A restaurant kitchen (file photo). Photo: Fabrizio Magoni on Unsplash

The California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley in federal court Thursday over its decision in July to ban natural gas in many new buildings.

The association, which describes itself as the nation’s largest statewide nonprofit trade association, called the ban “irresponsible” and said it would do “little to advance climate goals.” The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In July, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously in favor of the legislation, put forward by downtown Councilwoman Kate Harrison’s office with co-sponsors Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn. The legislation would prohibit the construction of natural gas pipes in many new buildings starting Jan. 1, 2020. Laws like this are important, according to the ordinance and prior city policies, because Berkeley is in the midst of a “climate emergency.”

The restaurant group argued, in its lawsuit, that “Banning natural gas is not the solution, and is at odds with citizens’ needs for reliable, resilient, and affordable energy. Prohibiting natural gas cooking ranges, water heaters, fireplaces, space heaters, and backup electrical generation is fundamentally inconsistent with the public interest, and is a violation of both federal and state law.”

Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a prepared statement that Berkeley’s law appeared to lay the groundwork for even stiffer restrictions down the line on the use of natural gas.

“It’s impossible to overstate how irresponsible this is at a time when millions of Californians find themselves in the dark due to planned power outages,” Condie said. “The citizens of California need reliable and affordable energy that allows them to choose what appliances they have in their homes and businesses.”

The lawsuit seeks to stop the enforcement of the city’s ordinance and said the ban is “invalid and unenforceable” under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act and the state energy and building standards codes.

According to the association, the law “would effectively prohibit the preparation of flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok.”

Natural gas makes up 27% of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions and 73% of its building sector emissions, Harrison said in July in defense of the ban. Despite stalwart efforts, she said, the city is “approximately 18% behind its 2020 [Climate Action Plan] goal and will fall short of its ultimate goal of net zero emissions by 2050.”

“We have to take more drastic action,” Harrison said at that time, if the city hopes to meet its climate goals.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Berkeleyside on Friday that he still needs to read the court paperwork, which was filed Thursday. Regardless of what it alleges, he added, he supports the city’s law.

“I believe the gas ban is necessary to reduce the impacts of fossil fuels,” he said, “and fight climate change and the health and safety impacts of gas infrastructure.”

Emilie Raguso

Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...

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82 Comments

  1. And now our the president is also denouncing LED bulbs and low-flush toilets. Time to repeal climate change and protect our way of life. Save gas grills!

  2. If the electricity is off, no one is going to the restaurant so the dark and cold comment doesn’t make sense. The NG ban is only for new buildings and new residences are required to be net zero energy with a PV array starting in January so the electricity and elec heat will be CO2 free and potentially could be off the grid making PG&E’s failures moot. Also, induction requires any metal pan that is magnetic – cast iron, which I use for the majority of my cooking, isn’t “a lot more” and works just fine.

    Personally, I think this law should be written with a caveat that you can use carbon offsets to stick with gas – if the building site already has a NG line, there is an argument that it’s more efficient and less of a carbon footprint to keep that line than buy PV panels made in China and shipped here.

    All that said, all-electric buildings are the simplest to make net-zero energy so I fully support the State and municipalities pushing for this. The fracking NG lobby has driven the CA energy conversation for far too long.

  3. While heating with gas will provide 100% heat in your home.
    Ventless furnaces are illegal in California. Worst case for natural gas (30% INCLUDING transmission losses) would be a wash (with a 3x heat pump). CA has significantly decarbonized the grid so you get less carbon emissions when heating your home with heat pumps.

  4. It came from Berkeley: sequestration by any means necessary… The process of gasification is an incomplete one, and the leftover “waste” our equipment produces from making energy is a stable form of carbon known as ‘biochar.” Sequestering this carbon is what makes biomass gasification net carbon negative energy production.

  5. There has been an RV parked at Russell and Claremont in a two hour RP zone for two months without moving once. I wish the City Council would publish a copy of the Municipal Code with an asterisk by all the laws that are not enforced (or maybe asterisk the ones that are enforced). Maybe they’re just enacted all this stuff as an ego game.

  6. Removing the Zombie RVs and converted school busses (Schoolies) from our streets eliminates a major source of greenhouse gases locally. Act locally think globally! At 9-12MPG on most of these late model RVs they are way more inefficient than a gas stove. At the same time how many of these Zombie RVs are using Propane stoves in their vehicles? oops! Selective enforcement and policy making is problematic as usual in Berkeley. Let’s not forget the fetid, waste that is dumped into our storm drains as a very efficient way of removing waste from the Zombie RVs. Oh, that’s right let’s not worry about the overgrowth of bacteria, algae etc. that undermines our ecosystems.

