Maybe 138 gas stations in Sonoma County is enough for now. Or really, forever.
That’s the thinking behind a wave of new ordinances making their way through local governments around the region that would prohibit permit applications for new petroleum fueling stations or expansions.
While it may be years yet before electric vehicles dominate the roadways, elected officials think planning ahead for a successful transition away from planet-fouling, gas-powered cars makes sense. And that includes putting a stop to any more fuel pumps in the county.
The Rohnert Park City Council took the first vote on its new ordinance Tuesday and is expected to adopt a citywide ban on new gas pumps at its March 22 meeting. The Sebastopol council will take up the matter April 5, when it considers a draft ordinance already approved by the planning commission. And Santa Rosa City Council’s climate action subcommittee has sent a recommended ban to its planning commission which, if OK’d there, would move onto the City Council later this year.
Safeway is walking away from its embattled Petaluma gas station project after years of resident-led pushback, city officials and a Safeway representative confirmed Friday.
The decision marks a victory for opposition group NoGasHere, which has been locked in a nearly two-year legal battle with the grocery giant and the city of Petaluma over the project. And it comes on the heels of the city’s first-in-the-nation ban on new gas stations, which drew national attention after it was passed March 1.
Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall confirmed the company is abandoning the project in an emailed statement to the Argus-Courier Friday, explaining that the company is choosing not to pursue renewed project approvals from the city after they lapsed earlier this month.
“We appreciate those who supported a new Safeway gas station at the Washington Square Shopping Center in Petaluma,” she said in the message. “The city’s approval of the project on April 1, 2019, was valid for two years, and the project approvals recently expired. The project has come to an end.”
The project has drawn heated opposition from Petaluma residents and some local business owners since the national chain unveiled its plans for the Washington Square addition in 2013, with NoGasHere leaders objecting over potential environmental impacts and increased traffic hazards.
Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER, The Climate Crisis Newsletter
If we’re really going to change, sooner or later we’ll have to actually make a change
The latest front in the fight against fossil fuels—so far, one confined to a couple of California towns—concerns what might be the most iconic element of the American commercial landscape: the gas station. Beginning in 2019, activists from the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations have questioned whether there’s a need for big new versions of the filling station, or whether—since both California and G.M. have announced plans to end the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles in fourteen years—it might be time to decide that we have enough pumps already. Last year, they helped persuade developers to withdraw plans for two gas stations in unincorporated parts of Sonoma County, and earlier this month they helped convince the city of Petaluma to become the first in the country to ban new stations; they’ve so far lost a battle against a “mega station” that would accommodate up to twenty-eight vehicles at a time in the city of Novato, but they vow to keep fighting.
It will be a tough battle in Novato, because the opponent is not some mom-and-pop garage but Costco, the vast—and vastly successful—warehouse-store chain. Costco’s model is enormous volume allowing cheap prices. The company’s public image is sterling, because it offers employees fair wages and generous benefits (one looks forward to the day when this will not stand out enough to be a boast), but its practices are beginning to come under scrutiny: Nicholas Kristof describes in the Times precisely what practices are behind the production of a $4.99 rotisserie chicken.
Petaluma has decided it has enough gas stations to last until we transition to electric vehicles.
In the California city of Petaluma, which covers less than 15 square miles, there are currently 16 gas stations. But there will never be another one, even if one of the existing stations goes out of business. The ones that are left also can’t ever expand the number of fuel pumps, either, though they can add electric charging stations and hydrocarbon pumps. City officials recently approved a permanent ban on new gas stations in a move that climate activists say is national first, and a crucial step towards curbing our reliance on fossil fuels.
“It’s a really important sign of things to come where, because we haven’t seen sufficient action at a state or federal level, cities have an opportunity to do the right thing and make sure we are planning a transition from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy,” says Matt Krogh, an oil and gas campaign manager with the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth. “There’s no need to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any sort. We have all the tools we need for a clean energy economy, and these wasted investments are things that are going to become polluting liabilities, and communities get left holding the bag.”
Across the country the number of gas stations has been steadily declining, as big businesses like Costo, Sam’s Club, and Safeway have been adding gas stations to their existing stores. This can run smaller gas stations out of business—but also creates large environmental repercussions. “If they go out of business, there’s no one to pay for the cleanup or to offer new services like transitioning to electric charging or hydrogen,” Krogh says.
Gas stations have underground storage tanks which can crack and leak, polluting the soil and groundwater. That land has to be completely remediated before the ocation can be used for anything else, a process which often costs millions of dollars. In the U.S., there are currently 450,000 “brownfield” sites—previously developed land that currently isn’t in use and may be contaminated—and the EPA estimates half of those sites are contaminated by petroleum from underground tanks at abandoned gas stations. Continue reading “This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations”
The Petaluma City Council this week moved to ban new gas stations, cementing a nearly two-year moratorium as leaders accelerate ambitious climate action goals.
