulation 15 (“the commuter program”), the AQMD is requiring Southland firms with more than 100 employees to enact trip-reduction plans such as ride-share programs and mass transit use incentives.

In addition, the AQMD will influence the design of parking structures at office buildings. In the near future, fewer parking spaces will be provided relative to an office’s floor area than is customary today, and more “priority” spaces will be reserved for van pool and car-pool vehicles, plus bicycles.

Additionally, the AQMD will probably encourage large office complexes to include on-site services and amenities--such as day-care centers, restaurants, small markets and drugstores--so that employees will not need to make automobile errands during the day.

AQMD also will encourage companies to enact “flex-time” programs in which many employees work during off-peak hours. And flex-time will affect the planning and management of the building of the future.


Security will become a big factor, because employees will be entering buildings during night-time hours. Card-operated security systems, which provide continuous protection without requiring round-the-clock security guards, will become increasingly common.

Heating, air-conditioning and lighting systems will be highly customized because employees will be using only fractions of the total floor area during off-peak hours.

Ventilation and lighting systems that operate on a single on/off switch will become obsolete. Instead, office lighting and each floor’s ventilation will be individually controlled by the employees who work there or by a central computer.

The AQMD also will promote increased “telecommuting” by office employees. Through the use of advanced communications, employees can perform various tasks without leaving the office and making motor vehicle trips.


For instance, modem pooling allows employees at separate locations to work simultaneously on the same project at their computer screens.

Another common form of telecommuting is teleconferencing, which allows executives in widely dispersed facilities to conduct meetings without traveling to a single site.

Besides influencing building design and construction throughout Southern California, the AQMD also supports the development of balanced communities to prevent a jobs/housing imbalance.

This imbalance is the shortage of employment opportunities in new, outlying suburbs that forces those residents to make long, pollution-generating drives to work and, conversely, the surplus of jobs in other areas that causes congestion during peak business hours.


To facilitate a better jobs/housing balance, the AQMD is removing from existing rules the requirements that discourage the relocation of industry within the air basin.

Once again, Southern California is becoming a trend-setter for the nation’s real estate development industry, and the environmentally sensitive building of the future will reduce the region’s air pollution and improve the quality of life for its residents.

Of course, some Southland developers, architects and builders will not like these sweeping changes in their industry.

However, the AQMD enjoys widespread popular support, and environmental protection has become a mainstream political force throughout California.


And the changes are almost here, if Lents’ strong statements and the AQMD’s plans are any indication. Those architects and developers who adapt to these new conditions will prosper in coming years.