The Sonoma County city of Petaluma just this week became the first city in the United States to ban the construction of new gas pumps and stations.
The push to ban new stations in Petaluma and through proposed local legislation in other Californian cities started in September 2020 when Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order to phase out the sale of all new gas powered vehicles in California by 2035. Despite an overall negative response from Californians, many lawmakers pursued local laws to add more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and other similar ordinances. At the state level, this has included bills that would ban fracking and other oil and gas extraction methods by 2027. But at the local level, this has included bills to stop new gas stations from being built.
Petaluma led the way among Californian cities, with the Petaluma City Council unanimously approving the bill that would stop new gas pump and station construction in favor of alternate fuel stations late last month. On Monday, the zoning rules were finalized, becoming official the very next day.
According to the new rules, while all 16 gas stations in the city of 60,000 people can continue to operate as normal, no new pumps may be built. Only EV charging plugs and other alternate fueling methods will be allowed in new construction and station expansion.
In addition to Governor Newsom’s Executive Order, the new law was passed to reduce pollution and curb fossil fuel use. Over-saturation of gas stations in the city was also hinted at, with the law mentioning that every resident in the city is currently, at most, five minutes away from a station.
“An inventory of current and approved gas stations shows they are, based on proximity, adequate to serve existing and planned residents dependent upon internal combustion engines,” reads the new law. “Prohibiting new gas stations serves the public interest by preventing new sources of pollution that adversely impact environmental and human health.”
Reaction to the new law has been mixed. While many local lawmakers have praised the new law, with many specifically noting that it would help the city become carbon neutral by 2030, more attacked the policy on Wednesday.
Concern over the new law
“An alarming trend is spreading across localities in California,” said the California Fuels & Convenience Alliance in a statement on Wednesday. “Various localities throughout the state have started down a misguided direction, banning new gas stations within city and county limits, through ordinance or moratorium. This single-minded approach will ultimately cause greater harm for communities than any potential benefit.
“Many of these proposals emerge from the belief that by reducing the availability of fueling sites, they will reduce the amount of fuel consumed. This assumption is naïve at best, or textbook NIMBYism at its worst. Despite California’s intended goal of phasing out combustion engines, the fact remains that a vast majority of Californians continue to drive gas-powered cars. These Californians still require fueling sites within reasonable proximity of their homes or places of employment.”
“These bans also reduce vital competition within the community. Competition between businesses is imperative for both businesses themselves, and for consumers.”
Many in Petaluma also noted concern.
“We have a lot of tourists coming through here,” explained Petaluma store owner Richard Denton to the Globe. “This is wine country after all. And many com from out of California. They drive here.”
“Even if that state goes through with the gas car ban, we’re still going to need gas stations for at least some time in the future. That means new stations, or replacing broken pumps with new ones to meet demand. But what they are asking is way too much at once. Why not allow building more electric chargers, then wane down on gas pumps as demand falls?”
“They were just trying to make a statement rather than think of the public good here.”
Petaluma’s new law is expecting to influence other cities currently debating on passing similar laws in California this year.
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