Issues & AdvocacyIssues & Advocacy
AIA Government & Community Relations News: Week of January 30, 2012
AIA headlines this week include:
In 2002, the American Institute of Architects conducted a Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) in Springfield, Illinois. As a result of the R/UDAT, the city realized a number of its objectives, including the following recommendations:
• Restoration and opening of the Hoogland Center for the Performing Arts;
• Streetscaping and facade redevelopment;
• The physical transformation of the city’s east-west corridor, Capitol Avenue;
• The creation of the Office of Capitol Architect;
• The revision of the downtown preservation ordinance;
• Agreement on the need for the demolition of the Stratton Building; and
• Development of revitalization plans to connect neighborhoods.
Ten years later, the AIA has been invited back to help Springfield plan the next phase of the downtown’s future. The city’s application identifies the need to “repopulate the core” as a central goal to downtown revitalization. During recent years, the city has lost over 2,300 jobs downtown due to state government budget cuts. The project will focus on strategies to spur downtown residential growth and development, as well as the efforts to enhance the area’s livability and future economic prospects.
This week, the Center for Communities by Design conducted an initial visit to Springfield to meet with community leaders, tour the downtown, and hold a series of meetings to begin planning for the SDAT event. The team is led by Jane Jenkins, who served on the original 2002 R/UDAT team. Jenkins serves as President and CEO of Downtown Oklahoma, Inc.
Springfield Mayor J. Michael Houston (R) told the team that, “it is my belief that by focusing on additional sustainability issues that we have yet to fully explore, the SDAT will be instrumental in helping us realize a more livable, sustainable central city.” The team also participated in several conversations with local media, including the Jim Leach Show, Morning Newswatch with Jim Murray, the Springfield Business Journal, local television stations, and WUIS-NPR.
Downtown leaders described the area as an “amalgamation” of buildings that lack relationships, and are the result of “patchwork planning” by many jurisdictions and organizations without a clear vision for the whole downtown. As a result, the downtown has had to fight some negative perceptions. The SDAT will help reinvigorate downtown revitalization by designing urban design and economic development strategies that take better advantage of the potential synergies among many downtown assets. For more information about the project, consult the project website or follow the Springfield SDAT on Facebook.
This February, the AIA Issues & Advocacy webpage is dedicated to helping AIA members speak up for their profession.
What is grassroots advocacy? It is democracy in its truest form: citizens meeting with their elected representatives about an issue they have before the government. It is what the Founding Father had in mind when they enshrined the right to petition government for redress of grievances in the First Amendment to the Constitution, alongside the rights to freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Long before President Ulysses S. Grant first christened as “lobbyists” the well-heeled representatives of industry trying to gain his favor in the lobby of Washington’s Willard Hotel, citizens were raising their voices in support of the values they held dear.
Today, grassroots mobilization is a key to the successful of any advocacy campaign, because it demonstrates that the people who send lawmakers to office feel strongly about a policy. But grassroots is about more than just expressing opinions; it’s about building relationships with policymakers so that they know architects are a respected, reliable resource. Thanks to the relationships AIA members have fostered with elected leaders over the years, the AIA has been able to achieve significant advocacy successes:
• In 2004, as Congress debated legislation that would have excluded architecture firms from tax relief, members of the Texas Society of Architects reached out to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and asked her to introduce an amendment that would include architects.
• In 2010, when Congress considered plans to raise taxes on small architecture firms that organize as S corporations, AIA Maine met with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) to discuss the negative impact this would have. Sen. Snowe became the leading force to block the proposal in the Senate.
• Representative Ed Perlmutter (D) had a great relationship with AIA Colorado while a state legislator, championing AIA-backed legislation in the state house. When Perlmutter was elected to Congress in 2006, his working relationship with the AIA continued as he has become a leader in Congress on green buildings and livable community policy. When AIA Colorado members went to Perlmutter to discuss the credit crunch that is stalling projects, he responded by sponsoring bipartisan legislation, the Capital Access for Main Street Act.
These relationships cannot be built in a 15-minute meeting during the annual Grassroots Conference once a year; just like relationship building with prospective clients, these relationships take time. That is why the AIA has launched its Advocacy365 program to help members and components develop year-long strategies to engage with policymakers.
Elected officials are always looking for ways to connect with their constituents. The AIA works to help members build those connections. The AIA supports member’s grassroots advocacy efforts through a range of tools, including action alerts, in-district lobbying visits, and other programs. But this is only the beginning of what a member can do to help their profession. Talk to your state and local component about how you can get involved. Read up on the issues that the AIA is taking to elected leaders at all levels. Make a donation to ArchiPAC, the AIA’s federal political action committee. If you have a story of a positive relationship between your AIA component and an elected official, share it with us.
