Berkeley City Council adopts ordinance banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings

Sakura Cannestra/Staff

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Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance mandating that all new buildings be built without natural gas infrastructure at its Tuesday night meeting.

The new ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Kate Harrison, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Also passed at the meeting were items suggesting the city manager look into the wording of the Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance, as well as an item acknowledging the Peace and Justice Commission’s role as a socially responsible investments advisory board.

“When we think of climate change, cars and factories come to mind,” Harrison said during her presentation. “In our minds, we don’t see that buildings have a big role to play. … We, in a way, have given buildings a pass.”

Natural gas makes up 27 percent of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the agenda. Harrison said during the meeting that Berkeley is currently behind its emissions reduction goal, having reduced its emissions by 15 percent, yet having a current goal of 33 percent.

Sandy Barnard, one of Harrison’s legislative assistants, brought an induction burner to the front table and began making chocolate-dipped strawberries as part of Harrison’s 40-minute presentation to emphasize that induction burners are as effective as gas burners.

“This is not some radical pie in the sky idea,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during discussion of this item. “There are buildings throughout the country, even in this city … that are entirely electric, and so this is doable, and this is essential to meeting our broader climate goals.”

Before Harrison’s presentation, the City Council heard public comment on and discussed another item that would suggest that the city manager’s office consider amending the language of the Aesthetic Guidelines and the city’s Wireless Communications Ordinance.

Many members of the Berkeley community spoke during public comment on this item, calling for 5G networks to be prohibited in the city due to health concerns, and about the City Council’s power as a local government.

“We’re all deeply concerned with the actions of the Trump administration and the (Federal Communications Commission) to further take away local control over these types of projects,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “The purpose of the action that we’re going to be taking tonight and the subsequent actions that our staff will be taking is to develop the strongest, most legally defensible ordinance possible to preserve our local control due to the many concerns that people have expressed.”

The council also voted to adopt a resolution calling for the Peace and Justice Commission to establish a Socially Responsible Investment and Procurement Policy Subcommittee to draft policies on how to engage in socially responsible investing.

During the meeting, Councilmember Sophie Hahn cautioned against using investments as a catch-all approach to protest, saying it “can be costly to the city without having a big impact (on) the behavior or registering for the business or the corporation that we dislike,” but adding that she would also support the resolution.

Twelve more resolutions were passed unanimously through the consent calendar, including the first reading of an ordinance to eliminate gendered language in the Berkeley Municipal Codes.

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.