Article President’s Message Judy Mitchell

Regional Effort Helps Communities Save Money, Energy, Water and the Environment

Strapped by the current economic downturn, city officials are searching for ways to improve municipal efficiency, conserve resources and stretch the public’s dollars. In Southern California, a regional collaboration has found a way to do just that.

The South Bay Cities Council of Governments established the South Bay Environmental Services Center (SBESC) in 2004 to help municipalities in the region address environmental issues. Today, SBESC also provides assistance in meeting AB 32’s goals of improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To create a clearinghouse of information and programs for energy efficiency, water conservation and other environmental improvements, SBESC partnered with The Gas Company, Southern California Edison, West Basin Municipal Water District, the City of Torrance Municipal Water Department, the sanitation districts of Los Angeles County and, most recently, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. SBESC is funded by the public goods charge, which is a fee paid by California utility customers, and administered by Southern California Edison and The Gas Company under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission. SBESC also receives funding through grants from its other partners.

Jacki Bacharach, executive director of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, says, “Cities, schools, libraries, special districts, businesses and residents in the South Bay region can take advantage of SBESC’s help accessing the many energy efficiency and water conservation resources available through statewide and local programs.” Devices that reduce energy and water usage as well as products and rebates for commercial kitchens are among the tools provided.

Marilyn Lyon, SBESC program manager, explains, “SBESC maintains a library of information about new technologies for energy efficiency, water conservation and other efforts to promote sustainability and has launched a number of successful programs to pursue those goals.”

Reducing Energy Usage

One such program promoted an energy controller device to cut energy use in vending machines of all types. Using a motion sensor, the device powers down the vending machine when no one has passed by for 15 minutes; when someone approaches, the energy controller device turns it on again. For refrigerated vending machines, energy savings averaged 46 percent. SBESC administered a joint pro curement discount and utility rebate for the refrigerated controllers, reducing the retail cost by 70 percent and providing a payback in energy costs in less than nine months. The controllers are available for:

  • Refrigerated, glass door-type coolers;
  • Nonrefrigerated snack vending machines; and
  • Multiple-plug loads for machines such as computer monitors, copiers, printers, radios, space heaters and task lights.

In a similar vein, SBESC launched the Computer Network Power Management Software Initiative to help public agencies save energy and money in their computer network operations. Using a competitive process, SBESC selected software and a consultant to work with cities, schools and libraries to achieve energy savings in their computer networks. The software provides centralized control over the power management features of each computer in a network and allows the public agency to employ a customized, flexible set of policies to ensure maximum energy savings without adverse impacts on the network or individual user’s productivity. According to SBESC Program Manager Lyon, “Different sets of policies can be established for various users, even allowing multiple policy periods to be established throughout the day and night. The software also provides an automated shutdown feature that enables an agency to turn off its network on a pre-established schedule.”

The Computer Network Power Management Software Initiative aims to reduce energy use in an estimated 23,000 computers in the region’s public agencies. SBESC acts as administrator of the program, processing applications and, in collaboration with the project consultant, installing the software, conducting training and providing technical assistance. Rebates of $15 per computer from Southern California Edison cover the entire installation cost.

Promoting Water Conservation

Energy efficiency and water conservation go hand in hand. Increasingly dry conditions and a limited water supply make reducing water usage more important than ever before. With this in mind, SBESC has partnered with water agencies to bring conservation products and programs to South Bay cities.

Waterbrooms Prove Popular

In 2007-08, SBESC offered waterbrooms to cities and commercial establishments. Waterbrooms, which utilize a combination of air and water, use half as much water as hoses. These high-pressure brooms help eliminate water runoff; they can cover large surface areas and sweep debris and waste into a common collection area for easy disposal. The Regional Water Quality Control Board recognizes waterbroom usage as a best practice. The waterbroom offer was made possible through rebates that covered the entire cost and were provided by West Basin Water District in partnership with the Water Replenish ment District of Southern California and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

SBESC distributed more than 450 waterbrooms to restaurants, businesses and shopping malls, whose staff were shown how to use waterbrooms instead of hoses and power washers to clean kitchens, parking lots, sidewalks and other hard-surface areas. Each waterbroom saves about 50,000 gallons of water annually.

