2 more Sonoma County towns ready to ban new gas stations
Santa Rosa and Windsor are poised to consider a building ban on new gas stations within their limits — joining a growing list of Sonoma County locales that have adopted similar initiatives.
“This is the beginning of a movement,” said Woody Hastings, co-coordinator of the Sonoma County-based grassroots organization, Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations, which was formed in 2019. “When Santa Rosa votes next week to approve the ban, a majority of the cities in the county will be behind it.”
The bans, should Santa Rosa and Windsor adopt them in the coming weeks, would cement the region as a leader in this initiative.
There are 138 gas stations in the county. Petaluma, Sebastopol, Cotati and Rohnert Park have all already adopted bans.
Petaluma started the movement in 2021 when it passed its ban. It is believed to be the first city in the country to do so, resulting in worldwide coverage at the time.
“We are the tip of the spear,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said of county cities’ leadership on new gas station bans.
Several local leaders who support banning additional gas stations say the benefit lies in the message conveyed in saying, “No.”
“The main impetus for this is it’s an opportunity for local governments to clearly state a policy related to fossil fuels, and the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority.
Hopkins, who serves on the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority Board of Directors agreed, saying the county needs to see more investments in electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging stations, bike and pedestrian pathways and stronger public transit. She noted a local push for free public transit in the county.
“We need to put our money where our mouth is,” Hopkins said.
The Santa Rosa City Council will take up the discussion during a public hearing Tuesday.
The city’s Planning Commission and the Planning and Economic Development Department have recommended the council pass a prohibition on any new gas stations, as well as block expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, such as gas pumps, at existing gas stations.
Santa Rosa has 44 operating gas stations and two proposed gas stations under review, one at 43 Middle Rincon Road and the other at 874 North Wright Road.
The proposed ban would allow the two proposed gas stations — and any other applicants who apply before the effective date — to be considered in Santa Rosa. The ordinance would take effect 30 days from its second reading at a City Council meeting.
The Windsor Town Council is due to discuss a zoning ordinance on first reading at its Sept. 7 meeting.
Mayor Sam Salmon, who backs the ban, rides a bicycle around town and has cut down his driving to four times a week, said he believes there isn’t “much call” for new gas stations in Windsor at this point.
“The real question is why would we need more gas stations when we’re trying to move toward electric cars, and for me, trying to get people to drive less?” Salmon asked.
The council directed town staff to create an ordinance in accordance with its declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 and the county’s climate protection authority.
The four gas stations in town would still be allowed to remodel and could rebuild in case of a fire or natural disaster.
More than a symbol
Many environmental leaders see the move as more symbolic than anything, but Hastings couldn’t disagree more.
“This is not symbolic, this is not a statement,” he said. “There are four gas station proposals pending in Sonoma County right now — two in Santa Rosa and two in unincorporated county,” he said. “We’re stopping something. … Every time you open a new gas station you have created a new toxic waste site.”
Hastings pointed to underground gas tanks, which sometimes leak and can even get into groundwater.
“It’s the toxic nature of gas stations,” he said.
Starting in 2025, following a state law passed in 2014, all one-walled metal underground fuel storage tanks must be yanked, he pointed out.
“We hope to see in the next 10-20 years the phasing out of infrastructure that supports gas stations.”
And by doing that, he said, that allows jurisdictions of all sizes to spend more money on alternative technologies.
Kevin Slagle, director of strategic communications at Western States Petroleum Agency, a nonprofit trade association representing petroleum companies in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, criticized the bans.