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Goodbye, new gas stations in California?

Episode Summary

An L.A. councilmember is proposing a ban on new gas stations within city limits. It's an idea that more California cities are considering.

Episode Notes

Surprise, surprise: California cities are banning new gas stations and other cities across the world are watching. The bans are part of an ongoing quest to combat climate change, this time on a local municipal level. The movement is small so far, but now even the car capital of the world, Los Angeles, is thinking about it.

Today, what would happen if L.A. hops on this no-new-gas-station brigade. And what we can learn from the cities that’ve already done it. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times Fast Break Desk reporter Grace Toohey

More reading:

California cities ban new gas stations in battle to combat climate change

Editorial: Ban new gas stations? There are better ways for L.A. to ditch fossil fuels

LA Times Today: California cities ban new gas stations to combat climate change

Episode Transcription

Gustavo: Surprise, surprise, California cities are banning new gas stations and other cities across the country are watching.

The bans are part of an ongoing quest to combat climate change, this time on a local municipal level.

The movement is small so far, but now…. even the car capital of the world, Los Angeles; even it's thinking about it.


Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano, you're listening to The Times, essential news from the LA Times.

It's Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

Today….what would happen if L.A. hops on this no new gas station brigade. And what can we learn from the cities that have already done it?


Gustavo: Grace Tooey is an LA Times reporter covering breaking news. Grace, welcome to The Times. 

Grace: Thank you so much for having.

Gustavo: So what's this gas station proposal about in L.A.?

Grace: Yeah. So this was introduced by LA City Councilman Paul Koretz. And so the idea of it is that it's really to try and phase out, you know, this reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure. And so what it aims to do is just to stop the construction of future gas stations being built. And so it wouldn't affect current gas stations, that's not gonna take away, you know, the gas station on the corner that you go to every day now, but it's gonna stop people from deciding, you know, I wanna start up a new gas station or add one to this corner. And the idea is it's really based in environmental policy. This is kind of a climate change issue that a lot of people are starting to take up and, and that's what they wanna do in Los Angeles.

Gustavo: What's kind of surprising to me is that this is coming from L.A. Yeah, it's a really liberal city and very liberal city council, but all of Los Angeles, all of Southern California, or so much of it relies on cars and trucks for basically everything.

Grace: You're exactly right. And I think that will be interesting to see, you know, what kind of success it actually finds. But what City Councilman Koretz has said is there's plenty of gas stations here in LA already. You know, we don't need more. The California energy commission actually tracks this. And they said in 2020, there were about 2,000 gas stations in the county. // So, you know, there's a difference between the city and county, but that's the county-level numbers. And so we buy millions of gallons of gasoline every year. No one's saying that there's a shortage of gasoline stations necessarily right now. And so for that reason, he thinks that we can stop building new ones. And if there's any sort of expansion of gas stations, he wants it to be dedicated to electric vehicles or, you know, more sustainable technology coming into these gas stations or convenience stations.

Gustavo: What was interesting to me is, in reading your story, that already as it is only about one to two new gas stations get built in Los Angeles. So does this proposal even make much of an impact and if not, what's the point of it? 

Grace: Yeah, that's a good question. So you're exactly right. So we only saw one or two gas stations actually coming up for a permit every year in L.A. And so what that means is this is more a symbolic gesture for L.S. to commit to actually, you know, real climate change policy, trying to,you know, make a stand against building these, you know, long term infrastructure that's committed to fossil fuels and that kind of industry. And the other big thing that has come up in this is that the long term effects of gas stations and what that means for communities, um, especially is a lot of times it's communities of color, where these gas stations are being built and there's often more in poorer communities as well, and they leave behind some hazardous substances, whether it's in the air or it's in the soil. And that's another big issue that people are saying isn't really being talked about when you're talking about transportation and providing gas stations and having enough for people to have access to and switching to electric vehicles.

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Grace: It's definitely more of a measure that they can, you know, come out and say, we're taking this big step, but maybe it won't actually change much of the day to day life or the permitting process. We don't know how many businesses would actually be affected right now. But it would be a y really a symbolic measure to come out and say that Los Angeles will not be building anymore new gas stations.

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Gustavo: What this California anti-gas station movement is all about, after the break

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Gustavo: Grace, how did the idea of banning new gas station construction in California even start?

