Outlawing Natural Gas in Santa Monica Buildings Won't Impact Global Climate Change, Will Inflict Losses on Residents
Santa Monica has 91,000 people out of 7.9 billion people worldwide, which makes us just 0.001% of the world's population . . . .
March 8, 2023
Dear Mayor Davis & Honorable Santa Monica City Councilmembers, .......
I know that I have been writing to you quite a few times in the last few weeks, but I am deeply concerned regarding some of the policy proposals that have been put forth by all of you and feel obliged to write to you given the urgency and irreversibly damaging nature of these measures.
Today, I am writing to urge you NOT to move forward with a plan to issue a mandate banning all gas appliances within the city of Santa Monica and forcing property owners to replace all gas appliances with electric, described herein on a city website: https://www.santamonica.gov/press/2023/02/27/city-of-santa-monica-releases-existing-building-electrification-roadmap?mc_cid=9ffae925df&mc_eid=7065286649
As I will outline below, this is a horrible idea with wide-ranging harm and consequences that you have not anticipated, given your narrow focus on the notions that: Climate change poses an immediate and existential threat.
Burning natural gas in buildings (but somehow not in power plants, 50% of which use natural gas to make electricity within California) is largely responsible for climate change
Santa Monica's use of natural gas inside buildings is contributing in a meaningful way to global climate change
Halting all burning of natural gas in Santa Monica buildings will have a measurable and significant impact on global climate change that outweighs all its harms and costs and disruption
We are having an epidemic of asthma and other respiratory diseases in Santa Monica that is largely attributable to the burning of natural gas inside buildings.
First, let's consider the potential/hypothetical benefits of replacing all gas with electric. Yes, climate change is occurring, however I can guarantee you that even if Santa Monica banned all cars, banned all electricity, banned all cooking, and banned all use of any energy at all (including burning of wood, which has become very common here given high energy costs), climate change on a global or local scale would NOT be impacted whatsoever. Santa Monica has 91,000 people out of 7.9 billion people worldwide, which makes us just 0.001% of the world's population. Moreover, if you surveyed the entire world for energy use (and excluded areas in Africa which don't have cars or electricity) and clean energy use, I would bet that Santa Monica will ALREADY rank among the top 10 places on EARTH for energy efficiency and "climate consciousness," yet you treat us as if we are the nation's and world's primary source of pollution and carbon emissions. We have so many electric cars that we have on a per capita basis more Tesla Superchargers than any place on the planet. The world's LARGEST Tesla Supercharger with 62 stations (soon available to non-Teslas too!) recently opened in Santa Monica, plus we have two other large Supercharger stations. And we have a very progressive population that believes strongly in climate, pollution, and energy conservation. Despite this, you want US, despite our innocence in perpetuating climate change and our world-leading policies, to have to make more sacrifices than any community on the planet, in a futile attempt to force us alone to solve this global problem. As I will describe in more detail below, we have far more pressing crises in Santa Monica that we can more easily and immediately address, and which will have a direct impact on the day to day quality of life of Santa Monicans.
You also forget, as noted above, that in California, a massive proportion of all electricity production comes from burning of natural gas, and much comes from coal and oil, with the total non-renewable proportion amounting to 2/3 of all power consumed. By shifting to electric, you're only really reducing non--renewable energy use by 1/3, not 100%. And when you boast you purchase power from the so-called "Clean Power Alliance," doing so only means other electrical customers will be purchasing more non-renewable power; it's not as if they'll magically shut down natural gas and coal plants because Santa Monica decided its electrons will come from solar or wind power.
On the issue of asthma and respiratory diseases, we live in a house with all gas appliances, one that you believe is destroying the planet. Yet our kids are perfectly healthy, as are we. And we get to immediately/reliably heat our homes, cook food, dry our clothes, and take hot showers/baths without worrying about electrical interruptions (which already happen during hot summer days). It's a tiny health risk to take for the massive benefits of natural gas. But again, you only know what you read in the media, so you assume that natural gas in homes is making people sick or killing them. That's simply not the case, and for many it's a risk they're willing to take for all of its benefits.
