Mountain Peak and LEED certification
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Bill Hocker | Dec 31, 2016

[This is my letter to the planning commission in rebuttal to the LEED presentation made by Mountain Peak's architect at the Jul 20th, 2016, hearing. Despite my best efforts, some commissioners still cited the certification while approving the project.]


A very happy new year to you all. My sympathies for having to start out the year on such a controversial project. And my apologies for the usual last minute letter.

Much has been made of the LEED certification on this project. I very much enjoyed Mr. Wilson's presentation on the nature of the LEED process at the last meeting. And especially his appreciation of the beautiful character of the site and of the need for a low-impact project.

Low-impact is a relative term. In an area that is one of the most remote, quite and, at night, dark places in the county, impacts that may be "low-impact" or "less-than-significant" elsewhere are keenly felt. While burying most of the project is a good start, other aspects fall a bit short from the standpoint of those who must live side by side with it. There is nothing low-impact about the 44000 trips up and down the road each year. Or of the many visitors and employees and the festive commotion they will bring that break the quiet of the place, or the sight of the parking lots and solar panels the water treatment refinery now added to the vineyard landscape. Also not low-impact is the vast amount of dirt to be moved around on virtually every square foot the site, and of the mogul landscape of berms that have disfigured the smooth hillside at the top of the site beyond recognition.

I sensed that the Commission was enthused about the LEED certification and that it might be an influencing factor in your approval. It was an important part of the previous presentation and is referred to often by the applicant including in the first sentence of the project narrative. If you do intend to let the LEED certification weigh in your decision, as the applicant seems to assume, the LEED data need to be a part of the public record for all to discuss before a decision is made.

We should all want energy efficient buildings, but LEED certification seems, in fact, to be a very inconsistant predictor of the actual performance. In my first letter to the planning department, I cited this rather extensive article noting that the rating can translate into tax breaks, marketing or public opinion advantage, or a planning commission approval that justifies the high cost of the certificate. Whether the building actually lives up to its LEED certification is often forgotten after the project is built. There's really no penalty for not meeting the standards. In my email to you this morning I also included links to several research papers (below) that show a wide disparity in actual performance compared to LEED predictions and to non-LEED buildings. We and the county should have the opportunity to review the details on which the certificate was given before you render judgement, just as we would for any other consultant's report.

The LEED scorecard is below. Each of the credits on the scorecard are described on the LEED Credit Library here .

Given an opportunity, one might wish to question the reasoning on points awarded in certain areas.

For example, concerning the topic "Optimize energy performance - 18 points": While the use of cool cave air to condition the tasting room space was mentioned by Mr. Wilson, I might want to see how that compares to the energy needed to keep those cave fans running every day, or the energy expended to compensate for those very large windows facing the setting sun that provide so much daylight. I might also want to be sure that a somewhat modest solar array (from what I can guess from the plans), which probably accounts for most of the points in this category, can provide 70% of the energy needed for an industrial and commercial facility of this scale.

Or on another topic like "Building life-cycle impact reduction - 5 points" which includes historic, abandoned or blighted building reuse, I would wonder why a perfectly good 1992, 4-story "chateau" built and owned by Jan Krupp in his rise to the heights of the wine industry (definitely historic) would be torn down and his impressive cypress-lined driveway bulldozed. The viticulture building probably gets some points but since it is supposed to remain a vitaculture office, that's kind of like GHG credits for not cutting down trees.

The first topic on the scorecard has the most relevance to this project however: "Location and Transportation - 16 points"

It includes sub-topics like :
    "Surrounding density and diverse uses - 5 points - Intent: to conserve land and protect farmland and wildlife habitat by encouraging development in areas with existing infrastructure. To promote walkability, and transportation efficiency and reduce vehicle distance traveled. To improve public health by encouraging daily physical activity."

    And "Access to Quality transportation - 5 points - Intent: To encourage development in locations shown to have multimodal transportation choices or otherwise reduced motor vehicle use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and other environmental and public health harms associated with motor vehicle use."

It should be noted that this LEED disinterest in remote locations corresponds nicely with the Supervisors injunction to you in the 2010 WDO addendum to consider the remoteness of location in reviewing on-site marketing and visitation, and in the General Plan's policy CON-65(e) to consider "GHG emissions produced by the traffic expected to be generated by the project".

As I pointed out in my previous letter, the amount of energy to be saved in the building through LEED compliance might be compared to the energy spent on the 44,000 trips up and down the 6 mile road each year, 260,000 miles, 10 trips around the earth each year just to get to the project from the Trail. Remoteness is at the heart of this inappropriately ambitious project and of the very large amount of energy consumed in accessing it.

There is still one energy reduction technique that LEED doesn't give points for: not building the project in the first place. Note that the applicant's grapes are already being made into wine and that wine is already being sold. [From a tasting room located in the center of town.] Why build another unnecessary winery in the county? The applicant may argue that wineries are now necessary marketing tools, or that there is more control over the product. I would counter with the example of the vintner putting in a vineyard just up the road from the project. Dave Phinney, creator of "The Prisoner" wine, has sold two high-end wine brands for a total of $350 million. (an article is here) Both wines were made from contract grapes in custom crush wineries. Were the applicant to spend the millions of dollars earmarked for the construction and overhead of a winery on less impactful marketing of his wines, I suspect he could also build a multi million dollar wine business. One without the environmental and neighborhood problems that tourist venues are bringing to residents throughout the county. It would be a truly low-impact, environmentally praiseworthy solution.

Thank you,

Bill Hocker
3460 Soda Canyon Road

Articles on the value (or lack of value) of LEED certification:

USA Today 6/13/13: In U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green?
Newsham et al - Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Yes, but
Scofield - Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Not really
Scofield - Are U.S. 'Green Buildings' Really Saving Energy? The Facts May Surprise You
Scofield - No Evidence LEED Building Certification is saving Primary Energy
Gifford - A Better Way to Rate Green Buildings
Stephans - Do LEED buildings save energy? Yes, no, it depends
Swearingen LEED-Certified Buildings Are Often Less Energy-Efficient Than Uncertified Ones
Lehrer et al - Occupant satisfaction with indoor environmental quality in green buildings
Diamond et al - Evaluating the Energy Performance of the First Generation of LEED-Certified Commercial Buildings

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