Grace: So it's actually a pretty new movement. So it was actually last year, uh, the city of Petaluma, which is a small-ish city in Sonoma county, significantly smaller than Los Angeles. They had a new gas station being proposed to be built in their city. And city leaders there have taken climate change and // sustainable policy really seriously. And they were like, why are we doing this? So initially they tried to just halt this one gas station from coming into their community, but they decided to actually take it Further and say, you know, this is something that we want to do. So we aren't continually trying to block a gas station or stop this from happening. So they decided to come up with this idea and ban gas stations. 

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Clip: So now we’re onto public hearing and this is new gas stations adoption of an urgency ordinance extending a moratorium on approval of applications for new gas station uses in the city of Petaluma that are not already complete as of May 6, 2019. 

Grace: It's really interesting the leaders there have actually said they didn't realize that what they were doing was novel or a new idea. 

Gustavo: Ha.

Grace: They just came out and did this, and it has created this wave in climate change policy.

Clip from here: The council found an immediate threat to the public health , safety and wellfare and adopted the urgency ordinance in order ot be able to look at code solutions to conduct full environmental review and ot provide for mitigation f environmental impact results resulting from new gas stations 

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Gustavo: That's what's interesting that Petaluma, nothing against Petaluma, but that they were the first people. It didn't come from like Berkeley or, you know, the usual traditional progressive cities where you hear news like this usually coming from.

Grace: Exactly. They're kind of a small city. They decided to just take this up on their own. They weren't copying policy from another big city, they were writing their own policy. They were coming up with this idea and they've now become like these bigger cities like L.A. has gone to them to, to try and hear about what they've done and how it went.

Gustavo: How did residents in the city feel?

Grace: What we heard,you know, was that it really wasn't controversial at the time. They didn't get a lot of backlash. It passed pretty easily in their city council, and it's continued to not really be a big issue. They're more looking towards the future and, and finding a way that California won't be selling gas vehicles in 2035. 

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Gavin Newsome clip
I couldn't be more proud today to be able to sign this executive order moving forward by not denying people the ability to keep their cars after 15 years, you can still keep your internal combustion engine car, you can still have a market for used cars, you can still trade and transfer those cars. We're not taking anything away, we're providing an abundance of new choices and new technology. Being agnostic about how we get to zero admissions, but being committed to getting to zero emissions by 2035. 

Grace: And so they're kind of looking forward at those kinds of issues.

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Gustavo: What other cities have followed Petaluma's example? 

Grace: So we've seen success to pass these sorts of measures from four different cities and they're all in the Bay Area and they're all, you know, relatively smaller cities. These are cities like American Canyon and others that are nearby to Petaluma. So there's been this more natural, progression of people's neighbors uh hearing about this and moving on. But we've actually seen it spread much farther than that in the last few months. The city of West Hollywood has taken up a proposal, very similar to what Los Angeles is considering.And then we're seeing it actually be brought up in small cities in New York and also in British Columbia. So it's been really interesting to see it spread, first, slowly, and now definitely nationally and even internationally.

Gustavo: Is this an organic movement or are there organizations or activists that are pushing this? 

Grace: // Mostly it's been organic.  Petaluma got a lot of press after they banned gas stations. 

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Grace: Because it this such this symbolic measure and sounds so drastic, but maybe isn't as drastic as we think. But there are some environmental organizations that have taken this up. There's a group called Stand Earth. audio: 
Welcome everyone to the joint policy announcement: prohibitions on new gas stations. I’m Anne Pernick. I’m with SAFE Cities at Stand Earth. And we’re so excited to have you all here today. 

Grace:  It's an environmental policy group and they've been, you know, taking up this issue and trying to provide research that councils can actually use when they're bringing up these proposals, considering these proposals, and understanding the environmental effects of gas stations as well. 

More audio: 
We’re really excited that this really important policy area is moving forward in so many different jurisdictions in the US and Canada. We know that in order to stop the worst impacts of the climate crisis we need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and we need to start phasing it out. And prohibitions on new gas stations are a key area and more and more jurisdictions are, um, stepping into this policy area and introducing and passing these policies. 

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Gustavo: What about the oil industry? How are they reacting so far?

