San Jose is expected to be the largest city in the United States banning natural gas from many new homes, in direct contrast to the federal government’s withdrawal of environmental regulations.
On Tuesday, the city council approved a proposal by Mayor Sam Liccardo and four of his council members to enact an ordinance from next year banning natural gas in new single-family homes, low-rise apartment buildings and freestanding granny apartments.
The proposal would have no impact on existing homes or high-rise buildings.
“Electrifying buildings is not only good for the planet, but also good for our health and safety,” the Mayor, Raul Peralez, Lan Diep, Magdalena Carrasco and Dev Davis wrote in a memo.
San Jose isn’t the only one considering such drastic changes. In recent years, California has called for new developments to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. And cities across the state have started to adopt even stricter standards, such as requiring new homes to rely on electricity to combat climate change.
San Jose joins Berkeley and Menlo Park to enact natural gas bans. Menlo Park’s ban provides an exemption that allows new one- and two-story homes to have gas stoves. But San Jose’s plan doesn’t.
The vote came as President Donald Trump, who cut environmental regulations to limit carbon emissions and spoke out in favor of coal, toured California on Tuesday for fundraising.
Liccardo called the city’s plan an “antidote” to Trump’s inaction on climate change, saying, “We know we still have a lot to do to tackle this crisis.”
The city guides also voted in favor of equipping new buildings for fully electric operation, even if they continue to rely on other energy sources and in some cases on solar energy for a short period of time. And to encourage developers to drive all-electric, the council said builders who choose to use natural gas should adhere to higher energy efficiency standards.
In early 2018, San Jose announced that it would be one of the first cities in the country to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels set in the Paris Agreement. Later that year, the city was selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies to participate in a two-year program designed to help cities meet their climate goals. The city has launched its own energy program for the community and aims to produce enough solar power to power 250,000 households by 2040.
Kimi Narita, of the Natural Resource Defense Council, has worked with cities including San Jose on their electric propulsion plans. Buildings currently emit around a third of the city’s greenhouse gases.
“What San Jose is doing here shows leadership for other cities across the country,” Narita said.
Lawyers who grabbed the council meeting pointed out that building electrical infrastructure from the start is cheaper than retrofitting buildings later and will improve air quality and safety.
Lan Diep City Councilor said it made sense to build “sustainable” developments as the city builds its housing stock in the coming years to meet growing demand.
But Councilor Johnny Khamis said he had heard from contractors who feared the requirements could make building even more expensive and increase utility costs in an already expensive real estate market.
“I would be more comfortable if we delayed this,” said Khamis. “My whole goal is not to increase the price of living space.”
City officials and several council members pushed the idea that the move could add to the cost, saying the price of gas has become volatile and could soar significantly in the years to come.
“These policies are good for the environment and good for the economy,” said Councilor Dev Davis.
In a letter to the city guides, PG&E, which provides electricity and gas to residents of San Jose, explained the cities in their efforts to “encourage all-electric new construction when they are affordable.”
Mothers Out Front advocacy group Susan Butler-Graham also believes the change will help make the city safer and cleaner in the long run.
“Our children will live and work in these buildings long after we’re gone,” said Butler-Graham.
The mayor and council members also called for all new apartment buildings to include more parking spaces for residents to charge electric vehicles.
“Especially given the poor air quality and higher rates of asthma we have in many lower-income areas,” they wrote in their memo, “we must not exclude residents who live in multi-family environments from the benefits of using electric vehicles.”
Councilor Magdalena Carrasco said she recently bought a plug-in hybrid minivan and understood the struggle to get her car charged.
“Now I understand the frustration,” said Carrasco, adding that she doesn’t want families to be discouraged from buying electric vehicles because of a lack of charging stations.
Kerrie Romanow, director of environmental services for the city, said the council’s decision is an important step in preventing dangerous climate change.
“Things are getting worse and not better,” said Romanov. And today’s young people, she said, “expect us to do something.”