  7. Cutting aggressive driving? Hah I say. Driving home from Berkeley to Novato after work around 11PM, I see the speeders and racers on 580 through Richmond will negate all the do-gooder careful drivers in Berkeley

  8. And when PG&E decides to cut you off again because they dont want to do the maintenance needed you do what exactly?

  9. Agree with the point about adding more housing but totally disagree about Berkeley doing the exact opposite. The city is doing more than most cities in the area in proportion by adding more ways to add units to single family homes and more projects per square mile that add to the density. Maybe it’s not ‘affordable’ but it’s definitely more than most cities are doing based on housing in the pipeline and the size of Berkeley’s population. On the other hand, the whole thing with natural gas is overreaching by the city imo, and I’m glad to see the lawsuit. The law is too broad and really doesn’t help the cause as much as proported.

  10. the large majority of PG&Es electricity is produced without burning fossil fuels. Electricity is obviously the greener choice for home heating, hot water, and cooking as well as for driving.

  11. Good for the CRA!

    It’s bull$#|+ like this stupid action by the Berkeley City Council that makes me think for voting for every conservative candidate running for office… (I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but I wish we had a City Council that thought about Berkeley first.)

  12. Comical. the Berkeley City Council. This banning natural gas in new buildings is only a start. Then they will cut off the supply to all natural gas lines in the future , and so on and so forth. I await to see when those commissars ban gasoline, should not be long. Climate Emergency ! LOL, The Ocean has not risen at all.

  13. To understand my response, read the comment I was responding to, which implies that this regulation increases cost by saying:

    in a situation where one of the main reasons for high housing costs is in the cost of government regulations pertaining to construction (codes, permits, fees, zoning), government needs to find ways to reduce and cut back on building regulations and restrictions, not increase restrictions.

  14. Heat pumps are not high cost. They are a bit expensive to install but not as expansive as a gas connection.

    We need laws about this because most people make decisions with a short time horizon, while the gas connections built now will still be in place many decades from now.

  15. Yeah that $1500 gas connection cost will make a big dent in that $750000 construction cost.

  16. If I was a budding restaurateur, I know the hot water situation would generate a lot of heartburn as it is necessary for proper sanitation. Tankless gas water heaters give you all the hot water you could ask for when you need it most. My guess (for the most efficient electric system) would be a bank of hybrid (heat pump) tank water heaters supplemented by point of use electric tankless water heaters for peak demand. Hmmm…. that’s got me thinking about what I should do at my house…

  17. Proportionally, 2-stroke scooters and mopeds are probably way less of a concern. Most of the road-worthy motorscooters (not the push/electric scooters) you see now are 4-strokes. There are maybe 5 to 15 people who periodically ride 2-stroke motorscooters in/through Berkeley these days. How many homes and businesses have gas stoves? (I for one want to keep my gas stove, but would prefer an electric oven for baking.)

  18. Could you list the local members of the California Restaurant Association so we could choose which ones to patronize or not, depending on what we think of their lawsuit? Do any of them advertise on Berkeleyside?b

  19. Finally someone calls BS when they see it.

    Given that PG&E will not fix the electrical issues in the next 10 years or so it is absolutely irresponsible to let people sit in the dark and now cold!!
    Also, heating with electricity is by far the most inefficient way as long as the electricity is not 100% CO2 free (Solar, wind, nuclear). 30-40% efficiency in a thermal power plant coupled with XX% losses due to transmission allow us to use maybe 20-30% of the energy burned in the power plant. While heating with gas will provide 100% heat in your home.

    As for induction stoves. Sure we are all wealthy rich people who can do that! The pans alone are a lot more!

  20. “Businesses and individuals in Berkeley can subscribe to electric providers that largely provide clean energy electricity.”

    Actually, they can’t. They can sign up for electricity providers who have bought credits which give them the right to claim they are providing clean energy while actually providing the exact same dirty power they were providing before.

    In Berkeley, everyone who didn’t opt out was actually switched without their permission to a company that was providing “dirtier power” than what PGE was providing.

    It’s all pretty much a shell game.