Continue to visit the AIA Issues & Advocacy website during February for more information and tips on how you can get involved and make a difference for the profession.
If you are planning a trip to DC for Grassroots – looking for tools to help you schedule your visit to the Hill, click here.
Thursday saw one win and one loss for design-related programs on Capitol Hill, with a House committee narrowly blocking efforts to protect preservation and bike/pedestrian programs and a Senate committee endorsing incentives for transit-oriented development.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday debated legislation that will renew federal transportation programs for an additional five years. The bill would strip from current law provisions that enable states and communities to use a small portion of their federal transportation dollars on the “Safe Routes to Schools” program and so-called Transportation Enhancement projects, such as preservation of historic transportation facilities, rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, and the preservation of abandoned railway corridors for use as pedestrian or bicycle trails.
Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) offered an amendment to restore most of the Transportation Enhancement and Safe Routes provisions. Despite a strong push from the AIA and its allies to build support for the amendment, it was narrowly defeated on a 29-27 vote.
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee will debate a bill Friday that would dramatically change how mass transit is funded. The bill would end the almost 30-year practice of funding transit programs from federal Trust Funds supported by gas taxes and fund them through the annual budgeting process, which would make them compete with other program priorities.
Once the committees finish action on their respective bills, House leaders will combine them into a single bill to bring to the House floor.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday approved on a unanimous bipartisan vote legislation that would help communities create mixed-use development around transit. The Federal Public Transportation Act would provide localities with funds to support transit-oriented development. This legislation also would provide grants for planning will help communities develop strategies to facilitate transit-oriented development.
Senate leaders will now work to combine this bill with transportation legislation approved late last year by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to bring to the Senate floor.
The AIA Government Relations and Outreach team is continuing to analyze the House and Senate bills; stay tuned to the Issues and Advocacy page for more updates.
A bill that threatened Florida’s qualification based selection process was defeated in the Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee last week, largely due to the aggressive grassroots efforts by AIA Florida. The bill, SB 246, would have amended Florida’s Consultants Competitive Negotiation Act to require firms to submit price proposals during the procurement process for public projects.
On January 17, AIA Florida members and staff visited the State Capitol to urge Regulated Industries Committee members not to support the bill. According to AIA Florida Executive Director Vicki Long, the bill would have “gutted Florida’s qualifications based selection process for design services.” When the bill was placed on the Committee’s agenda, AIA Florida put out a call to action to leadership and key contacts, asking them to follow up with Committee members to ensure their continued support. After hearing reports from the Capitol that Committee members were receiving increased pressure to pass the bill, a call to action was sent to AIA members in each of the Committee members’ districts. Finally, after Governor Rick Scott began lobbying in favor of SB 146 the night before the bill was to be heard in Committee, a final call to action was sent to AIA members statewide urging them to call the Committee members to stop the bill.
On January 26, Regulated Industries Committee members voted 7-3 against SB 246, effectively ending the prospects of HB 155, the House version of the bill. To see video of AIA Florida General Counsel J. Michael Huey, AIA testifying against the bill, click here (testimony starts at 1:03).
Congratulations to AIA Florida members on this successful defeat.
For the first time ever, the majority of the world's population lives in urban areas, and by 2030, that majority will amount to almost five billion people. As the scale of cities grows so too does the environmental, social, and economic challenge resulting from this migration. Now, forward-thinking communities are implementing sustainability initiatives, which include a focus on green buildings, smart grids, green streets, and smart public transportation to help cities grow.
The EcoDistrict Initiative presents a great opportunity to support these goals. A program of the Portland Sustainability Institute, the EcoDistrict Initiative focuses on the goal of implementing actionable sustainability projects at the neighborhood-level. AIA Portland, through its Committee on the Environment (COTE), has been involved in the EcoDistrict Initiative and contributed to the district pilot projects, toolkits, and annual conference.
The EcoDistrict Initiative has launched a new platform for strategy and information-sharing. The EcoDistrict Institute is a two day workshop and training session taking place in early May and will utilize a mix of peer-learning and interactive plenary sessions. The Institute is designed to help local senior officials work effectively with key private, nonprofit and academic partners to implement a sustainable neighborhood strategy for their community.
AIA Portland President-elect and former COTE Chair, Jeff Yrzabal, AIA, explained, “Portland Sustainability Institute’s EcoDistrict Initiative has been the single most important environmental initiative in over a decade. These guidelines for neighborhood scale sustainability shed light on a more holistic approach for how we transform communities by integrating how buildings, infrastructure, and people interact more successfully.”
