City subcommittee meeting talks kitchen ventilation, gas valves, fossil fuel initiatives

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The Berkeley City Council Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment & Sustainability Committee held its regular meeting Thursday to address action items on kitchen exhaust ventilation, automatic gas shut-off valves and recommendations for a fossil-fuel-free city.

District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison started the discussion with an item that would require kitchen exhaust ventilation in all residential and condominium units undergoing renovations. The requirement would also extend to all current residential buildings prior to execution of a contract for sale. According to Harrison, 13% of adults and 12.5% of children in California have asthma — which is partially initiated and aggravated by improper ventilation in homes.

“In the course of working on the gas ban, we realized that the health and safety issues involving natural gas were pretty significant and there were things that were affecting people on a daily basis, particularly tenants,” Harrison said.

Automatic gas shut-off valves are currently required when renovations exceed $50,000 in condominiums and single-family homes, or in new construction. Harrison, however, is proposing automatic shut-off valves for when renovation work exceeds $10,000 per unit or $50,000 per building in multi-family, condominium and commercial buildings.

The motion was seconded with the new amendments to be sent back to City Council.

Toward the end of the meeting, Harrison read a series of recommendations from the Berkeley Energy Commission regarding potential initiatives for a fossil-fuel-free city.

According to Harrison, transportation accounts for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley and is therefore the city’s “big challenge.”

Electrifying the transportation sector would require a large initial investment. According to East Bay Community Energy, or EBCE, spokesperson Alex DiGiorgio, however, the utility user’s tax on charging stations could be a source of revenue for the city. Harrison said there has been a regional discussion on the utility user’s tax — which would tax gas at a higher rate than electricity — but more data is needed.

Rather than spend $120, 000 to upgrade municipal load to 100% renewable, EBCE said the money could be spent in the city’s transportation sector. EBCE has thus proposed a partnership with Berkeley to create fast charging stations in several of the city’s hubs.

The cities of Albany, Oakland and Emeryville also hope to partner on this project after more data has been gathered.

“My prime example of things I don’t think we should do recommended by the Energy Commission is do another ballot initiative asking people what they think about what we should be doing about climate change. I think that is a waste of time,” Harrison said. “We know what to do, we need to do it.”

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.