Natural gas will be banned in new residential construction in South San Francisco, as officials joined the growing regional move toward adopting reach codes requiring future development to be powered entirely by electricity.
The South San Francisco City Council unanimously adopted Wednesday, May 26, a proposal to disallow gas hookups in future housing development under the effort to limit the city’s dependency on natural gas resources.
The decision makes the city the latest in a growing group of local communities to take such a step, though the decision blessed by South San Francisco officials stopped short of some of the more aggressive policies elsewhere on the Peninsula.
To that end, officials noted that the potential ban would only be applied to future construction and that existing buildings would be allowed to keep their natural gas connections. Additionally, they limited the requirement to residential construction, keeping the commercial sector unregulated.
Councilmember Flor Nicolas, who spearheaded the city’s effort, acknowledged that the reach codes adopted are not as ambitious as some members of the local environmental community had hoped.
“This doesn’t go as far as some would want, but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
Councilmember James Coleman shared a similar perspective, while expressing optimism that the issue could be reconsidered for further action sometime down the road.
“This is a really good first wave of reach codes,” he said.
Further, Coleman said that he would be in favor of looking to expand the natural gas ban into some portion of the commercial development sector. Acknowledging such a move would not be possible in the life sciences industry that relies on natural gas for testing, he suggested office buildings could later be eligible.
Terry Nagel, chair of the Sustainable San Mateo County Board of Directors, urged officials to seek ways to expand the initiative.
“This measure is really the first step and I hope you will follow through with a commercial resolution that will address the commercial sector,” she said.
Beyond incompatibility with the biotech sector, some officials had previously shared reticence to expand the ban to the commercial sector for fear of harming local restaurants and eateries that rely on natural gas for appropriately preparing food.
The code adopted by South San Francisco contains additional carveouts for large, residential developments already entitled or within 6 months of receiving final approval. Officials supported the exemptions because they did not want the potential additional costs associated with meeting the all-electric mandate to stem housing development.
Alongside the natural gas ban, officials also approved a mandate for electric vehicle charging stations to be included in new residential development. Single-family homes would be required to install both a level 1 and 2 charger in new construction. Multifamily developments with fewer than 20 units would be required to install one of each sort for each unit. And multifamily developments with more than 20 units would be required to have 75% of the units as level 1 chargers, with 25% as level 2 chargers. Exceptions in the multi-family developments would be made for units without parking. Level 1 is the slowest EV charger available.
To further limit the local dependence on fossil fuels, the move to reach codes is often paired with an increased investment in electric vehicle infrastructure built into new residential developments as the auto industry moves away from gas.
Berkeley became the first city in the country to ban natural gas in new construction in July. There are close to 35 local cities that 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.”
Nicolas lamented that South San Francisco was not on the local forefront of adopting the reach codes, but said that she felt the move was due.
“I think it’s about time for us to do something about this,” she said.
Councilmember Eddie Flores enthusiastically supported the decision as well.
“This is unquestionably a wonderful and much-needed initiative,” he said.