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U.S. Energy Secretary tours green Santa Monica

Visit: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm toured Santa Monica on Friday including the Pier and the new City Hall East building. Clara Harter

If you happened to be walking the Pier on Friday morning — before the tourists descended from their hotel rooms, when it was just maintenance workers and food deliveries and early birds — you may have spied one particular out-of-towner smiling down on the city from atop the Pacific Park Ferris wheel: U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Granholm was in town on an Earth Day mission to study what she called Santa Monica’s “magic elixir” — the special sauce that has led to the City achieving LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible status for green energy use and conservation.

Her morning began with a visit to the solar powered Ferris wheel at Pacific Park. She went from there to visit sustainable seafood restaurant The Albright, with owner Greg Morena describing the restaurant’s recycling process, water conservation efforts and sustainable seafood program. From the Pier, the Secretary walked through Tongva Park, led by Susan Cline and Shannon Parry of the City of Santa Monica. Granholm’s final stop was a visit to City Hall East, where architect Amber Richane described all of the technology that went into making the green building.

The high point of the tour featured Granholm, who was formerly the two-term governor of Michigan, opening up a “compost bin” the size of a walk-in closet where refuse from the building’s composting toilets collects. Without batting an eyelid, the Secretary requested a rake and began stirring up the solid waste pile, to the laughter of City and Department of Energy staff. The raking is a necessary step in the composting process, but it was doubtful that any politicians or officials had ever grabbed a rake in the City Hall East basement and gotten to work before.

The building, which also features an all-edible garden, solar panels, living green moss wall hangings, window air vents and even a conference table made from a tree that had fallen in the City, impressed the Secretary.

“This place is insane!” Granholm exclaimed at one point during the tour.

Richane also shared that current projections show the building will be “cash positive” in about 16 years. With no utility bills of any kind and a $2 million annual savings on office space rentals, the architect said the building was a sound financial investment for the City and was designed to last at least 100 years.

Granholm asked City employees on her walking tour to send her some figures about the financials — ”I want to be able to get them to tell the tale of how you were able to save money and, by the way, save the planet. It’s really such a great story.”

Granholm also said she was inspired by the way City leaders have stepped up to meet sustainability goals.

“What I’m just blown away by is the incredible leadership here — that they’re willing to try and demonstrate how you can have sustainability and affordability and technology that allows us to get there,” Granholm said while standing in the foyer of the new City Hall East building at the end of the tour. “I’m a huge believer in technology, to be able to solve a lot of these problems. You guys are demonstrating that in every thoughtful attribute of this building … I just think leadership is so important in general, but when you have leadership that are all on the same page about being responsible, sustainable, equitable, oh my gosh, it’s really the magic elixir of an irresistible community, which obviously you are — and you’ve got the ocean! It’s so great.”

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