  21. According to UC Berkeley’s Cool Climate Network think tank, the number one thing Berkeley and other Bay Area communities can do to address the climate crisis is to allow a lot more housing within their current urban footprints.

    Of course, the City of Berkeley does not encourage such development — in fact it does the exact opposite and makes it exceeding time-consuming, uncertain and expensive to create denser/more efficient housing.

  22. I was somewhat with you until you claimed that it’s government regulations that’s the “main” driver of housing costs. It’s scarcity, fueled by NIMBY opposition to any new development.

    This is ultimately zoning but it’s deceptive to package it as a “government regulation.” Most government employees (not elected officials) are pro-housing.

  23. Wood smoke kills people.
    https://woodsmokepollution.org/
    https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/wood-smoke-and-your-health

    EPA estimates suggest that a single fireplace operating for an hour and burning 10 pounds of wood will generate 4,300 times more carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons than 30 cigarettes.
    http://www.familiesforcleanair.org/health/health4/

    One hour of a wood fire = 4,300 packs of cigarettes. How many people drive a Prius or a Tesla, would never allow anyone to smoke even one cigarette in their house, but go ahead and burn the equivalent of over 4,300 packs of cigarettes?

  24. Provide a link to one environmental group that agrees that we shouldn’t use solar energy because it is bad for the environment.

  25. Fill in the blank:
    Even if the city of ______________ were to stop using any energy whatsoever it would have exactly zero impact on world climate.
    There are some people in cities all over the world who are are saying the same thing in order to avoid doing their share.

  26. parts of this comment that have a factual basis:
    Kate got a heat pump
    We got a new law

    The part of this comment that has no factual basis and is just made up:
    She wanted the world to know
    unless the commenter claims to be a mind reader who can read Kate’s mind to learn her motives.

  27. Reduced upfront cost for the builder, higher ongoing costs to inefficiently heat with electricity.
    If it had no downsides, they wouldn’t be trying to force it on people.

  28. Does the city council really have so much free time on their hands that they come up with restrictive new laws of dubious value so frequently? New business formation already so many restrictions in the city – why add more road blocks to job creation? I look around my city, and road sites like this, and there are numerous issues that need their top-most attention – homeless encampments, public drug use, crime and assault, housing availability, traffic and crowd control, potholes, rough road surfaces in general, sidewalks that are cracked contorted sidewalks, litter and trash accumulation.

    Natural gas should be the least of our concerns right now; I bet the pollution from 2-stroke engines – scooters and mopeds, lawn-mowers and gasoline-powered leaf blowers – are proportionally a bigger problem.

  29. Renters will end up paying much more in energy costs with an all electric scenario.
    Natural gas is not a perfect fuel, but it’s way cheaper because most electricity in California is produced from natural gas, and you are simply paying for the energy to be converted.

  30. Natural gas produces half the CO2 that coal does. Of course we don’t use coal for power in California. Coal in the east is going away because natural gas has gotten so cheap during the fracking boom, but this is temporary. At this time the cheapest sources of energy are photovoltaics (solar cells) and wind. Their drawback is their variability: The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

    Fortunately, much research is going into energy storage. Right now California stores electricity indirectly with pumped storage and solar thermal plants can run after sundown as they store energy as heat. More work needs to be done though.

    Not allowing gas connections to new construction is just the state’s way of saying “Heads up! Change is coming.” It doesn’t affect anyone’s old gas stove or furnace. And many people don’t know that it costs quite a few bucks to get a gas connection. New construction saves by not having to pay this. One can buy induction cooktops, hybrid water heaters, heatpump hydronic heating systems and condensing clothes dryers with that saving. No ducts, drafts or noise either.

  31. For pizza definitely, electric stinks.I have been making pizza for over 40 years, and electric ovens can’t make good pizza.

  32. Come on people, have a little common sense.
    Natural gas has its problems, but so does electricity. Banning something is a pretty totalitarian strategy, right?
    If renewable/sustainable electricity becomes a reality, it will be cheaper and even more reliable than natural gas, right?
    Let’s please wait until reality catches up to the fantasies of our self-serving politicians like Kate Harrison and Jesse.

  33. They are fighting it because it’s just stupid. I would love to see how much natural has stoves and ovens contribute to overall “global warming.” Liberals think that electricity just comes from thin air too and never look into the damage mining does to the planet finding silver and rare earth metals. You literally have to dig up Nevada to make solar panels.