Now that we have established that a hypothetical scenario in which Santa Monica banned ALL energy use will have nearly zero benefit to climate change, let's consider the costs and risks so that we can make a complete risk/benefit analysis. Note, typically when the benefit is zero or unmeasurably small, you stop and don't waste time considering risks/costs because without a benefit there's no point in enacting the policy. But let's do it anyway for the purpose of being complete.
I would first like to address the costs to existing single-family homes in Santa Monica to have to comply with a mandate banning all gas appliances and natural gas connections:
One home is likely to have numerous gas appliances. Ours, for example, has two gas heaters (one for each floor of the house), a gas stove, gas oven, gas dryer, three gas fireplaces, and gas water heater. Imagine the disruption to life, not to mention the expense, in replacing all of these. We would have to move out for some period of time to accommodate these massive changes. Now imagine an entire city having to do the same, all around the same time, to comply with your mandates.
The appliances alone are expensive (combined cost $55,000, including the gas fireplaces - and yes, I have quotes for them) and tearing them out would force them all to end up in a landfill. An entire city of gas appliances would be enough to fill an entire landfill! Moreover, owners of nicer homes with nicer appliances won't be willing to replace them with cheap quality appliances - they either won't work due to size/capacity or wouldn't physically fit within the space created for the gas appliance, and/or would dramatically cheapen the house. So you can expect massive replacement costs for many houses.
Replacing gas with electric appliances, as you have totally ignored thus far, isn't as easy as moving one appliance and plugging another next to it. First, most electric equivalents of gas appliances require special/non-standard high volt/amperage electrical connections that DO NOT EXIST when you have gas connections. Specifically, they need 240V, 20 Amp electrical supplies. Those electrical supply lines are VERY expensive to install for EACH appliance being replaced, often require months of work and knocking down walls and floors, and are so significant in terms of energy demands that they require the entire electrical panel to be upgraded. I spoke with an electrician who had been to our home and he estimated that our electrical upgrades alone, not counting appliances or installation, would take 2-3 months and cost $50,000-75,000. I am not kidding. Look into this. Remember, all this time, we would have major electrical and utility disruptions that are likely to force us to move out, at great expense and disruption.
Moreover, compliance with this mandate would require installation of the appliances themselves after the gas lines have been replaced by high volt/amperage electrical lines. In our case (as with many houses in Santa Monica), we have two rooftop gas heaters that are two stories above ground. This alone would require a $2000-4000 day rental of a crane and crew for removal of old heaters and installation of new electrical heaters. Our water heater is located in a basement with very limited access. We cannot even begin to imagine how we'd replace this with gas.
Finally, many homes are built with existing/specific appliances in mind and would have to insure tremendous and unreasonable costs to switch appliances. Imagine a home with a gas range built within a stone island. The space cut in that stone island is made to accommodate a gas range. Replacing it with an electric cooktop would require destroying and rebuilding the entire island with an entirely new slab. Do you want to know what this would cost and the environmental harms this alone would cost?
Have you thought about any of these things? I highly doubt it. This alone, even if we had earlier found that banning all natural gas in Santa Monica would produce a benefit, is enough of a series of costs/risks that any reasonable elected official or municipal leader would immediately abandon the idea.
But before we conclude, here are my concerns regarding existing multi-family buildings and apartments:
Most residences in Santa Monica are rent-controlled apartments, in which massive compliance costs (you're now talking millions of dollars per building) cannot be passed along to tenants and must be absorbed by landlords who have already had to absorb higher insurance, utility, tax, legal, maintenance and other costs, plus inflation, while not being able to collect rent, being unable to evict tenants, and being banned from increasing rent in a meaningful way. (I am not a landlord but we must consider this -- landlords aren't "evil" people and should not be punished in such ways). Landlords would be forced to sell, but then you'll ban their selling because the buildings don't comply with the gas ban, so they're stuck with tenants no longer able to cook, heat their homes, or dry their clothes. And all the lawsuits that will follow because their utilities got cut off.