The prohibition, approved unanimously late Monday, caps a years-long effort by city leaders and climate activists who have pushed an ambitious, zero-emission-by-2030 timeline. The council must approve the ban during a second reading before it takes effect.
It also streamlines processes for existing gas stations seeking to add electric vehicle charging stations and potential hydrogen fuel cell stations, with city staff underlining an urgency to support alternative fueling in order to meet state zero-emission infrastructure targets.
“The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels, and to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Councilor D’Lynda Fischer said. “Right now, we have existing fossil fuel stations, and what we want them to do is add (electric vehicle) chargers and create another source of fueling people can use.”
The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits.
A contentious Safeway gas station at McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, which drew the ire of residents for its proximity to a school and residential neighborhoods, will see no impacts from the ban.
The controversial project has been locked in a legal battle with resident group Save Petaluma since 2019. The group is suing Safeway and the city in an attempt to compel the company to complete an additional environmental study of the project, with the hope that the study will help block the fueling station first proposed in 2013.
The Santa Rosa Planning Commission will need to approve the company’s plans before any work on the project can occur and has not put 7-Eleven’s proposal on an agenda, said city planner Adam Ross.
7-Eleven’s plan to demolish one of its east Santa Rosa stores and several surrounding buildings to build a sleek new convenience store and add gas pumps has sparked opposition from activists who oppose new fossil fuel outlets in Sonoma County.
Texas-based 7-Eleven aims to replace the existing shop at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road with a new 24-hour convenience store and at least six gas pumps, according to an application filed with Santa Rosa planning officials.
Designs call for demolishing the store, a martial arts studio and at least one adjacent home, forcing longtime tenants to find another place to live.
To local climate activist Woody Hastings it doesn’t make sense to displace a family to make way for fuel pumps, noting that the Santa Rosa City Council weeks ago formally declared a climate crisis.
“If we’re going to extricate ourselves from the fossil world, we’ve got to start now,” said Hastings, who was leading about two dozen protesters outside the 7-Eleven on Monday. They held signs and chanted their opposition to the proposal.
7-Eleven in 2017 bought a chunk of land surrounding its store including an adjacent house occupied by a family. Company officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the redevelopment plans. 7-Eleven has more than 70,000 stores worldwide and 11 in the Santa Rosa area.
The company plans to hold another neighborhood meeting to “address concerns,” said Kim Barnett, director of national programs for Tait & Associates, a Rancho Cordova-based firm working with 7-Eleven on the development of the new store and gas station, in an email. She did not provide a date for the meeting.
Barnett described the Rincon Valley project as “a state of the art 7-Eleven” with “fresh foods,” featuring charging stations for electric vehicles and solar power. Though plans call for a car wash, Barnett said “there will be not be a car wash.”
On December 5th, at its Holiday Networking Party, the Sonoma County Conservation Council gave Woody Hastings the Ernestine I. Smith Environmentalist of the Year award, for his work organizing against new gas stations being built in the County — one of the great success stories of 2019.
For the last decade, Woody has worked at the Climate Center, formerly the Center for Climate Protection, using his organizing skills to promote the formation of Sonoma Clean Power, our local CCA, and Community Choice Aggregation in general.
In April, Jenny Baker’s article in the Gazette alerted Woody and the community to a proposed mega-gas-station at Highway 116 and Stony Point Road. The 16-pump gas station, car wash, and minimart would operate around the clock, all year long. Contacting Jenny, Woody offered his assistance. Together they began organizing the community to oppose the station, which would have been one of six within two miles — with an additional two car washes less than two miles away.
Their efforts culminated in a public meeting on June 25th; all the speakers were opposed to the gas station. Less than two weeks later, the developer withdrew the application. Woody proclaimed, “sometime we win!”
Although that battle was won, the war against building more polluting gas stations continues. Key to winning the war is getting the County Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance to put new applications for gas stations on hold until the rules for permitting new gas stations have been reviewed and revised. There’s no way to argue that any of the recently proposed stations are needed — all the proposed gas stations are in areas where there are already several gas stations within a small radius.
For nearly two decades Sonoma County has been commited to responding to the climate crisis, starting with a 2002 resolution that committed the County to reduce greenhouse gases from internal operations. Additional actions in 2005, 2006, and 2008, were followed in 2009 when the County and all nine cities formed the Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate countywide climate protection efforts, the first such authority in the US. In 2018, the County adopted the “Climate Change Action Resolution” to pursue local actions supporting goals including “encouraging a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment” and “switching equipment from fossil fuels to electricity.” Our County leaders appear to be committed to a meaningful and effective response to the climate crisis, but why we are now facing proposals for new gas stations? How does that not make a mockery of these past efforts?
