Natural Gas Ban And A Flameout Of Five-Star Dining In California?


One famous chef was wary enough of the California gas wars to threaten to take his toque and go home.

When California cities began banning natural gas connections, restaurateurs and chefs kicked up a fuss. How could they be expected to create their culinary gems using inferior electric stoves?

“To say that an electric stove is as good as a gas one is misunderstanding the art of cooking,” said George Chen, executive chef and founder of San Francisco’s China Live.

If you get rid of the gas element, I don’t think restaurants can do it unless you’re like a coffee shop with a panini press. Whoever cooked up this idea should be reprimanded,” said Matthew Dolan, executive chef and partner of restaurant 25 Lusk, also in San Francisco.

For now, thanks to a federal court ruling last month, gas stoves seem safe from the prohibitionists. But one famous chef was wary enough of the California gas wars to threaten to take his toque and go home.

José Andrés, baron of a vast epicurean empire, was reportedly ready to scrap his plans to open his first Bay Area restaurant “due to a dispute over a municipal gas ban,” says the San Francisco Chronicle. Andrés wants to open another of his Zaytinya Mediterranean-themed restaurants in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Of course this is California, so there’s a problem. The city’s building code, changed last fall, requires new structures to be all electric.

In a letter to the city, ​​mall operator Simon Property Group explained that “traditional cooking methods that require gas appliances to achieve its signature, complex flavors.”

“​​Without a gas connection and appliances,” wrote Anna Shimko, an attorney for the property group. “Zaytinya would be forced to alter its signature five-star menu, which it is unwilling to do.”

The restaurant “cannot compromise the caliber of its cuisine and reputation,” she continued, and if a gas connection isn’t possible, “Zaytinya will likely choose not to locate within the city.”

Fearing a lawsuit, Palo Alto officials eventually “reversed their earlier decision” in mid-May “and will now allow the new restaurant” to use natural gas, the local media reports. It was the right choice but it exposed the natural gas ban for what it was: a meaningless gesture. If gas were truly as dangerous as so many in this state claim it is, Palo Alto would have been negligent in backing off its original position.

California’s natural gas bans are not only absurd, but they also run contrary to law, says the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in San Francisco and has long been a rubber stamp machine for rulings that pleased the progressive left. A ​three-judge panel from the court ruled a few days before Palo Alto’s walk-back that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 preempts Berkeley’s no-gas ordinance that had been challenged in the lower courts by California Restaurant Association.

The city, four years ago the first in the country to ban natural gas connections in new construction, tried to make a fast end run around federal law, which “​​expressly preempts state and local regulations concerning the energy use of many natural gas appliances, including those used in household and restaurant kitchens,” by enacting “a building code that prohibits natural gas piping into those buildings, rendering the gas appliances useless.”

The panel’s ruling should extend beyond Berkeley and apply to the dozens of other cities and counties that have outlawed or restricted new natural gas connections, and also head off any state intentions, as it noted that “states and localities can’t skirt the text of broad preemption provisions by doing indirectly what Congress says they can’t do directly.”

No one would be shocked if California tries to get an exemption from the Energy Policy and Conservation Act similar to the Clean Air Act waiver that allows the state to enforce tailpipe emissions stricter than those in the other 49 states. (That special treatment is being challenged in court by 17 of those states). But that would set up another showdown with chefs, meaning California’s elite will have to decide between climate virtue signaling and food cooked the right way.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top