Grace: Yeah, we haven't heard a ton from them so far. I did speak with officials from the California Fuels and Convenience Alliance. So they're a group that represents gas stations and convenience stations. You know, they're not happy about this. They're trying to figure out where they fall in, when it comes to the future of climate change and people still need gas stations, you know, most people still have cars that rely on gas. So they understand that changes will need to come in the future, but they wanna make sure that people are not affected by this people who need gas have access to gas stations. And also, one of their concerns they brought up is, you know, when a new development is built it could be far away from gas stations. And so they, they were saying that they wanna make sure that there are uh, convenient stations for people who might be moving to new area and they don't wanna be driving 10 miles to go get their gas at the end of the day, or to drive to work or to pick up their kids from school, things like that. The other group that's really weighted on this is the Western States Petroleum Association. 

Clip from Western States Petroleum Association ad opposing CA policies. 

Grace:  What they've said is just bans are often not good policies is their take on this. And they're worried there might be unintended consequences from an outright ban on a certain thing.

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Gustavo: More after the break

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Gustavo:  So Grace, you spoke to some people at gas stations throughout LA. How did they feel about a potential ban on new stations?

Grace: So it was interesting, as you know, gas prices here have been insanely high and that's obviously a lot of people's main concern. So when I was talking to them about this, they were kind of like, you know, will it affect gas prices? And it hasn't been studied at length, so we don't really know, but a lot of officials are saying it it shouldn't affect gas prices. Because there are already enough gas stations. But we just don't know yet. But a lot of people are interested in finding ways to limit their use of gas, whether it's for financial reasons or for environmental reasons. 

Gas stations voices clip 1
I'm for it ‘cause a lot of people are not educated on climate change. So I think it's being miseducated. People was more educated. They'd be more aware and would oppose the new gas stations. 
I do have four gasr stations by my house  If you go down a road, you'll see like four to five. Yeah.  I think it doesn't make sense. I think there's room for other things, you know? Yeah. Like you don't feel like they need more.

Grace: But some people were more more hesitant about it. 

Gas station voices 2
I don't know why they would limit that as opposed to the other business. It sounds like you're worried. It might be, become an issue for people who need gas. People are, are still gonna need gas  for a while. You know,

Grace: They were saying, are we jumping too much into electric vehicles? Do we know enough about the batteries on electric vehicles long term effects? Maybe we should be studying this more before we just outright ban things. One man said he didn't wanna not be able to find a gas station at the end of his workday if he needed to, to refill it, he didn't wanna be stranded, things like that. So people definitely have concerns, but most people were open to the idea and open to change coming to their city.

Gustavo: Finally, what's next for the L.A. proposal? And then what do you see happening to just the movement overall? Like, do you think more cities are gonna follow? 

Grace retrack:   That's a great question. You know, I think this proposal for Los Angeles is still really at its beginning stages. So it's still to be seen exactly what will happen when it comes to this idea in Los Angeles. It should be coming up for a full hearing in front of a committee of the city council sometime this summer. That was the hope by a lot of city officials that it would be set for a hearing in August, but it hasn't yet gotten that date for when it will be heard. But I think when it does come up or if it does come up, it's unclear if there will be a lot of support or opposition by the public. Last September was when this idea was first  introduced at the city's planning and land use management committee meeting, and only one person then actually addressed the idea in public comment.

LA public comment gas issue
Why don't you lead by example and convert the entire city fleet to non-fossil fuel burning before you make life more difficult on everybody else in the city, right? Why don't you lead by example, Why don't you get rid of your own fleet before you make it more difficult for the rest of Los Angeles to gas up the millions of cars that we have, and that we've spent a lot of money on. 

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Grace: But as for other cities, I think it will be really interesting to see how some of these small cities do, like Petaluma or American Canyon, and see how that affects their day-to-day life, their communities, and if other cities wanna follow suit like that. And so I think that's what people will be looking at. Some of these cities who've already passed it and see where that goes. But I think we're gonna see this continue to move.  It's an idea that is not, as we talked about, it's not that drastic, it doesn't change things for on a huge scale, but it is a way to take a stand in favor of protecting the environment and towards greener energy policies. And so I think we're definitely gonna see this being brought up in other cities around the nation.

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Gustavo: Grace. Thank you so much for this conversation. 

Grace: Thank you for having me.

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Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of The Times, essential news from the LA Times. Surya Hendry and David Toledo were the jefes on this episode and Mark Helfin mixed and mastered it. 

Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, Ashlea Brown and David Toledo. Our editorial assistant is Madalyn Amato. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. 

Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilerra, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. Like what you’re listening to? Then make sure you’re following The Times on whatever platform you use. Don’t make us the Poochie of podcasts. I’m Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back tomorrow with all the news in demadre. Gracias.