The Mountain View City Council took a strong stance in battling climate change, unanimously approving new building codes that would phase out the use of natural gas in all types of new homes.
The prohibition will also come with steep requirements for electric vehicle charging spaces for future residential and commercial development, and a potential ban on wood stoves and outdoor fire pits. The changes are largely aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging a surge in electric vehicle usage in Mountain View.
The "reach codes," which were adopted at the Oct. 22 meeting and go into effect next year, will require all single-family homes, duplexes, multi-unit housing and commercial development to have electric heating, cooling, water heaters and cooking appliances -- essentially eliminating the need for natural gas hookups. Though city building staff initially recommended that single-family homes could continue to use gas for cooking appliances and fireplaces, council members rejected the idea.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said the city needs to be bold and lead the way on reducing emissions and boosting electric vehicle usage, calling it an important measure for future generations.
"I have two daughters in high school and they really brought to light to me how important this is," Abe-Koga said. "They are literally afraid that the world is going to end during their lifetime. It didn't really hit me until they said that, and that's how their friends feel too."
Abe-Koga said she sees all-electric homes as the new normal, and that it feels like a more even-handed approach. Giving residents who can afford $2 million for a single-family home the ability to use gas while prohibiting others feels like a social justice issue, she said.
Several speakers at the meeting, many from the group Carbon Free Mountain View, lauded the decision for going above and beyond California's latest emission-cutting legislative actions. Resident Mike Balma called it a "wonderful milestone" as the city sets standards for infrastructure that will be around for the next 40 or 50 years. IdaRose Sylvester said the city has plenty of reasons to ditch gas cooktops in all homes, including single-family residences.
"Gas cooktops are dangerous, they are the leading cause of house fires and burns, and the leading cause of carbon monoxide poisoning," she said. "They are potent sources of indoor air pollution, emitting fine particulate matter, formaldehyde and nitrous oxide."
St. Francis High School student Jamie Minden urged the council to show leadership by adopting "aggressive" building codes that include all-out bans on natural gas, describing it as an obligation to future generations.
"We are afraid for our futures. The planet is warming at an unprecedented rate and people in power are not doing enough about it," she said.
Representatives from companies that will have to build under the new codes were less thrilled by the council's requirements. Eric Hansen, vice president of construction at SummerHill Homes, said the changes will make it more difficult for developers and will challenge the viability of housing projects, particularly the high bar for electric vehicle chargers.
For multi-unit housing and commercial development, 15% of the spaces must have a Level 2 charging station capable of charging a car for up to 180 miles over the course of eight hours, according to city staff reports. But the codes also require 100% of the spaces to be "EV Ready," meaning new development will have to build the electrical infrastructure for charging at every parking space.
If the requirements are approved, Hansen said they will collectively bring up the electrical load of apartment buildings by 50%, which can't be augmented with solar power or batteries, starting in just a few months.
"I think there are a lot of unintended consequences with the implementation of these reach codes," he said.
Jeral Poskey, a representative from Google, described the requirements as overkill that could end up being onerous and costly for developers. Utility companies have to provide power for all of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure regardless of how many drivers take advantage of it, which could lead to penalties and fines if much of it goes unused.
"Even in the future of 100% electric vehicles, they don't all need to charge every day and every morning," Poskey said.
Despite the crackdown on gas stoves, council members agreed to have a special waiver available for commercial kitchens that require natural gas for cooking appliances to prepare dishes that can't be cooked using electric alternatives.
The new codes will take effect in January, meaning any developer that does not submit complete building applications to the city by December will be subject to the new requirements. Initial development applications do not count.
Abe-Koga's motion, which passed 7-0, included adoption of the reach codes along with a request for staff to bring back a potential ban on wood-burning stoves and outdoor fire pits, which is tentatively scheduled to come back to the council for approval next year.