Oakland bans natural gas in new residential and commercial buildings
Sarah Ravani Dec. 1, 2020
The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban natural gas in newly constructed apartment and commercial buildings.
The measure requires all developers to design new residential and commercial buildings without natural gas. Developers can apply for waivers for “technology feasibility reasons” to avoid abiding by the new regulation. Existing buildings, additions and accessory dwelling units are not affected by the legislation.
“Oakland’s national leadership to build cleaner, safer, and healthier cities for all families continues with this historic transition to all-electric buildings,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in a statement.
Councilman Dan Kalb, the lead author of the legislation, said Oakland can’t meet its climate goals without shifting away from natural gas use. In July, the City Council adopted the 2030 Equitable Climate Action Plan, which calls on the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 56% below 2005 levels over the next 10 years.
“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,” Kalb said. “Additionally, reducing the reliance on gas systems will reduce the risk of fires, simplify building systems and maintenance, and improve indoor air quality.”
Nearly a dozen people spoke in support of the restrictions during public comment. One Oakland resident called it a “common sense policy.”
The vote comes more than a year after Berkeley became the first city in California to pass a natural gas ban — a move that is being challenged in the courts. Since Berkeley’s measure, nearly 40 cities have joined the effort with similar restrictions, including San Francisco, San Jose and Windsor.
In November 2019, the California Restaurant Association challenged Berkeley’s ban in federal court arguing that it would raise costs and hurt businesses. The lawsuit is still going through court proceedings.
The process to start a new a building project in Oakland requires a developer to first get approval from the planning commission. A developer is granted entitlements for their project once it is approved by the planning commission.
Entitlements can refer to projects on empty lots or changing the use of an existing building.
The legislation will apply to a project if a developer doesn’t have their entitlements yet. If a developer already has their entitlements, they have a year to apply for their building permits without having to abide by the natural gas restrictions.
“That gives some leeway for people who already have gotten past the entitlement phase of their project,” Kalb said.
Oakland city staff determined that in 2017, 25.8% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions came from buildings — and 70% of that came from natural gas combustion. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a climate pollutant whose contribution to climate change is 85% greater than carbon dioxide, city staff said in a report.
City staff also said that the cost of building all-electric infrastructure is either the same or less than those with natural gas.
A final reading of the legislation is scheduled for Dec. 15.