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The City of Santa Barbara is on its way toward a prohibition of natural gas, but only in new construction. The ordinance that passed Tuesday in committee also provides exceptions for restaurants, among others.

The new rule would move the city toward its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035, a decade before California’s cutoff date. Energy used in buildings represents about 40 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, explained Alelia Parenteau, energy and climate manager for the city. While reducing natural gas in both old and new buildings is a hoped-for goal, she said new construction was the first step, as one less set of pipes would be a savings for any project, and the ordinance would also send a message to industry that investing in renewable energy is worthwhile. In the future, discouraging gas usage in existing structures would likely be approached through education and incentives, Parenteau said, and not legislation. It’s all part of the city’s extensive Clean Energy plan, which includes an optional switch for residents to zero-carbon-emission electricity sources this October.

What constitutes new construction was unclear to Councilmember Michael Jordan, who chairs the Ordinance Committee. In addition to brand-new building, a remodel would count if three of four walls are demolished, a response that led him to suggest clarifying that to 75 percent of a structure when the ordinance gets its next hearing before the City Council.

As well as restaurants, exceptions included projects already in the pipeline or with a permit application by August 1, laboratories, clean rooms, and “public interest” exemptions for a reason such as the unavailability of comparable electric-powered equipment. For any new building thus exempted, the electric wiring must be installed for future advances.

While a dozen people from the environmental and building community spoke in favor of the ordinance, a few were opposed, including John Switalski, who heads Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions. The industry group represents SoCalGas, among others, and was found to be texting customers and making false claims that natural gas would be banned in all circumstances. Speaking for SoCalGas, Tim Mahoney noted the company planned to deliver carbon-neutral gas by 2045 through hydrogen and renewable natural gas (made from dairy, wastewater, and landfill sources).

The benefits of the ordinance would extend beyond Santa Barbara, said Liz Campos with Ventura’s Clean Air Coalition. SoCalGas claimed that expansion of a natural gas compressor station proposed 70 yards from a Ventura elementary school was needed to serve Santa Barbara and Goleta, she said. “Please be good neighbors and recognize this is an issue of both environmental justice and social equity,” Campos said, “not just for Santa Barbara, but for the entire Southern California region.”

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