Sonoma County supervisors approve ban on new gas stations, extra pumps

A divided Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a ban on new retail gas stations or expansions of existing stations in unincorporated areas of the county.

The split vote was prompted largely by differences in how to treat fueling needs for rental cars at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

Supervisors David Rabbitt and James Gore also had concerns about broad language in the proposal that would have precluded conversion of gasoline pumps for hydrogen fuel — enough so that Gore, at least, would have voted against it in any case, he said Wednesday.

All five supervisors appeared in favor of the central concept of the zoning ordinance amendment to halt the installation of new fossil fuel pumps in recognition of the transition to electric vehicles and other alternative fuels.

But Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said it would be hypocritical to ban retail stations while allowing the airport to install a 12,000-gallon fuel tank for use by car rental agencies until more of the fleet is electric and Pacific Gas & Electric can support enough power to charge that fleet.

Airport manager Jon Stout said it would be about five or six years before PG&E had made the necessary grid upgrades to supply the consolidated rental facility. In the meantime, fewer than 3% of the cars rented at the airport are electric vehicles, he said. Most gasoline-powered rentals refuel at a gas station near the highway.

The amendment cost the votes of Rabbitt and Gore.

But the 3-2 vote in favor — with “yes” votes from board Chairman Chris Coursey, Hopkins and Supervisor Susan Gorin — was enough to approve the amendment banning new retail fossil fuel pumps in unincorporated Sonoma County.

The vote follows similar actions taken in six of nine Sonoma County cities since the Petaluma City Council became the first to put a halt to new fossil fuel stations in March 2021.

The other cities include Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Cotati, Windsor and Santa Rosa.

Healdsburg and Sonoma have not acted on the matter. The Cloverdale City Council voted 4-1 on Feb. 22 not to ban new gas stations.

Sonoma County has 158 retail gas stations, including 46 in the unincorporated county, most of them along transportation corridors and in developed, urban areas, planner Wil Lyons told the board. Most people are within 5 miles of one, except in the county’s most remote areas, he said.

“This is about … putting a pin in the amount of fossil fuel stations that we have in Sonoma County,” recognizing that the future is bringing more electric cars, Coursey said. “It’s not doing away” with fossil-fuel vehicles, he said.

Supporters of the ban say local, state and global decarbonization goals mean a shift away from fossil fuels that makes expanding their availability irrational. An estimated 60% of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 came from transportation, and if the county is to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, it must reduce fossil fuel use.

Supporters say it’s important to invest planning staff time and energy in clean transportation proposals, instead of new fueling stations.

And they point to the inequality of the environmental impacts of fueling stations that disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, exuding toxins into the air and, too often, leaking into the soil and running off into surface water.

The prohibition affects only retail fueling stations and not those that serve agricultural, law enforcement, commercial and industrial fleets.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to better reflect the views of Supervisors James Gore and David Rabbitt, and to include the Cloverdale City Council’s action against prohibiting new gas pumps.

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