Green House

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it

SN&R’s current home

SN&R’s current home

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

I spent the first week of my new job at SN&R disgruntled. I’d go into work each morning, turn on my computer and just kind of sit there. I hoped someone would pass my cube and say hello, or at least tell me what to do. For five days straight, I felt about ready to cry.

I had voluntarily left a job I loved working as a reporter for a community newspaper where I mainly wrote about my favorite subject matter—people—to be here, researching plumbing and HVAC systems, meeting with smarty-pants spewing their smarty-pants terminology (I know just to make me feel dumb), learning about LEED certification and generally freaking out.

I eventually would be expected to turn this information into useful and interesting content for a weekly column about green buildings. No, I don’t know what a solar heat gain coefficient is. What are you talking about, light-emitting diodes? Just leave me alone!

OK, I admit, I cried a little bit.

My life was ruined all because SN&R owners Jeff vonKaenel and Deborah Redmond decided to buy and renovate a building. In June 2004, the pair realized they only had a short time left on the lease of the current SN&R office building, a beautifully refurbished mortuary on 20th and J streets in Midtown. With rents in the area increasing and a growing staff, Deborah and Jeff decided to shop around for a building. A couple years later, they decided to purchase one on Del Paso Boulevard.

Meanwhile, Jeff’s teenage daughter beat him up about global warming, telling him, “Dad, your generation really sucks except for the Doors.” He watched An Inconvenient Truth and thought, “I got it. We have a climate crisis, now what are we going to do about it?” To coincide with Earth Day, SN&R launched a sustainability section called “Green Days.” Everyone was feeling pretty good.

Then one day, Jeff met with Phil Angelides to talk about socially responsible investments. But all Angelides wanted to talk about was buildings. He told Jeff that 3 percent of buildings each year are new or go through a major remodeling. In the United States, buildings account for 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of waste output and 30 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions. Hmm, interesting.

Before long, Jeff was talking crazy, saying things like, “For us not to do a green building would be a level of hypocrisy I couldn’t stand.”

So here we are: a 19,000-square-foot building in SMUD territory, 24,000-square-foot parking lot, $1.4 million budget, major renovation scheduled for completion fall of 2008, a future new home for SN&R.

Future site of SN&R (if it was leveled by an earthquake, it wouldn’t be much of a loss).

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

When Jeff and Deborah started this project, they figured they’d ask some architect friends to supply the names of prominent green engineers and vendors in the area.

Unfortunately, there was one major hitch: Sacramento rests only on the brink of establishing a green-building movement. All those engineers, consultants, builders and contractors? They’re still learning, too, which means we at SN&R are in the position of figuring out our own recipe for the stew.

And I’ll be writing about it all. For the next year of my life. Bored yet?

Someone once told me that intimacy is the key to the personal essay. Assuming I heard this from someone like a journalist or professor, I’m gonna roll with it. You already know I’m an emotional wreck. But I am a complicated human specimen and you should know other things about me that are of the utmost importance.

I’ve driven my 1996 Toyota Tercel since I was a senior in high school (eight years ago) and I’m determined that it last me until I can afford a hybrid vehicle (timeline: five years). I forgot to watch the Live Earth concerts. It’s highly unlikely I’ll buy carbon offsets when I fly to Portland next month. I wear my clothes out until they’re faded, holed, cool again, then beyond repair and apparently my smart shopping decisions (read: cheap-ass refusal to buy clothing over $29.99, which means rarely buying new clothes) are really eco-friendly acts to reduce my personal consumption in disguise. I’m whiny, but as long as you’re not trying to date me, don’t worry about it—dang.

I’m also now smitten with my new job. But this isn’t about me, and before you accuse SN&R of shameless self-promotion by hiring a reporter to write about how wonderful we are, hold up. This is not just about SN&R, either.

Sure, we want a nice building. But we want something else, too. We want to spur the green-building movement in Sacramento. By reporting on local individuals, companies and institutions leading the way, we want to up the ante, ultimately speeding up innovation in the realms of clean technology, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

We don’t have an unlimited budget, which means we won’t make the greenest building ever. We’ll do what we can and hopefully help you recognize how you can go into your own house or office today, make a change and make an impact, too.

I know what you’re thinking: a weekly column about green building—fascinating! Umm, excuse me Mister Sarcasm, I get what you’re saying, but give us the benefit of the doubt.

It turns out that an exploration of green buildings is also an exploration of housing density and mass transit, solar thermal energy, trees and urban forests, melting glaciers, redevelopment and city planning, bikes, material life-cycles and good health. It’s an exploration of ecosystems, animal life and, whaddaya know, people.

So let’s change our thinking as we move forward with the green-building movement. Let’s keep the experimental, pro-equality, anti-corporate ideologies, but not be opposed to getting under the covers with strange bedfellows. Let’s be more radical than anyone has ever been, but practice inclusiveness to prevent the obsolescence of the environmental movement. Let’s act with immediacy. Let’s consider that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, while stopping a moment to figure out how we can use them to loosen the bolts enough to eventually cause its fall.

This past month, I’ve met with political bigwigs and UC Davis brainiacs. I’ve listened to businessmen proclaim that business will drive the green movement while others declared it’s up to government and policy. I’ve heard a father and son discuss how skylights are the best means of achieving energy efficiency, and have shaken hands with political-conservatives who said they too want their children to inherit a better world.