Conserving Landscape Irrigation Water

Approximately 50 percent of commercial water is used to irrigate landscaping. A recently introduced SBESC program helps conserve water in landscape irrigation. The Ocean-Friendly Landscape Program, funded primarily through grants from local, state and federal sources, has multiple components, including:

  • Rebates for residents who purchase a smart-irrigation controller;
  • Installation of centralized controllers for large landscapes (one acre or more);
  • Smart landscaping classes for residents; and
  • Installation of drought-tolerant demonstration gardens at public facilities.

Water agencies are using new technologies to end over-irrigation, eliminate excessive runoff and replace inefficient spray nozzles. Smart irrigation controllers reduce outdoor water use by monitoring site conditions — such as soil moisture, weather conditions, slope, plant type and more — and, based on that information, applying the right amount of water to maintain healthy growing conditions. Residents can bring in an old irrigation controller, attend a class and receive a free, newer, smart controller, valued at $400.

Program Addresses Commercial Kitchens

In SBESC’s Cash for Kitchens program, West Basin Municipal Water District offers free water-use surveys and conservation training for qualified commercial kitchens of 2,000 square feet or more. Two staff members visit the kitchen to survey lighting, water usage, air conditioning pumps, toilets and landscaping. The surveys are reviewed by SBESC’s engineer or by Southern California Edison’s account managers. Based on the surveys, water district staff writes a report, determines the needs of the kitchen and provides products and rebates to reduce water consumption and to improve energy efficiency. The water district gives away pre-rinse kitchen sprayers, waterbrooms and faucet aerators and offers rebates for ice machines, kitchen steamers and other products. Southern California Edison provides rebates and products to improve energy efficiency.

Greening Student Dorms

In a special project, SBESC partnered with the water district and Southern California Edison to bring its Green Living program to student dormitories at California State University, Dominguez Hills. During the Christmas 2008 vacation, the partners installed water-efficient toilets, low-flow showerheads, sink aerators and energy-efficient lighting for the student dorms; the entire cost was paid through special programs and rebates.

Municipal Opportunities

SBESC is exploring new technologies for city use. Program Manager Lyon says, “A new lighting ballast device reduces fluorescent lighting costs up to 70 percent in areas that receive daylight via windows or skylights. This device senses the amount of light in the room from daylight sources and adjusts the fluorescent lighting accordingly.”

Another innovation has the potential to reduce energy costs of exhaust fans in enclosed parking garages. Presently all enclosed garages are required by code to use exhaust fans when garages are in use to protect against carbon monoxide buildup. However, testing shows that carbon monoxide may be present nevertheless for limited periods of time. A new product senses when carbon monoxide is present and operates exhaust fans only as needed to meet actual ventilation needs. Its advantage is that it senses only carbon monoxide, which avoids problems encountered with older types of sensors that react to other gases as well.

Through its new partnership with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, SBESC is presently working to promote vanpooling, which reduces vehicle miles traveled. SBESC will also be working on the South Bay Cities Council of Governments’ Local Use Vehicle (LUV) Initiative. The Southern California Air Quality Management District recently provided funding for a pilot project to reduce travel and emissions in the South Bay by using neighborhood electric ve hicles or LUVs.

“These are exciting times,” says Lyon. “SBESC continues to look for opportunities to bring existing and emerging technologies to the South Bay – to increase our commitment to sustainability and bring cost savings to our communities.”

For more information, visit or contact Marilyn Lyon, program manager, SBESC; phone: (310) 371-7222, ext. 204; e-mail:

Participating Cities
The cities in the South Bay Cities Council of Governments are Carson, El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates and Torrance.

In 2007-08, SBESC distributed more than 450 waterbrooms to restaurants, businesses and shopping malls, whose staff were shown how to use waterbrooms instead of hoses and power washers to clean kitchens, parking lots, sidewalks and other hard-surface areas. Each water-broom saves an estimated 50,000 gallons of water annually. 

This article appears in the June 2009 issue of Western City
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Western City