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Petaluma City Council moves to ban new gas stations

The Petaluma City Council this week moved to ban new gas stations, cementing a nearly two-year moratorium as leaders accelerate ambitious climate action goals.

The prohibition, approved unanimously late Monday, caps a years-long effort by city leaders and climate activists who have pushed an ambitious, zero-emission-by-2030 timeline. The council must approve the ban during a second reading before it takes effect.

It also streamlines processes for existing gas stations seeking to add electric vehicle charging stations and potential hydrogen fuel cell stations, with city staff underlining an urgency to support alternative fueling in order to meet state zero-emission infrastructure targets.

“The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels, and to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Councilor D’Lynda Fischer said. “Right now, we have existing fossil fuel stations, and what we want them to do is add (electric vehicle) chargers and create another source of fueling people can use.”

The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits.

A contentious Safeway gas station at McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, which drew the ire of residents for its proximity to a school and residential neighborhoods, will see no impacts from the ban.

The controversial project has been locked in a legal battle with resident group Save Petaluma since 2019. The group is suing Safeway and the city in an attempt to compel the company to complete an additional environmental study of the project, with the hope that the study will help block the fueling station first proposed in 2013.

Although the ban won’t effect the proposed station, it does fix city rules that once tied the city’s hands when the grocery store chain moved to erect its discount fueling station. Without specific policies related to gas stations, the city could only assess the project’s design and aesthetics. At the time, there was no mechanism in the city code to require an environmental review of the project.

“This ban probably would have happened at some point anyway, but the Safeway gas station definitely brought the issue to the front burner,” said Councilor Mike Healy, who spearheaded a failed 2014 attempt to outlaw new gas station construction.

This prohibition is a priority in Petaluma’s ongoing response to the climate crisis, a response enumerated in the city’s Climate Emergency Framework, which was adopted last month. City leaders are also charged with planning for more publicly-available electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

That process is still in the works, according to city reports, as staff evaluates a pilot program to allow for installation of electric charging stations in some public spaces in town.

The city’s climate framework moved up the timeline for carbon neutrality by 15 years, to 2030, signaling a more aggressive approach from the city council’s new, progressive majority, and providing a window into the new leadership’s vision ahead of the city’s General Plan update.

This week’s vote elicited strong commendations from a half-dozen members of public who stayed up long enough to call in to the meeting, and gave hope to some local climate activists.

“At this point with Safeway approved, I think it probably is not going to mean that less gas will be sold in town,” Healy said. “I think what we’re really relying on is people switching to electric and more fuel efficient vehicles moving forward. I feel that (gas) is kind of a sunset industry at this point.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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