In July, the Berkeley, California City Council voted unanimously in favor of banning natural gas in all new buildings, a law that will go into effect on January 1, 2020. During the meeting, Kate Harrison—the councilperson who sponsored the legislation—had one of her staffers conduct a fondue demonstration, which likely forced everyone to try to pay attention to the speakers despite the tantalizing scent of melting chocolate coming from one side of the room.
According to Berkeleyside, the presentation was supposed to highlight both the safety and efficiency of electric induction burners, and apparently it was also a way to reassure everyone that yes, they could still host fondue parties, even after the ban went into effect.
But despite the best efforts of Harrison's staff and their portable induction burner, some members of the California restaurant community are both unimpressed and uncertain what this will mean for their kitchen capabilities.
On Thursday, the California Restaurant Association sued the city of Berkeley, alleging that the natural gas ban violates both state and federal laws, and arguing that the restaurant industry will suffer "uniquely negative impacts," ranging from increased operational costs to the inability to prepare certain foods. The Association also says that the ban will make the culinary training that some chefs have received "meaningless."
"Many restaurants will be faced with the inability to make many of their products which require the use of specialized gas appliances to prepare, including for example flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok," the lawsuit said, according to NPR. "Indeed, restaurants specializing in ethnic foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas."
Robert Phillips, the chairman of the Chef De Cuisine Association of California, took the lawsuit's language even further, saying that denying a chef the right to use gas in the kitchen was like "taking paint away from a painter and asking them to create a masterpiece."
When Berkeley passed its natural gas ban during the summer, it became the first country in the United States to do so. Natural gas use in buildings is responsible for more than a quarter (27 percent) of Berkeley's greenhouse gas emissions, and it's the city's latest step toward addressing climate change. (And city ordinances like these are seen as crucial in helping California meet its target of using 100 percent zero-carbon energy sources by 2045). However, the law that goes into effect on New Year's Day will only apply to new construction, not existing buildings.
“We are confident that the City’s limitations on natural gas infrastructure in new buildings comply with all relevant laws,” Berkeley City Attorney Farimah Faiz Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The City will vigorously defend the ordinance against the California Restaurant Association’s lawsuit.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially since several other cities—in California and elsewhere—have either passed or are considering their own restrictions on natural gas use. Either way, it's probably not a bad idea to start looking into electric appliances.