At first glance, a plan in San Mateo County, Calif., to speed up approvals for buildings meeting certain green standards seemed like a good idea. It’s a small way of rewarding conscientious builders with sustainable projects without shipping them public money. From the Palo Alto Daily News:
Under the proposal, a builder who chooses to employ environmentally friendly construction in San Mateo County’s unincorporated areas would have his application for a new building or major addition processed by the county’s planning department twice as fast.
It takes about six to seven weeks to complete an application for a residential or commercial building permit. A builder who goes green would have his permit processed in three weeks.
“What we’re looking to do here is to provide incentives so more individuals will build green,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Mark Church, who has asked the planning department to look at developing the program. “The public sector already has taken the lead in developing green buildings, so now is the time to provide incentives to encourage the private sector to do the same.”
But then again, why should the promise of a government bureaucracy heaving itself into action at more than it usual torpid pace be used as a reward for anything? If they can process permits in three weeks, shouldn’t they do so for everyone? What if the project isn’t particularly green, but it’s for a school or a church or a seniors’ centre or something?
An urban-planning process might favour greeniness in granting approvals, but that quality shouldn’t factor into the effectiveness of the process itself. And besides, it’s just begging for people to game the system by submitting environmentally friendly plans at permit-granting time and then — oops! — not living up to them in the actual construction.