Oakland could join Berkeley and other cities in prohibiting gas appliances in new buildings. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

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Update, Wednesday, 11:15 a.m.: The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to support a prohibition on using natural gas in new buildings throughout the city. The law, which will come back for final approval Dec. 15, would require only electric infrastructure and appliances in newly built homes, restaurant and shop buildings, and offices. 

“This is really important in terms of protecting public health and addressing the climate crisis,” said Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Original story, Monday: The Oakland City Council could vote Tuesday to ban gas stoves and heaters in new residential and commercial buildings throughout the city.

A proposal from Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Nikki Fortunato Bas, Mayor Libby Schaaf, and Oakland’s planning department would prohibit any newly constructed buildings from connecting to natural gas or propane infrastructure.

“Oakland cannot meet its climate goals without shifting quickly away from natural gas use,” says a report from the Planning and Building Department. “State policies and lower prices of renewable energy mean that substituting natural gas with electricity is one of the quickest, safest, and least expensive pathways to eliminating [greenhouse gas] emissions from buildings.” Requiring all-electric construction, according to the report, will also improve public health and earthquake safety. 

Developers could apply for a waiver if they believe it would be impossible, or conflict with other city laws, to use only electricity in their new buildings.

How to watch and participate in the City Council meeting

There are several ways to watch and participate in the City Council meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tune in via Zoom, online stream, on TV on KTOP Channel 10 (Comcast) or ATT Channel 99, or by calling in at 669-900-6833.

Public comments on all items are taken toward the beginning of the meeting. To make a comment, watch the meeting over Zoom and click the “Raise Your Hand” button when directed. If you call in by phone, press *9 to do the same (unmute yourself by pressing *6).

See the meeting agenda for more details on how to participate.

Oakland’s new Equitable Climate Action Plan calls for a citywide switch to electric construction by 2030, to help the city reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 56% below 2005 levels in the next decade. Oakland and California both have goals of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, as well. 

Just a year ago, Berkeley became the first California city to ban natural gas in new buildings. Since then, according to the Oakland report, 14 other cities have adopted all-electric requirements, and many more have begun to change their building codes to reduce gas use in homes, offices, and shops.

Switching to electrical appliance hookups is an equity measure, proponents of the Oakland proposal say, since poor health impacts from gas are more common in smaller and older homes with bad ventilation. Children who live in apartments with gas cooking appliances are likelier to have asthma, according to the staff report. The code change could also save lives, the report says, since gas pipeline ruptures can cause explosions and fires, especially after disasters like earthquakes. 

Gas costs, however, are lower than electricity rates for utility customers, meaning PG&E bills could ultimately be higher and further burden lower-income residents if the policy is passed. But the report argues that gas rates are rising more quickly than electricity rates, and many electric appliances, like water heaters, are more efficient than comparable gas options. Renewable sources of electricity, like solar, can further offset the higher costs.

Home cooks and professional chefs alike may be slow to embrace the proposed policy. Electric stoves are often reviled for their unforgiving coils and lack of real flames. After Berkeley passed its pioneering gas ban, the city was hit with a federal court lawsuit from the California Restaurant Association, which argued that Berkeley was overstepping its authority by prohibiting cooks from charring vegetables and heating woks. The group also said the policy was irresponsible in an era of planned power outages that leave huge swaths of the Bay Area without electricity for days at a time every fall. 

The case appears to still be making its way through the court process, and it’s drawn support from other building trade groups.

The Oakland report acknowledges the stigma against traditional electric stoves, but notes that induction stoves, which are safer and more efficient than their gas alternatives, are already growing in popularity and prevalence. 

If the City Council passes the all-electric proposal Tuesday, the policy will come back for a final vote Dec. 15. 

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Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie grew up in Berkeley and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.