After a lengthy and controversial discussion Tuesday evening, the Santa Barbara City Council directed city staff to return with reach codes requiring all electric in new construction, along with incentives relating to existing buildings.
The council also directed city staff to work with transitioning the gas industry workforce with particular attention to outreach, and plan to have a full and robust discussion on what exemptions would be.
The vote to pursue the transition was unanimous, but each city council member mentioned an area of focus they hope to see when staff returns to the council.
“The longer we wait to address the impacts of climate change, the more extreme those mitigations need to be to catch up, so the sooner we start enacting the mitigations, the less jarring they need to be when they’re implemented,” Council member Kristen Sneddon said. “I think that this particular reach code for new construction only is a way to have incremental change.”
She added, “This is a complicated issue, but I would say that what makes it complicated is the policy decisions. The science is clear.”
Council member Eric Friedman said he’d like to see a focus on employees in the gas industry and the exemptions.
“I understand the costs that come with it (all-electric construction),” he said. “A lot of the jobs are for people who live in North County and other parts of the county that don’t necessarily have the same economic opportunities as the south.”
Mr. Friedman said he wanted to look into restaurants and backyard appliances such as barbecues, swimming pools and fireplaces as potential exemptions.
“We are in unprecedented times in terms of the pandemic and the number of businesses shutting down, so we need to be very thoughtful and many of these businesses have been here for years,” he said. “They are a part of the discussion because they all or most of them want to go green, but they want to stay a business first because you can’t be a green business without a business.”
He also mentioned the importance of city staff looking into grid reliability with the transition to all-electric construction.
Council member Meagan Harmon echoed the sentiments of protecting local workers, and “ensuring no one is left behind.”
“We have to consider and account for the implications of this transition to a green future and think about the externalities and how it will impact people and their families and their livelihoods,” she said.
Council member Mike Jordan voted for the transition, but said he would rather have a reach code that allows for electric-preferred basis rather than a mandated basis.
“It’s clear to me that the level of engagement on this subject indicates that we haven’t done our job yet — there are many people out there who disagree and I have a different pathway to that than just ignoring them and telling them we’re correct and they’re wrong,” he said. “People tend to recognize that we made a goal, but they don’t really sit up and take notice until it starts to impact or threaten their personal livelihood or the personal way they live their lives.”
He emphasized outreach to non-English speakers and those who are concerned they will lose their already existing gas appliances in their homes, which is not the case.
“It shouldn’t be that we’re working on these things; they should be ready to go at the same time we’re asking people to electrify,” he said.
New Mayor Pro Tempore Oscar Gutierrez also supported the transition to all-electric, saying that transitions like this have happened before.
“I’m all for a just transition for the industry to be able to adapt to, this I know from speaking to a lot of contractors and a lot of union representatives. They’re extremely intelligent; they’re very adaptable,” he said. “This has happened throughout history — at one point in time, we used to use lead paint and then we found out the side effects of that, so we stopped.
“We used to do asbestos and then we found out the side effects of that, so we stopped. We used to use pesticides that were extremely dangerous to humans and the environment, so we stopped that,” he said. “I know that with a just transition, they can adapt to this new era of the future we’re entering.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo concluded with saying she supports looking into ways to support gas industry workers.
“I understand why Southern California Gas would be protecting its interests… I get it, I get it when… Utility Workers Union of America come to us and say, ‘Wait a second, this is my livelihood and this is how I’ve sent my kids to college and this is how I want to retire,’ so we do need to address that,” she said. “People need to ask themselves, ‘What is my relationship with fossil fuels going forward?’
“We need to ask ourselves how we’re willing to change because the change is necessary.”
She also requested robust conversation on what transitioning to all-electric would mean for restaurants and institutions like hospitals and hotels, and to list some potential exemptions.
It is unclear when staff will return with the information to implement the new permit regulations, but according to the staff report, “it is not anticipated to be substantial.”