We’re still permitting new gas stations using outmoded 20th century rules while we’re in the midst of a 21st century climate crisis. Contact your Supervisor and urge them to adopt 21st century rules.
A controversial Safeway gas station project is on hold pending approval of a city permit. Meanwhile, a group of residents that has filed a lawsuit to stop the east Petaluma project will likely seek a temporary injunction to pause work on the site while the case makes its way through the courts.
Save Petaluma, which is attempting to overturn the city council’s April 1 decision to deny an appeal and approve the 335 South McDowell Blvd. project, filed the suit in Sonoma County Superior Court this month, naming Petaluma as the respondent and Safeway as the real party of interest.
So far, Safeway has applied for a demolition permit for the current structure at the corner of the Washington Square Shopping Center, but the permit application is still under review, according to city officials.
Patrick Soluri, the Sacramento-based attorney representing Save Petaluma, said he will likely pursue an injunction to freeze construction efforts at the site until the case has been decided. Had Safeway been authorized and demolition had gotten underway, the corporation would have been protected under what’s known as a vested rights doctrine.
“We would seek injunctive relief if necessary to protect the citizens of Petaluma and also preserve the integrity of land-use and environmental decision-making in the city,” Soluri said in an email.
For several months Petaluma residents have been in a David-and-Goliath battle with Safeway, which is trying to build a mega 16-pump gas station adjacent to a residential district near an elementary school, a child care center and fields where children play.The residents are distraught, because a gas station does not mix well with children or bode well for their health, for many reasons.
Meanwhile, another totally unnecessary 16-pump ARCO gas station (including 4 diesel pumps), with a carwash and 24/7 convenience store (selling soda, chips etc.) is now being proposed at Highway 116/Stony Point Road in an unincorporated, semi-rural area of the County, less than 2 miles from Cotati on the way to Sebastopol.
The handful of small, locally owned businesses on the site, including Cali Kind tie-dye clothing shop, the Pond & Garden Nursery and Martin’s Market & Deli would have to go – pushed out by massive, out-of-county corporate developers.
There are already five gas stations within 2 miles of this site, four clustered around the Hwy 116/Hwy 101 intersection, and Bill’s Valero to the north on Hwy 116. There are also two carwashes, a full service and a self-service, less than 2 miles away in Cotati.
Over 10,000 sq. ft. of impervious surfaces would be added.Well water, a septic system, wastewater from the car wash and run off from the gas station would all supposedly be dealt with on site, while ditches from alongside the site run into nearby Gossage and Washoe Creeks, tributaries to the Laguna de Santa Rosa – a wetland of international significance.Sonoma County is already riddled with Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, including within a few miles away.Underground gas tanks from gas stations almost always leak.One gallon of oil can pollute 1 million gallons of water. One pin-prick size hole in an underground gas tank can leak 400 gallons of fuel a year.And all of this potential trouble lies upstream from the Llano Road water treatment plant.
The site is in a “High Priority Greenbelt” area, on a Scenic Corridor, and surrounded on two sides by a Community Separator, voted in 2 years ago by 81% of the voters to protect green open spaces between cities. The surrounding land consists of seasonal wetlands, and lies within the area of critical habitat for our local endangered species, the California tiger salamander.
Quite apart from local impacts, why would anyone want to build another gas station now, with the climate crisis looming over us, gas stations plummeting, and sales of electric cars rising rapidly? If built, how soon will this one become an obsolete white elephant and who will pay for the clean-up costs?
The project came to preliminary Design Review and was sent back to the drawing board for a redesign, mainly because it is in a scenic corridor and not suitable for a rural area. It will come back for a second preliminary Design Review, but we don’t yet know when. The site is zoned for Limited Commercial and development would require a Use permit. You can submit comments to staff at Permit Sonoma, Daniel Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org and Chelsea.Holup@sonoma-county.org.
The Petaluma City Council on Monday night rejected a proposed moratorium on gas stations that would have prohibited Safeway from building a fueling station in front of its North McDowell Boulevard store.
A temporary urgency ordinance – commonly called a moratorium – would have required the approval of six of seven council members.
As council members began discussing the issue, it soon became clear that Councilman Mike Healy, who sought the moratorium, wouldn’t even get a majority on his side. In a straw vote, only Healy, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller supported a 45-day ban to buy the council time to craft tighter regulations on gas stations.
“We should just follow the process we already have in place,” said Councilman Mike Harris, saying businesses should be able to rely on existing rules when they “make investments in our community.”
Councilwoman Teresa Barrett was conflicted in her vote. She said she opposes the gas station project on whole, but doesn’t support blanket bans.