Oakland bans natural gas from new buildings

Bay Area

MILAN, ITALY – JANUARY 08: In this photo illustration a gas ring on a domestic stove powered by natural gas is alight on January 8. 2009, in Milan, Italy. On New Year’s Day Russia cut the supply of gas to Ukraine who in turn closed the last of four transit lines for Russian gas into the European Union. Russian gas monopolist Gazprom accused the Ukraine of stealing the gas intended for the export for is on purposes. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON/BCN) – The Oakland City Council unanimously passed legislation banning natural gas in all new buildings on Tuesday.

Mayor Libby Schaaf posted to Twitter saying, “Oakland goes electric on new construction.”

The change aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve indoor air quality. Studies show children are 42 percent more likely to have asthma in a home that uses natural gas for cooking.

Natural gas, which is mainly methane, is highly potent as a greenhouse gas. Its potential for trapping heat in the atmosphere is 80 times greater than carbon dioxides.

“If we can go to all-electric, that will be a benefit for indoor public health reasons as well as climate change,” Councilmember Dan Kalb said Tuesday morning.

Kalb said Oakland would be the 40th city in the state to have such legislation. It will be voted on again Dec. 15, at which time it will become law immediately if it passes.

Any project that does not have its planning approvals by Dec. 15 would have to comply with the new law. If a project has its approvals before Dec. 15, a contractor has a year to pull building permits before having to comply, Kalb said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf helped Kalb draft the legislation and Councilmember Nikki Bas has joined as a co-sponsor.

“Oakland’s national leadership to build cleaner, safer, and healthier cities for all families continues with this historic transition to all-electric buildings,” Schaaf said in a statement.

Other cities in the Bay Area that have at least somewhat similar legislation include San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, and San Jose.

“Oakland cannot meet its climate goals without shifting quickly away from natural gas use and my legislation will put Oakland at the forefront of efforts statewide,” Kalb said.

“State energy policies and lower prices of renewables mean that substituting natural gas with electricity is one of the quickest, safest and least expensive pathways to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from buildings,” he said.

Eliminating natural gas use in buildings will also reduce the risk of fire after an earthquake and make building systems and maintenance simpler, supporters say.

The legislation permits natural gas in existing buildings, additions or alterations, and attached accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs. Waivers may be granted for feasibility issues, Kalb’s office said.

Mark McClure, president of the Oakland Builders Alliance, whose members include construction firms, architects, and other design professionals in the immediate Oakland area, doesn’t disagree with the goals of the legislation.

But the proposal adds uncertainty to the building process, which makes it harder to build, he said.

McClure likened it to going to the doctor and getting a diagnosis, saying, “It’s better if you get a definitive diagnosis rather than an open ended one.”

That uncertainty may force builders to choose other places to build, reducing supply and forcing up prices, according to McClure.

He maintains the best way to encourage more construction is to make the entitlement process less complicated, while the ordinance makes the process more complicated.

He thinks there is a rush sometimes to get things done and the proposal may have several undetermined consequences that aren’t being considered.

For example, “is PG&E ready to meet the higher demand?” he said.

City staff members took into consideration the concerns of builders and others that would be affected by the new law. Oakland’s sustainability manager Daniel Hamilton said.

None of the concerns were compelling enough not to bring the proposal forward to the City Council, Hamilton said.

While San Jose already has a similar ordinance, it is only for low-rise buildings. San Jose is considering another one Tuesday that is almost the same as the one Oakland is considering.

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