At the end of a marathon, 9-hour meeting, the Santa Barbara City Council late Tuesday night directed city staff to come up with a plan to require all-electric construction with new buildings.
City officials said transitioning away from natural gas use in buildings will improve indoor air quality and health, and even potentially generate significant new jobs.
Electrification is the most viable and reliable path to zero-emission buildings, they said.
“The science isn’t complicated, the science is clear,” said Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon. “I am a scientist and I teach science. The knowledge of climate change has been around for decades. I learned it when I was in elementary school in the 1970s.
“It’s not a new idea. Greenhouse gases even at that time were recognized.”
The “Reach Codes” would establish all-electric requirements for new construction. The council in its motion also director staff to come up with a plan to encourage existing building owners to transition from gas to all electric.
The discussion, however, was overshadowed by the lateness of the hour.
“I think it is too late to be making decisions like this,” said Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez. “Next time we talk about an important issue like this, if we can put it on an agenda where we are going to have enough time and the public is awake. If we can please make sure when we are talking important issues like this, that we have it not so late in the day.”
City Administrator Paul Casey chimed in and said that meetings take longer because of COVID-19. Another option, he said, was to start meetings earlier like the county Board of Supervisors.
The issue is part of the city’s overall effort to become more environmentally sustainable. The city is already in the process of converting to Community Choice Energy, which will offer 100% renewable and carbon-free electricity customers.
According to the staff report for the meeting, energy use in buildings is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, accounting for approximately 25% of statewide emissions and approximately 37% of emissions in Santa Barbara.
The emissions from buildings come from two sources: purchased electricity and direct combustion of natural gas for space and water heating and cooking, according to the report.
Tim Mahoney, public affairs manager with SoCalGas, which provides energy in Santa Barbara, said renewable natural gas is affordable and reliable.
“There is enough renewable natural gas supplies nationwide to replace up to 90% of fossil fuels in the home,” Mahoney said. “Now I know after I stop speaking you are going to find naysayers and scoffers who are afraid of renewable natural gas.”
Sneddon asked Mahoney if moving to all-electric for new construction would cause SoCalGas to go out of business.
In response, he said, “Customers love natural gas. Hotels, motels, commercial kitchens, restaurants, hospitality industry, Cottage Hospital, Mission Linen, look at all the city buildings that you own or lease out, they all have natural gas. Natural gas is part of society and the economy. It employs people. It makes good economic sense and it makes good environmental sense.”
Sneddon countered back, “We’re not trying to take that away, I wish we could honestly.”
She also questioned Mahoney on a mass mysterious text message that went out with misleading information that suggested the city was going to ban all natural gas power in the city. Mahoney said he received the text, but did not know that one was coming to him.
“This s a golden opportunity for the city to take a step toward carbon neutrality, to help attain the state’s climate goals and fulfill our duty, under the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Brian Trautwein, environmental analyst and watershed manager for the Environmental Defense Center.
76 people apply for Community Formation Commission
The city administration scheduled interviews for the Community Formation Commission at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, which pushed everything else on the agenda back four hours.
The Community Formation Commission will explore different civilian police review systems, existing and new police accountability systems, and the specific needs of Santa Barbara.
The CFC will also review the Santa Barbara Police Department’s existing standards and protocols.
The group will make recommendations to the City Council for creation of a civilian oversight system in Santa Barbara.
The council will interview the remaining applicants at the Jan. 26 meeting before selecting the 13 members in February.
The council interviewed about 30 of the 76 people on Tuesday. They each had three minutes, and the council asked some of them questions.