The Greening of Mission Bay

What’s going right, what could be better

Urbanist Article

In 2003, the City enacted an ordinance requiring that all new City buildings of a certain size be built to, or exceed, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard. Some developers have followed suit, with five private projects built in the city that meet LEED certification. But in the City's Mission Bay development agreement, voluntary employment of green building techniques and materials has had a mixed record. The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has been the strongest adopter of green building, precisely because the entire University of California system adopted LEED as the standard for new construction in 2004. The Redevelopment Agency has also actively pursued green building and sustainability features in affordable housing and public facilities since passage of the City's ordinance.

UCSF Projects

UCSF, the sustainable-building leader at Mission Bay, has developed three green projects. The first two were completed prior to the University of California's adoption of a Green Building Code, which stipulates a minimum of 26 LEED credits (the number required to achieve a LEED Certified building) for all new projects. These projects focused on exceeding the State's mandated energy code requirements, and include Genentech Hall, a 390,000 square foot five-story building, completed in 2002, which includes extensive use of daylighting and achieves 23 percent better energy performance than the State's Title 24 energy code; and Rock Hall, a 168,000 square foot, five-story research facility that achieves 15 percent better energy performance than Title 24. The new Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building will be the first Mission Bay project to be completed under the new LEED-compliant guidelines. The Cancer Research Building will provide 165,000 square feet of space to researchers at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and enable a dramatic expansion of programs focused on cancers of the prostate, kidney, and brain. Indoor environmental quality was the prime focus of green building efforts at this facility, including carpets, paints, adhesives, or sealers that do not admit the volatile organic compounds that are major indoor air pollutants; additional commissioning to improve the building's energy performance; best indoor air quality construction practices; and individual thermal controls at every station. The project will also feature water-conserving appliances and fixtures, diversion of 50 percent of all construction waste from landfills, and no use of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Private Sector Commercial Projects

Itra Corp's 270-unit, 350,000 square foot condominium project at King and Fifth Street, will include a living roof, a recycled-content faade system, extensive daylighting, cross ventilation, low-flow toilets, green finishes such as bamboo flooring, and green-building materials like flyash concrete. The project will likely include sufficient features to become a LEED-certified project. The 285,000 square foot Gap Office Building, developed by Catellus, has a flyash concrete foundation and a greywater plumbing system and beats the Title 24 energy code by 15 percent, primarily through use of dual-pane insulated e-coat windows. The Gladstone Research Institute has an unusual long and relatively narrow footprint that maximizes the amount of natural light in offices and laboratories. Equipment areas are located in the center of each floor to maximize energy conservation. The building also features bamboo flooring and state-of-the-art case work (work benches, cabinets, shelving) that allow for flexible floor reconfiguration without destroying and rebuilding case work as requirements change. Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., the ultimate developer of the largest quantity of Mission Bay space (2.1 million square feet), has not committed to building to the LEED standard. According to Alexandria's Terezia Nemeth, vice president of development at Mission Bay, the firm is "evaluating each new building on a case-by-case basis to identify green features that make sense." Alexandria Development will soon break ground on its first project, designed by Catellus, which lacks green-building features.


Unfortunately, most of the 700 market rate housing units at Mission Bay do not include green-building features. Projects with no appreciable green features include: The Beacon (595 units), the Glassworks (34 units), Avalon at Mission Bay I and II (563 units), Rich Sorro Commons (100 very low income units) and Channel Park (100 units). The Signature II project (99 units currently under construction at 235 Berry) will incorporate open space, natural light, a fresh air ventilation system, and a rain screen, though the developer noted the project was not designed specifically as a sustainable project. The leader in sustainable Mission Bay housing development is Mercy Housing, which is developing a LEED-certified 140-unit very low income senior rental project that includes an adult day-health facility and a branch of the public library. Called the Mission Creek Senior Community, the project includes a 40-kilowatt photovoltaic array on the rooftop, an exterior sun shade system for the library to reduce heat gain, energy-efficient appliances and lighting, low-flow water fixtures, extensive daylighting, rapidly renewable materials such as linoleum kitchen floors and bamboo baseboards, and a variety of recycled-content materials in the structural frame, exterior cladding, ceiling tiles, wall board, and carpets. The project has also been piped to use reclaimed water for landscaping and public toilets.

A Cleaner Creek, Greener Parks, and Bike Paths

The greening of Mission Creek began with the transformation of the waterway into a less odorous experience as the city rebuilt and updated its sewer system to handle stormwater surges that used to result in sewage overflows into the creek. The recently completed 3.2 acre Mission Creek Park features green landscaping design with native plants along the creek, decomposed granite on park paths to reduce stormwater runoff, and is designed to filter and feed stormwater runoff from the entire site into Mission Creek. Other features include a revitalized wetlands with recently planted cordgrass and pickleweed and new pilings that provide perches and forage for great blue heron, egret, and night heron. The City has just completed plans to build the Mission Creek Bikeway and Greenbelt along two miles of Mission Creek, which will begin to connect the Mission to the spectacular San Francisco Bay Trail, a waterfront walking and bike path that rings the bay. The trail will facilitate greater bicycle and pedestrian activity and improve aesthetics along the historic Mission Creek rail corridor. The project will include bicycle and pedestrian friendly improvements such as: sidewalk bulb-outs, "zebra style" crosswalks, new traffic signaling, street resurfacing, landscaping treatments, and new lighting and signage.

Water Quality

According to the Mission Bay Environmental Impact Report, the effect of Mission Bay on water in San Francisco Bay will be positive—the development will actually serve to improve water quality. This is because of a system, unique in Mission Bay South, whereby storm runoff will be treated onsite before making its way to the Bay, reducing the load on the Southeast Water Treatment plant. Elsewhere in San Francisco, we have the relatively unusual system of a combined sewer system. That is, all rain and other runoff goes to the water treatment plant for full treatment, along with sewage. The system usually works well, but during some heavy rainstorms, untreated water exceeds the capacity of the treatment plants and both runoff and sewage flow untreated into the Bay. Here, special street scrubbers will clean the streets of chemicals before they enter the sewers, and parking lots in Mission Bay are designed to be porous so that the ground can soak up stormwater before it enters the system.

Marie Jones, principal of Marie Jones Consulting and a LEED Accredited Professional, provides urban planning, economic development, and green building consulting services.