Gas bills might soon be a thing of the past for many in Irvine. Come July, most new buildings in the city have to be all-electric, making Irvine the first city in Orange County to make the transition away from fossil fuels in new construction.

And climate activists are welcoming the move.

“This vote marks a shift towards a much more serious commitment to climate action by the city of Irvine,” said Ayn Craciun, an Orange County policy manager at the watchdog Climate Action Campaign.

More than 70 cities across California, including Los Angeles, have adopted similar mandates reflecting a statewide trend of moving away from gas, according to city documents.

The decision to go all-electric came during a City Council meeting late last month with a unanimous vote. (Councilmember Mike Carroll was not present at the meeting.)

As part of Irvine’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, the goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. And the new ordinance will help the city achieve that, city staffers said at the March 28 meeting, because 33% of Irvine’s greenhouse gas emissions are from buildings.

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However, Irvine’s new ordinance has some exemptions: new commercial restaurants with traditional cooking methods that utilize an open flame, like Korean barbeque restaurants where patrons grill meat at the table. Other exceptions include new multi-family homes’ water heating systems and new buildings with unique circumstances where complying with the ordinance is infeasible.

“Whether we are talking about Korean barbeque, Indian tandoori ovens or cooking with woks that have been used in Chinese cuisines for centuries, it is extremely important that we keep and maintain our traditional cooking practices,” said Councilmember Tammy Kim, who requested the exemption. “This is really about protecting our culture, heritage and history, and I refuse to take that away from our Asian communities.”

With Asian Americans making up the largest ethnic group in Irvine, Asian food is a significant part of the city’s cultural landscape. It is home to several ethnic grocery stores — like 99 Ranch Market, H Mart, Zion, Mitsuwa, Namaste Plaza and Seafood City Market — and Asian specialty restaurants have amassed cult followings.

“We cannot say we are a community that celebrates our diversity when we don’t even celebrate the diversity that’s coming from our cultural foods,” said Mayor Farrah Khan, who also supported the exception for commercial kitchens.

But Hoiyin Ip, Sierra Club’s California conservation committee chair, said while the building electrification ordinance was “positive,” the exception was bad news for low-income restaurant workers. These workers, Ip said, will have to work in extremely hot kitchens with temperatures exacerbated by global warming and rising temperatures.

While she acknowledges the cultural significance of certain cooking practices, Ip said, “climate change requires sacrifice.”

Craciun pointed to Martin Yan, an internationally-known Chinese chef who advocates for induction cooking with a wok. “It’s a matter of time before people become more familiar with these appliances that they’ll get more comfortable with them,” she said.

The council’s decision will bring health and economic benefits to the city, Craciun said. Gas stoves, she said, citing a 2022 Stanford University study leak “disease-causing pollution” into living spaces, even when a stove is turned off.

As for next steps, Craciun hopes Irvine will “electrify existing buildings and put policies in place that eliminate the addition of gas appliances.” For example, she would like to see a city mandate that requires water heater replacements to be electric rather than gas in existing buildings.

Other ways the city is moving toward carbon neutrality include the Cool Irvine program, a program where multiple households from a neighborhood block or building meet every two weeks for about four months to discuss ways they can be more environmentally friendly. Topics of discussion can include carbon reduction and water conservation.

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