The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting new buildings from installing natural gas infrastructure during its meeting Tuesday.
Building permit applications submitted on or before Dec. 31 are not subject to the new rule. Permits will reflect the change beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
The city proposed the ordinance as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Building energy use contributes approximately 37% of Santa Barbara’s emissions, with about half of that as natural gas.
Officials predict gas-banning ordinances will soon be enacted statewide, noting about 50 municipalities are enacting similar laws.
“This is clearly an action that needs to take place, and it’s certainly coming sooner rather than later at the state level. So I don’t think we’re too far ahead of where the rest of the state is going,” Councilmember Mike Jordan said.
The ordinance includes exemptions, but properties built with gas infrastructure must have the electric capacity to replace the gas appliances with future alternatives.
The permitting authority may allow natural gas if it deems the use serves public interest. The availability of alternative technology and public health will be considered in this process.
The permitting authority’s decisions may be appealed to the City Council.
Commercial kitchens, institutional cooking facilities, laboratory equipment and clean rooms are exempt from the ordinance.
Accessory dwelling units and additions to a structure with natural gas infrastructure are exempt as well.
The council discussed the definition of new construction as a building that has not been occupied or one that has been removed and replaced, such as rebuilding after a fire.
Buildings that have undergone substantial redevelopment also are subject to the ordinance, meaning more than 75% of at least two of the following elements have been replaced: the roof, structural exterior walls or foundation system.
Energy and Climate Manager Alelia Parenteau presented the ordinance and answered questions.
Officials previously questioned whether California’s electric grid could handle an increase in electric appliances. Ms. Parenteau clarified that the ban would replace gas usage, which primarily occurs in the winter when the grid is not stressed.
Southern California Edison is preparing to harden the grid and plans to institute more smart technology and propose interstate energy sharing. In the future, states may be able to share energy to neighboring states in need.
Councilmembers expressed minimal concerns.
Councilmember Eric Friedman wondered if the city had considered fireplaces, stating concerns about more wood-burning fireplaces.
Ms. Parenteau said she did not think a meaningful number of residents would seek out wood-burning alternatives. They were more concerned that those tapping into gas lines for fireplaces could then extend the infrastructure to larger areas, such as the kitchen.
Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon and Meagan Harmon suggested a change to include projects already in the approval process, but they worried whether it would encourage premature applications.
“Will a few additional people submit by December? Yes, but that’s going to happen no matter what threshold you use,” City Administrator Paul Casey said.
Previous wording was then replaced, clarifying that building permit applications completed on or before Dec. 31 are grandfathered in without the restriction.
Officials repeatedly expressed the ordinance would take place gradually.
“It’s an incremental step and is actually quite small. It only applies to new construction,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “We could be thinking about what kind of incentives to contribute to the retrofitting of structures.”
Some public commenters expressed interest in further actions, such as incentive programs, and most were content with the ordinance.
Paul Poirier, principal architect and owner of Poirier + Associates Architects, said there’s a movement of all-electric construction throughout California. The state’s architects are studying the best practices for sustainable design.
“Once education gets out, the dollars are going to drive the movement away from natural gas. This is a good way to kick start it in our city,” he said.
John Norwood, a lobbier from the California Pool and Spa Association, said natural gas is essential to pools and spas. Electric heat pumps take six hours to heat a spa, he said, whereas gas takes 40 minutes.
Permitting authorities would likely rule pools and spas as an exception, noted one commenter.
The city has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.