The Santa Barbara City Council received a presentation from staff Tuesday night on implementing enhancements to state building codes (reach codes) or other regulatory means to establish all-electric requirements for new construction.
The presentation included the benefits of all-electric construction, and utilities and studies supporting it.
“The upfront costs are benefiting us 10 to 20 years down the road, and that’s the tough thing to get past for most people,” Council member Mike Jordan said. “It’s a benefit for my children — it’s not really a benefit for me.”
Council member Meagan Harmon said that because a requirement of the reach code is to be a “just transition,” the city must “make sure everyone is brought along with us, particularly folks that work in the gas industry.”
“Whatever we can do to help our workers transition with us is really a priority for me and my neighbors as well,” she said.
Alelia Parenteau, the city’s Energy and Climate Manager, gave the presentation on the energy reach code, and shared that in comparison to the 40 other jurisdictions in California that have moved in the direction of banning natural gas, Santa Barbara’s proposal is “probably the most assertive… but not as aggressive as you could go.”
“I so appreciate the acknowledgement that climate change is real and it needs to be addressed,” Council member Kristen Sneddon said.
Council member Eric Friedman expressed some concerns with grid reliability as well.
While the council did not reach a conclusion or make a motion before press time, public commenters shared their thoughts, with some supporting the energy reach code and some opposing it.
Santa Barbara resident Dennis Thompson, who has also been a local architect for 40 years, said, “I support this reach code because I think the time has passed to stop investing in dirty fossil fuels and shift to renewable electricity.”
Brian Troutwine, an environmental analyst for the Environmental Defense Center, said, “It’s the right thing to do for our children, grandchildren and future generations, and for our one and only Earth. The building reach code would help protect Santa Barbara from climate change.”
Jonathan Ullman, the director of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, shared the list of 45 organizations that issued strong statements of support for the building reach code. Some of these organizations include Allen Construction, AIA Santa Barbara, Clean Coalition, CAUSE, Community Environmental Council and many more.
City staff and the council also mentioned the texting campaign by Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, an organization funded by SoCalGas, which city staff said misrepresented the facts around reach codes, claimed massive increase in utility bills despite studies and experience finding otherwise and conflated the issue of new construction and existing buildings.
SoCalGas Public Affairs Manager Tim Mahoney spoke at the meeting, saying, “Customers love gas — hotels, motels, commercial kitchens, restaurants, hospitality industry, Cottage Hospital… Natural gas is part of society and part of the economy and it employs people. It makes economic sense and environmental sense.”
Ms. Sneddon asked Mr. Mahoney about the texting campaign by C4BES, and if SoCalGas, or Mr. Mahoney specifically had any knowledge of the texts before they were sent out.
He did not answer the question directly, but responded, “My goal is to provide factual information… I got one (text). Somebody sent me a text message. I didn’t know this one was coming to me, no.”
C4BES Executive Director Jon Switalski was also present in public comment, and defended his organization’s campaign.
“Our campaign that was referenced here was indeed truthful and accurate,” he said. “It is true that the city is entertaining banning natural gas in new homes. It is also true that electricity rates are significantly higher than gas rates. This is a fact.
“We have a severe affordability crisis… This proposal will add to these burdens, add to the inequities that are so pervasive throughout our coastal community.”
A follow-up on the city’s deliberation and decision will follow in Thursday’s News-Press.
The City Council also received a presentation from the Mosquito and Vector Management District about an invasive mosquito, Aedes aegypti, found in Santa Barbara County.
The mosquitoes are aggressive biters, active during the day as well as the night, can breed indoors, are active in human dwellings and can carry Yellow Fever, Zika, Dengue fever and Chikungunya virus.
“The district’s focus is to slow the spread and fight the bite, but we need the public’s help,” said Dr. Teri Jory, the vice president on the board of the Mosquito and Vector Management District. “This mosquito has the potential to significantly alter our quality of life here in Santa Barbara.”
So far, 31 Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been found in Santa Barbara County, and two in the city of Santa Barbara. There are no cases of localized disease spread.
Because the mosquitoes develop and breed in standing water, city staff informed residents to dump and scrub containers that hold standing water and keep rain gutters free of debris. The city is using organic pesticides, which do not pose any harm to other insects, to combat the mosquitoes.
In other business, the council also interviewed the first batch of applicants for the City Community Formation Commission, which will ultimately guide the creation of a civilian police review system. The CFC will explore different civilian police review systems, existing and new police accountability systems, and the Santa Barbara Police Department’s existing standards and protocols.
There are 13 positions available for appointment to the CFC, with two alternate positions. Another round of interviews will be held at the city council meeting on Jan. 26, and the council will select their choices the following week on Feb. 2.
The City Council also appointed Oscar Gutierrez as Mayor Pro Tempore for 2021, and made appointments to the Ordinance Committee, Finance Committee, Advisory Groups and Council Liaisons.