San Francisco celebrates the passage of an all-electric building ordinance for newly-constructed buildings

by Melissa Yu

On Tuesday, November 10th, [2020] the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pass the all-electric new buildings ordinance introduced by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and co-sponsored by Supervisors Dean Preston, Gordon Mar, Shamann Walton, and Matt Haney.

San Francisco is the largest city in the state to pass an all-electric building ordinance and joins more than 30 other cities in California to begin phasing gas out of buildings. Now the ball is in the hands of the California Energy Commission to phase out gas in new construction statewide, and those of the Governor and Legislature to accelerate the decarbonization of California’s existing buildings in an equitable manner.

Burning fossil gas (otherwise known as natural gas) in buildings for space heating, water heating, clothes drying, and cooking is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all power plants in California.

San Francisco’s new ordinance enforces newly constructed buildings to be all electric starting June 1, 2021. If the project includes a new restaurant, developers can receive a permit waiver for cooking equipment that would be available until the end of 2021.

Months of advocacy led by the San Francisco Climate Emergency Coalition brought us to this historic victory. Most importantly, in the spirit of solidarity, labor — namely the plumbing trades — and environmentalists joined forces to lay the groundwork for a Just Transition. A habitable climate does not have to result in working people losing their jobs amidst a historic economic depression.

The ordinance’s all-electric requirements and corresponding steps to expand the use of recycled and gray water systems is a blueprint for the rest of the state and country. Labor and environmentalists can support one another in securing good jobs for workers and building safer, healthier cities without fossil fuel infrastructure at the same time.

This ordinance showcases a key relationship and understanding that can help foster legislation phasing out gas in other jurisdictions and policies aimed at equitably retrofitting all existing buildings. Partnership will be critical in moving California towards clean and efficient electric heating, cooling, cooking and conserving precious water resources in the face of climate-driven drought.

Melissa Yu is the Conservation Program Coordinator in the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter. This article first appeared in the Sierra Club Yodeler, Winter 2020-21 issue.

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