Costa Mesa was named a LEED Gold City and was recognized for sustainability at the end of last year.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Cities is a national certification program that recognizes communities’ efforts toward sustainability and improved quality of life for residents. The LEED program also helps city governments track progress of their sustainability and quality of life initiatives, so that they can have a clearer understanding of what they are doing well and where they have room to improve.
Certification requirements for LEED for cities were updated in 2019. Costa Mesa was the first city in California to be named a LEED Gold City under the new, more stringent guidelines.
Some of Costa Mesa’s sustainability efforts were highlighted in the city’s LEED for Cities certification report, including:
A focused approach towards promoting reduced vehicles miles travelled
managing their greenhouse gas emissions
Enhancing disaster resiliency
and promoting environmental equity for improved quality of life for all its residents
In January 2020, prior to Costa Mesa’s LEED certification, the city hired Salem Afeworki as the city's first Energy and Sustainability Services Manager. Afeworki coordinated the sustainability efforts of different city departments as they worked toward the certification.
“It's not like the city had never done any sustainability work before I joined the city. We did it, it's just different departments did it,” Afeworki said. “There wasn't a way to bring all of it together into one report giving us a holistic picture of the city, of where we are and what we are doing. That was made possible, honestly, because of the LEED for Cities certification.”
Since hiring Afeworki, Costa Mesa has completed the installation of vehicle charging stations at city hall, purchased three all-electric Chevrolet Bolts as it transitioned towards a zero emission car fleet, purchased an electric shuttle for the Costa Mesa Senior Center, and replaced over 6,000 streetlamps with energy efficient LEDs.
All of the sustainability projects started since Afeworki joined the city have been funded without using residents tax dollars.
“We were able to roughly secure around $400,000 in grants and incentives and things like that to do all these projects,” Afeworki said. “100% of the projects in the annual sustainability report, apart from the charging stations that were started before me, were done based on grants, incentives and partnerships.”
Some of Costa Mesa’s sustainability projects are also expected to save tax dollars. The transition to a zero-emission vehicle fleet will save on fuel, maintenance and operating costs. The new LED street lights, installed in partnership with Southern California Edison, are expected to lower the city’s electricity expenditure by over $80,000 a year.
“We could have done even more but it was COVID so it made things harder,” Afeworki said. “We did what we could given the limitation and the opportunities we had at the time.”