What will buildings do with all their tenants while the buildings are being upgraded, assuming they can afford the switch to electric?
How will you enforce this? Will you simply shut off all gas to the city at some point and force residents to live in the stone ages? Good luck with that. Shutting off the ability of any resident to reasonably cook, bathe, and/or heat their home is criminal, and not a single court would permit you to do it. If, somehow, they did, you can expect an unpleasant response from residents.
So how will we pay for the massive costs of doing these changes (around $130,000 for our house alone - something we can't get a loan for), especially when people don't have the money (even if you consider them "rich")? You have proposed rebates, but would they be equitably distributed? And cover 100% of costs, including temporary relocation, so that it's not an unfunded mandate? Even if you could, where would the money exactly come from and why should city taxpayers pay? Would you really set income limits and force many homeowners who simply don't have that money or can't justify it to pay up regardless? Who decides the threshold for income qualifications and why should income play any role in compliance with a mandate? Any terribly disruptive mandate like this must be fully funded and include 100% reimbursement for all appliances that are being replaced (at equal quality to the original gas appliance, such as a Wolf electric range for a Wolf gas range) as well as all the electrical upgrades and installation required, not to mention temporary relocation while the work is being done and the residence is uninhabitable. You're now talking a bill that could extend into the billions for compliance with a law with no meaningful benefit to Santa Monica residents or the world as a whole.
Any less than 100% reimbursement of all compliance costs for this mandate, irrespective of income or socioeconomic or racial status, would fall within a violation of the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution (please check with outside constitutional lawyers), as it would prohibit property owners from enjoying their properties (for themselves or for rental income) unless they bear a severe financial burden, not to mention disruption to the residence, to comply with these mandates. And as mentioned before, it's highly unlikely that any court (or any resident, for that matter) would permit you to set a specific date at which point all natural gas flowing into Santa Monica would be cut off.
It is without a doubt that such a mandate to transition all existing buildings in Santa Monica to all-electric will suffer a similar fate as Measure GS tax inevitably will: The city will spend millions of dollars on legal and court fees, only to lose and have the mandate stricken for all the aforementioned reasons. This isn't about the climate or energy conservation or asthma or pollution. Much like many of your other recent policies, it's empty virtue signaling, albeit this time, one that comes at enormous and unbearable cost.
As a city council, your immediate and long-term duties are to the citizens of Santa Monica. Do NOT forget that. We have a state and federal government that deal with broader national and global issues, for a reason. You're not the EPA. You're not the CDC. You spend all your time and OUR money on your obsession with "climate" virtue signaling policies such as banning natural gas, which HARMS your citizens, while completely ignoring the fact that your city is overrun by homeless and criminals, with closed libraries and unusable parks and beaches despite having the highest sales and property taxes anywhere. If you want to spend billions of dollars, let me suggest ways in which you could do that:
Hire 500-1000 armed police to go on foot patrol throughout the city, not for voter vehicle violations or parking meter enforcement, but to prevent crime and apprehend criminals. The increased tax revenues caused by businesses returning to downtown Santa Monica alone would fund the extra police, and then some, while also making this a safer and more welcoming city for all.
Fence off all parks and ban homeless from them.
Enforce all laws equally (as the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution requires), without regard to housing status or race, and to the fullest extent of the law, including indecent exposure, littering, drug use (even minor amounts), drug sales, graffiti, sleeping in parks or on sidewalks, harassment of pedestrians, and theft (however small).
Do all that and then we can talk about gas stoves.
Thanks & best regards,
Houman David Hemmati MD PhD
PS To follow up on my earlier email regarding Measure GS, I discovered that a few additional expensive homes sold at amounts far exceeding the $8 million threshold for the illegal 5.6% transfer tax JUST before the law took effect. You just lost out on many many millions in tax money you thought you would have and now all the expensive homes that would have sold have already completed their transactions. Sorry, but I told you so. Not too late to settle those lawsuits against GS and move on.