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San Francisco Will Continue Enforcing New-Building Gas Ban Despite Berkeley's Repeal of Similar Rules

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A gas cooking range.
San Francisco says it will stay the course in banning gas hookups in new construction, even as Berkeley agrees to repeal its own rules. (Getty Images)

Updated 4 p.m. Tuesday

Berkeley was the first city in the nation to ban natural gas piping from being installed into new buildings, a progressive policy that quickly spread to other municipalities.

But as that city abandons its bellwether policy, San Francisco’s version of the all-electric building code may endure — at least for now.

San Francisco officials told KQED that the city would continue prohibiting gas hookups in new housing and commercial construction, even after Berkeley agreed last week to repeal its hard-fought ban as part of a settlement with the California Restaurant Association.

“No one has come to us asking us to change or repeal our law,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who proposed San Francisco’s 2020 policy. “We will continue to enforce it, continue to implement it, consistent with this court decision in the Berkeley case. We think we can do that.”

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The powerful state restaurant group challenged the legality of Berkeley’s regulations, arguing the city overstepped its authority in violation of a nearly 50-year-old U.S. law authorizing federal officials to set national efficiency standards. Last April, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed and struck down the law.

KQED subsequently reported that SoCalGas, the nation’s largest natural gas utility, billed a ratepayer account more than $1 million to help bankroll the law firm that successfully challenged Berkeley’s gas ban.

In January, the full appeals court declined Berkeley’s request to reconsider the ruling, prompting the city to agree to stop enforcing the policy and begin the legal process of repealing it.

The court’s denial for a rehearing “left us with very few options to seek review,” Stefan Elgstrand, the mayor’s legislative aide, said in an email on Tuesday. “However, the ruling leaves open many policymaking avenues for Berkeley to address environmental and public health hazards within its borders.”

Despite the setback, he added, “Berkeley will continue to lead in climate action.”

Since the city’s legal saga began nearly five years ago, dozens of other cities in California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed similar measures to prohibit gas lines in new construction projects. And both Bay Area and statewide air regulators last year issued rules phasing out the sale of new gas-powered furnaces and water heaters.

When the court struck down Berkeley’s law last year, however, a number of other jurisdictions that initially followed the city’s lead in limiting natural gas in new construction have since suspended enforcement of their bans — including San Mateo and Contra Costa counties and the cities of Sacramento and Santa Cruz. Other cities that have recently enacted gas bans, like San José, say they are evaluating the implications of the court’s ruling.

Jot Condie, CEO of the restaurant association, said in a statement that his group is encouraged that Berkeley finally agreed to repeal its ordinance.

“Every city and county in California that has passed a similar ordinance should follow their lead,” he said.

But San Francisco officials believe the city may be inoculated from a lawsuit because of the policy’s focus on building safety and because it allows some restaurants and other businesses in new buildings to opt out of the regulation — even though none have yet to do so, according to the city.

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“There were, frankly, a more robust set of off ramps [in San Francisco’s legislation] and ways for people to seek exemptions, including exemptions for restaurants,” Mandelman said.

Environmental groups insist that the court ruling against Berkeley’s policy won’t stop the growing electrification movement and are urging municipalities to continue transitioning away from fossil fuels in new construction in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“Thankfully, since 2019, cities and local air quality agencies have developed a wide variety of policy paths to move forward, from energy codes to air quality protections, to protect their residents and help us all step into a zero-emissions future,” Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, said in a statement. “The future is clean energy, and nothing can hold that back.”

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