Petaluma Swings First
Becomes America's inaugural city to ban new gas stations
In what will likely (hopefully?) be the first of many, a new ordinance passed by Petaluma’s city council outlaws the building of any new gas stations, or new pumps at existing stations, within the city. With a population of almost 60,000, Petaluma currently has 16 gas stations with one more on the way. With the new measure, that number can no longer go up, which should not be cause for worry. Justifying the ordinance in a statement to KTVU, Councilwoman D’Lynda Fischer reasoned that “we have adequate existing fossil fuel infrastructure to serve the needs of our residents…”
Save for an unexpected spike in population or low-mpg vehicles, Petaluma gas stations already meet the city’s demand. Any form of push towards hybrid or electric vehicles (such as is happening in many parts of the world including California) will decrease this demand, so the city council’s new ordinance simply sets in stone the already actualizing trends. It helps to solidify the path towards renewable energy that Petaluma and many other cities in California are already taking their first steps on.
In creating this path, the measure is not just a negative one; proactively, it seeks to facilitate new additions of electric charging and other non-fossil fuel stations. For Petaluma, the path already has a name, Climate Ready, a plan “to achieve greenhouse gas carbon neutrality for the City of Petaluma by 2030.” Aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030 puts Petaluma well ahead of the curve as compared with both California, aiming for neutrality by 2045, and the United States as a whole, aiming for 2050.
While possibly a reach, it seems that Petaluma may be making good on its ambitious goal. This newest action on gas stations is informed by the city’s broader, and recently adopted, Climate Action Framework. The Framework is a 60 page account of the current emissions situation in Petaluma and the considerations and steps that must be taken to achieve carbon neutrality and address climate impacts. Its contents range from mitigation to adaptation to sequestration to community engagement and climate justice. Succinctly, it’s thorough, especially for a city of “just” 60,000.
Ambitious yet well thought out plans and courses of action are exactly the kind of thing that is need to address this crisis. General communication of the seriousness, the gravity, of the problem is needed to generate the zeitgeist necessary to combat major climate change; but, the subsequent steps, the concrete planning that turns general attitudes and desires into real-world policy and tangible action, are equally essential.
Taking stock of current emissions and determining plausible plans to reduce them is going to be the energy theme of the coming decade(s). Cities can follow similar routes as a potential Petaluma, promoting electric vehicles, prioritizing public and active transportation (making biking and walking more pragmatic alternatives), and pushing for clean residential and business areas (clean both in day-to-day and in long-term emissions). Figuring out what works for the unique situation that each city finds itself in will be a challenge, but one that each city is best prepared to answer for itself. The success of these transitions can be insured through clearly defined benchmarks and progress evaluations.
Many similar trends will be found on the state and country levels, but there will be less and less specifics due to the inherently larger and broader governing responsibilities. States, provinces, and countries can set the long-term goals and go far in supporting and facilitating the transitions of their constituent towns, cities, and counties, but those smaller bodies are the true point of contact for rubber and road.
Ideally, more localities will adopt similar frameworks and carve out their own pathways to carbon neutrality. Petaluma making theirs relatively thorough and publicly accessible means that everyone has a solid example of this kind of city-climate scheme to bring to their own city or town government and start a conversation: “do we have something similar in place?;” “we can do this too, but even better if we improve here and here;” “if a 60,000 person city has this level of plan, why doesn’t our 250,000 person city have something comparable, or better?”
So, if you’re feeling like taking some climate action yourself, have a browse through Petaluma’s plan, and consider bringing up the topic to your mayor or city council. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the spark of another vanguard city in the climate movement.