  34. Natural Gas is one of the power sources that actually helped CLEAN up California’s air. It’s relatively clean fossil, cheap and available. Also, shocking for Berkeley, electric(magnetic or otherwise) SUCKS. ABSOLUTELY SUCKS. Clearly Jesse and the Board just orders pizza takeout or something…because any real cook knows electric stinks

  35. Businesses and individuals in Berkeley can subscribe to electric providers that largely provide clean energy electricity.

  36. You can only eat a pizza one bite at a time.

    One by one as more towns, cities and states all over the world adopt clean energy polices, more of the world will be using clean energy in lieu of fossil fuels.

  37. Berkeley would be better off lobbying the trump administration. They don’t care one bit about climate change and in fact the laws that they are unraveling will cause more climate change. We are seeing the results worldwide already. Berkeley might be better off making sure that there is no building in the areas near the water that will eventually become flooded wetlands. If Berkeley thinks that electricity is non polluting they should wake up and smell the coal smoke and continual creation of radioactive waste from the nukes. The real answer is to have homes or small neighborhoods generate their own electricity from solar and store it in batteries in each house. The technology is here now. Perhaps once that occurs the issue of natural gas can be addressed.

  38. This legislation concerns new homes and businesses, not you. I also love cooking on my gas range, but I am happy to have my children and grandchildren cooking on induction heat or whatever new technology is on the horizon.

  39. I would like to see the city and state stop engaging in feel good politics, and pointless “bans”, and give more consideration to the whole context. Given that shutdowns of the electric grid are now to be a regular feature of life in California, MORE use of natural gas rather than less makes sense if you want to have hot water and hot food and a heated home during the time when PG&E has cut off electrical power.
    As well, in the midst of a housing crisis, in a situation where one of the main reasons for high housing costs is in the cost of government regulations pertaining to construction (codes, permits, fees, zoning), government needs to find ways to reduce and cut back on building regulations and restrictions, not increase restrictions.

  40. Until we have a cost effective, emissions free way of producing the electricity to power the stove, we are wasting energy and pumping out more emissions by using electric appliances. This is a law mandating that Berkeley uses more fossil fuels, but that’s ok with them because the fossil fuels won’t be burned inside of the Berkeley city limits. They also have valid points about certain cuisines not working with electric stoves. Minimum wage has nothing to do with this. It’s not surprising that they’d be against raising the minimum wage (they’d make less money) and it’s also not surprising that a Berkeley environmentalist has no understanding of the first law of thermodynamics.

  41. Many chefs prefer induction cooktops as they keep the kitchen much cooler, they give precise control over cooking temperature and they heat pans quickly.

  42. The California Restaurant Association is a reactionary organization that has opposed increases in the minimum wage that have clearly benefited restaurant workers. It’s not surprising that they don’t care about climate change and oppose the city’s efforts to address it. Obviously natural gas use has to be rapidly phased out. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by 45% by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Natural gas burned in homes and commercial businesses has to be reduced rapidly by electrification.

  43. Except if you read the full article, they say “one is more efficient while the other is potentially cleaner, which makes it tricky to recommend a best choice.” And then they go on to recommend induction over either.
    (Btw, I’m a gas stove owner, so this not about my personal preference just about accuracy)

  44. Did the Four Horsemen even consider that having gas available during electricity cuts allows people to continue to eat warm food?

  45. Even if the city of Berkeley were to stop using any energy whatsoever it would have exactly zero impact on world climate either now or in the future. It is pure delusion to think otherwise.

  46. I thought it was odd that restaurants would be so upset about a ban on gas in newly built buildings, considering how few brand new buildings could host a restaurant in Berkeley. Why spend so much on lawyers?

    Perhaps the gas industry was really behind it, since they are actively fighting gas bans in California, led by Sempra / SoCal Gas. (LA Times: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-11-22/socalgas-climate-change-customer-funds)

    A little sleuthing found that the CRA’s law firm in this case is Reichman Jorgensen LLP. (https://www.calrest.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/berkeley_lawsuit_-_press_release_-_final.pdf?1574374597)

    Reichman Jorgensen lists Sempra as a client on their website. (https://reichmanjorgensen.com/the-firm)

    Coincidence? I don’t think so!

  47. This is a crazy law given the new normal of PG&E shutdowns. Not to mention the ridiculously high electricity rates that we already pay and that will only increase rapidly over the next 10 years to pay for PG&E’s dilapidated system.