Burlingame officials approved natural gas bans for new commercial and multi-family residential construction projects, but stopped short of pulling the plug on hookups to single-family homes.

The Burlingame City Council supported Monday, June 15, a proposal to establish reach codes for most new building with hopes of limiting the city’s carbon footprint by reducing reliance on natural gas.

New large apartment and business buildings must be powered entirely by electricity, according to the direction from councilmembers who could not come to consensus on mandates for homeowners.

Mayor Emily Beach urged councilmembers to approve the ban outright, as a sign of the city’s commitment to combating climate change.

“We should take this opportunity to push the envelope and make ourselves a little uncomfortable,” she said.

Councilman Michael Brownrigg shared a similar perspective.

“We can’t really seriously talk about climate change and the threat to our city and not take on a little bit of pain to make it happen,” he said.

Such an argument was insufficiently persuasive though, as Vice Mayor Ann O’Brien Keighran and Councilwoman Donna Colson shared deep reservations with potentially infringing on private property rights.

“I don’t like mandating to people everything they have to do with their own home,” said O’Brien.

Critics of the proposal pointed to the potential unintended consequence of requiring those completing home renovation projects to switch out their natural gas appliances such as kitchen ranges, water heaters, fire pits and other amenities.

Rather than force homeowners to disconnect their natural gas, Colson preferred to entice those who would consider converting to electric.

“I like to govern by incentive and not mandate by rule,” she said.

City officials noted the $300,000 cost threshold for a project to be subject to a reach code is so high that most renovations would not qualify, thereby likely sparing any potential appliance sacrifice. To that end, about 1,200 building permits were issued in Burlingame last year and only about a dozen would be subject to the natural gas ban.

Noting the division among officials though, councilmembers agreed to discuss the issue further at a later meeting when the proposal will return for a vote. Officials also favored an exemption for commercial kitchens and restaurants.

Berkeley became the first city in the country to ban natural gas in new construction in July. There are close to 35 local cities which have explored of approved reach codes of various kinds, including San Mateo, Redwood City and unincorporated segments of San Mateo County. Because local officials can propose ordinances more stringent than the state’s Energy and Green Building codes, the policies are dubbed “reach codes.”

In other business, Burlingame officials adopted a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year reflecting anticipated losses due to economic shutdown brought by COVID-19.

Councilmembers adopted a budget showing $61.4 million in expected income and $66.6 million in projected spending. The $5.2 million shortfall will be addressed with the city’s hearty reserve funds, which will be drawn down to $32.4 million.

Officials were able to avoid any layoffs and maintained their commitment to paying down the city’s unfunded liability, despite the anticipated loss in hotel and sales tax revenue.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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