Jun 28, 2021

I Have Seen the Future of Commercial Construction—and It Won’t Be a Gas

Some shocking news for builders in the capital

By Ed Goldman

All new buildings that are constructed in the city of Sacramento will have to be all-electric by 2026, per a new ordinance passed by the Sacramento City Council,” according to a story early this month in the Sacramento Business Journal by award-winning reporter Felicia Alvarez.

Given the speed and diligence of this elected body, I think we can safely say that buildings built in California’s capital will be at best hybrid-electric. And starting in, like, 2031, not 2026.

Edgy Cartoon

I Sing the Building Electric

And that’s only if the council “fast-tracks” it—just as it’s done to solve the city’s problem of homelessness, develop its riverfront and beg its way to find a billionaire, any billionaire, to finance a professional soccer team.

“The ordinance requires building proposals under three stories to be all-electric by 2023, and buildings that are four stories or higher to be all-electric by 2026,” writes Alvarez. Aha! A loophole materializes (well, the loop, anyway. You never see the hole):

DEVELOPER: Hi, I’d like to have your department look over my plans to build a gas-powered four-story building in 2023.

CITY PLANNER: Uh, you do know that just three years later, buildings that are four stories or higher will need to be all-electric.

DEVELOPER: Only if I start building it then, right?

CITY PLANNER: —

DEVELOPER: Sonny? Are you okay?

CITY PLANNER: Yes, yes. Your question kind of took me by surprise.

DEVELOPER: Good thing I didn’t ask you a tough one—like why the Bible says “Thou shalt not steal”—but also says, “God helps those who help themselves.” I believe the latter is also known as the Urban Looting Psalm.

CITY PLANNER (Seizing on a factoid he actually knows): Sir, that seeming disparity has been disproved. “God helps those” and so forth was actually written by an English politician, Algernon Sydney, in the 1600s.

DEVELOPER: A politician, ‘eh? He must have first asked his local government to approve it in the 1500s.

The new ordinance is aimed at cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. According to a developer I was in a meeting with the other week, he said, pooh-poohing my own estimated timeline, “Oh, this’ll happen on time. The enviros are really pushing it.”

Since the meeting wasn’t about the new ordinance, I didn’t take umbrage at the fellow calling those of us who think the planet may be worth saving “enviros.” Nor did I feel compelled to call him and his like “envelopers,” since I only coined that a moment ago while writing this.

Looking for a Great Gift?

I kind of like the sound of it, though, since it, like “enviros,” begins with “env.” And it’s always helpful— if you’re going to devolve to name-calling that masquerades as political discourse—to have your insulting nickname for the opposition seem to mock his or her nickname for your own band of merry pamphleteers. This is what’s made debate in our country the dignified exchange of ideas it’s become.

The new ordinance reminds me of some other City of Sacramento initiatives that must have sounded good on paper. My personal fave was the redesign of midtown streets dubbed “Traffic Calming”—although, depending on your film-going preferences, you also may wish to refer to it as “True Grid” or “Experiment in Error.”

The goal was to prevent workers fleeing from their downtown jobs to their suburban homes in the county by using one-way streets leading to the freeways as extended on-ramps—apparently, the kind that require you to get your car up to warp speed before merging with the freeway traffic. This, however, usually moves slower at Rush Hour, due both to the laws of physics and the average commuters’ ambiguous desire to return home to families not always awaiting them with open arms. This is why God invented Happy Hours at bars strategically situated along our reverse commutes.

Traffic calming turned some one-way streets into two-way blacktops, meaning drivers who opted to speed to the freeway in what had long been a left-lane raceway, now had to contend with that lane’s new occupants: opposing traffic.

Then there were the closures of entrances to midtown streets that had formerly been easygoing two-way arteries. This meant if you were heading west into downtown in the morning and weren’t on a straight-through main drag, you’d have to stealthily pivot and screech your way around concrete blocks in the middle of once-placid intersections which—looming up rather suddenly as you peacefully tooled along—now threatened to destroy the complete undercarriage of your car if you didn’t swerve to the side at the last possible moment.

Here are the people for whom the City’s “Traffic Calming” has really had a calming effect: the makers of Valium. A developer trying to comply with the City’s new all-electric ordinance already probably has them on speed-dial.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).