A restaurant kitchen (file photo). Photo: Fabrizio Magoni on Unsplash

The California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley in federal court Thursday over its decision in July to ban natural gas in many new buildings.

The association, which describes itself as the nation’s largest statewide nonprofit trade association, called the ban “irresponsible” and said it would do “little to advance climate goals.” The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In July, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously in favor of the legislation, put forward by downtown Councilwoman Kate Harrison’s office with co-sponsors Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn. The legislation would prohibit the construction of natural gas pipes in many new buildings starting Jan. 1, 2020. Laws like this are important, according to the ordinance and prior city policies, because Berkeley is in the midst of a “climate emergency.”

The restaurant group argued, in its lawsuit, that “Banning natural gas is not the solution, and is at odds with citizens’ needs for reliable, resilient, and affordable energy. Prohibiting natural gas cooking ranges, water heaters, fireplaces, space heaters, and backup electrical generation is fundamentally inconsistent with the public interest, and is a violation of both federal and state law.”

Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a prepared statement that Berkeley’s law appeared to lay the groundwork for even stiffer restrictions down the line on the use of natural gas.

“It’s impossible to overstate how irresponsible this is at a time when millions of Californians find themselves in the dark due to planned power outages,” Condie said. “The citizens of California need reliable and affordable energy that allows them to choose what appliances they have in their homes and businesses.”

The lawsuit seeks to stop the enforcement of the city’s ordinance and said the ban is “invalid and unenforceable” under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act and the state energy and building standards codes.

According to the association, the law “would effectively prohibit the preparation of flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok.”

Natural gas makes up 27% of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions and 73% of its building sector emissions, Harrison said in July in defense of the ban. Despite stalwart efforts, she said, the city is “approximately 18% behind its 2020 [Climate Action Plan] goal and will fall short of its ultimate goal of net zero emissions by 2050.”

“We have to take more drastic action,” Harrison said at that time, if the city hopes to meet its climate goals.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Berkeleyside on Friday that he still needs to read the court paperwork, which was filed Thursday. Regardless of what it alleges, he added, he supports the city’s law.

“I believe the gas ban is necessary to reduce the impacts of fossil fuels,” he said, “and fight climate change and the health and safety impacts of gas infrastructure.”

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...