The EcoDistrict Institute recently issued a call for participants and plans to select groups of four to five people from ten different communities around North America. From the two-day retreat, participants will take away actionable plans for developing neighborhood sustainability committees, as well as best practices guides, case studies, toolkits, and a veritable network of like-minded community leaders and sustainability experts.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that energy policy is a major priority this congressional session. However, that where is the agreement ends. When it comes to deciding what to do about energy, the parties seem farther apart than ever.
Most of the debate in recent years has focused on controversial issues dealing with specific energy sources. Some lawmakers continue to push for more oil and natural gas drilling, while others want to stop drilling altogether. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to implement further restrictions on coal plants, but will also face stiff criticism and potential attacks on its regulatory authority. Even the question of whether climate change is happening has become a point of bitter contention. In an election year, the odds of any legislation passing an already gridlocked Congress seem slim.
How does this impact the built environment? Energy efficiency is perhaps the one issue on which Republicans and Democrats can agree. Everyone understands that efficiency is the cheapest and, perhaps fastest, means to solving our energy problems. The question is, what can and should the government do to encourage efficiency in buildings?
Here is a guide to some of the key building energy proposals before Congress and their prospects for success in 2012:
S. 1000 - The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH))
This bill encourages energy efficiency within both the building and industrial sectors. It establishes energy-saving targets for model building codes, with the ultimate goal of net-zero energy buildings, authorizes the Department of Energy to provide technical assistance and incentives to help states adopt those codes, and expands the Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan guarantee program to include efficiency retrofits.
S. 1000 received bipartisan support last year, with an 18-3 vote in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senate leaders have indicated that this could move in 2012, but will likely be attached to a larger piece of legislation. Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) will introduce a similar bill in the House, but it will not include the building code provision.
The Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction (no legislation introduced yet)
In 2005, with the AIA’s support, Congress created a tax provision that allows the owner of a commercial building to deduct the installation costs of energy efficiency enhancements, up to $1.80 per square foot. The deduction, also known as 179D because of its place in the tax code, is scheduled to expire at the end of 2013.
In 2010, a coalition led by the AIA, which consisted of more than 80 organizations and companies, called on Congress to increase the deduction to $3.00 per square foot. Increasing the value of this deduction, as well as making it available to all design firms organized as pass through entities and non-profit owners of commercial buildings, would enhance the value and usability of this popular provision.
In February 2011, President Obama announced his Better Buildings Initiative, which includes increasing the 179D deduction in its goals.
The AIA continues to gain support for legislation enhancing the deduction. Congressional leaders have indicated that there may be a chance for energy tax legislation at some point in 2012. If so, it is possible that an extension of and enhancements to 179D may be included in the larger package.
H.R. 3221 – The Job Creation and Energy Efficiency Act (sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT))
H.R. 3221 creates a loan guarantee program for energy efficiency retrofits. This is a top priority for Rep. Carnahan, the co-chair of the High Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition. However, with the ongoing criticism of other energy loan guarantee programs due to the failure of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, it may be difficult for the bill to receive bipartisan support, which would be necessary for passage.
H.R. 3371 – The High-Performance Federal Buildings Act (sponsored by Rep. Carnahan)
In 2010, the AIA worked with a coalition to enact the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act, which required the General Services Administration to create training requirements and core competencies related to sustainability and building performance for all federal building personnel. Following on the success of that bill, the coalition has worked with Rep. Carnahan to develop H.R. 3371, which will require the use of high-performance building practices in the design, construction, operations, use, and maintenance of federal buildings. This includes the use of life-cycle cost analysis, building commissioning standards, studying the use of integrated design and building information modeling, and the reporting of building performance data.
This bill supports the congressionally mandated requirement that federal facilities meet energy and carbon-reducing goals. Although the bill is not controversial, it is unclear if it will be a high enough priority for Congressional leaders to move in 2012.
H.R. 2599/PACE – PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 (sponsored by Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY))
H.R. 2599 would allow localities to enact property assessed clean energy finance programs. These programs permit owners to finance the cost of energy efficiency upgrades through an assessment on their property tax, which stays with the property when it is sold. In 2010, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae announced they would not back mortgages on properties that have PACE liens for fear that in the event of foreclosure they would not be able to recoup their debt. The bill, which would address these concerns, has been endorsed by 51 of Hayworth’s colleagues. This is a hopeful sign, but only time will tell if Congress will act.
S. 1737/SAVE Act – The Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act (sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO))
This bill, introduced last October, would change underwriting and appraisal practices for green homes by factoring in expected utility savings, which would allow homeowners to borrow more money to invest in energy upgrades, or assess their existing green homes at a higher rate. The future of the SAVE Act is unclear due to other Congressional priorities. However, there is a diverse coalition supporting this bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Resources Defense Council – two groups that rarely agree on anything. This shows that energy efficiency does not have to be a partisan issue.
Government & Community Relations Archive:
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