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Fred Koch is a world class builder who is trying to transform the South Bay into the nation’s first carbon neutral region.

I just met with Fred Koch the other day for a cup of java. We were at a local hang-out on the Pacific Coast Highway, Patrick’s Roadhouse, and talking about one of the most important areas of green living: our homes.

We’re both California natives. I think we both have seen how much this region changed in the last few years. In many ways, the region has coped extremely well with the burgeoning and largely impoverished population. I mean, we’ve both seen some of our oceans definitely mucked up and the freeways become altogether too crowded at times–but a lot of folks like Koch envision a very environmentally friendly south bay. This is a very beautiful area of the California coast and continues the tradition of beauty along the coast that is California. This is the stretch that, from the sea, is atop hills, lots and lots of homes banked up against the sea, growing vertically more than horizontally, tightly knit affluent communities of both conservatives and liberals who altogether share this concept of being environmental patriots. It is one of the interesting phenomenons of California, a nation on the edge of another nation, because here everyone, whether they are blue or red, is an environmentalist. It is essential. We’re crowded. Being environmental makes sense.

Koch the principal of KOCH Development has worked with Federal, State and Municipal governments in implementing green building developments and many of the firm’s homes have earned industry awards with both local and national media coverage.

Koch, as we have previously reported, is renovating a remarkable idea home in Hermosa Beach that will be a learning center for builders and contractors and everyone involved in building the first carbon neutral region in the nation. But he also notes that it is a very interesting time for green building.

The free market, damaged and plundered, rules, and it is causing changes in consumer behavior. Homes are where we live. Homes are our savings accounts. Home might be damaged temporarily in terms of value, but high-stakes regions like Hermosa Beach will also see a strong rebound when the market rights itself. The economic crisis, he says, is toughening green builders and making them market savvy. “Right now we are actually doing more renovations than home building,” he told me. “It’s the economy. The housing market hasn’t come back yet. It will, though, so people are happy to enhance their living experience.”

Actually, Koch’s ideas are in the vanguard. Recently KB Homes received note for its green building initiatives as well. Koch said most rennovations are geared towards energy saving and offering important but quick paybacks. “Follow the tax credits and other government programs,” he said, “and you can really pare down the costs.” Since people’s homes are losing value this isn’t the time to sale, but rather to create an ever more comfortable place to live until the market shifts enough to make selling and building worthwhile. And people if for no other reason than being tired of the Chinese drywall scandal (a really stinking debacle) want to do things right when they do renovative. Going green almost ensures your best return.

These days he is working on the retrofit of all retrofits in Hermosa Beach, California. According to an October 10, 2010 article in The Daily Breeze by Douglas Morino, “The home has been chosen by several corporations, including Southern California Edison, as a case study for its own net-zero energy and eco-friendly initiatives. And Hermosa Beach officials say the home has inspired their own efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the 1.3-square-mile beach town.”

“It’s going to be a model,” said City Councilman Michael DiVirgilio.

The Green Idea House, on Prospect Avenue, has Koch as the builder and Southern Californoa Edison is going to use as a case study for its own net-zero and eco-friendly programs, said the article. The home is typical. It was built in 1959. In 1995 Robert and Monica Fortunato bought it. They have a nine-year-old son.

Also, according to the article: “This is about helping the public to understand that this can be done and in an affordable way,” said Fortunato, who manages a consulting firm from his home and first began working on the project about three years ago. “We’re trying to prove that a project like this is absolutely possible for the average person.”

“The renovations will cost about $400,000 and add more than 600 square feet to the 1,329-square-foot residence. Fortunato said he anticipates eventually recouping the cost through energy savings.

“City officials said the home, once completed, will be the first and only private residence in the South Bay to be completely ‘net zero,’ meaning it would have no carbon output and be designed to use only as much power from the public grid as it can save or produce.”

Koch is one of the key figures for Hermosa Beach which intends to be among the first carbon neutral cities in the nation. Small and compact, it nonetheless has competition from San Francisco and other eco-conscious towns along the West Coast. Koch says the city is a fertile home for new green ideas, businesses, technologies and practices. They have a 1.3-square-mile footprint. They are a nimble that cherishes its small-town feel and values, and going green is the only way to preserve this, he adds.

So even though the housing market is at a low ebb, the tide is already coming in and as the economy improves, expect home prices to, too. In the meantime, home owners like the Fortunatos, builders like Koch and California cities like Hermosa Beach aren’t waiting. There is too much at stake to wait