California City Rethinking Part of Gas Station Ban

Planning commission seeks to amend a section that addresses construction at existing sites.

March 21, 2023

NOVATO, Calif.—A California city that previously banned new gas stations is rethinking part of the legislation.

Last year the city of Novato passed an ordinance that banned the building of new gas stations or significant expansion to any of the 12 existing stations within city limits.

The city’s planning commission is now looking at amending a section of the ordinance that addresses construction at existing sites, specifically the part that prohibits reconstruction if damages exceed 50% of the site’s assessed value.

The planning commission unanimously voted last week to eliminate the section related to rebuilding sites and also added language that all construction must be done within two years of any damage to avoid blight.

“You’re probably going to trigger that pretty quickly with a fairly minor amount of damage to a gas station, the way the valuations work,” said Novato’s Planning Manager Steve Marshall, according to the Marin County Independent.

“I never liked the ordinance in the first place, so I want to make sure there is the most flexibility possible for any of the gas stations,” added Commissioner Matt Derby.

Meanwhile, the city will continue to ban new gas stations, joining California cities that include Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Cotati, Santa Rosa and Windsor. Last week, Sonoma County became the first county to enact a ban on new gas stations in unincorporated areas. Advocates of the bans, which say that they are necessary to encourage more rapid adoption of EVs, are pushing cities including Los Angeles to follow suit.

However, EVs still make up less than 1% of the country’s 290 million registered vehicles. And most states and localities have little to no policies at all respecting public EV charging, according to  the Fuels Institute research report A Best Practice Guide for EVSE Regulations.

The California Fuels and Convenience Alliance has written to cities enacting bans, noting electric vehicles remain more expensive that internal combustion engine vehicles and the transition from fossil fuels to electric charging will be long.

Still, that logic doesn’t resonate with some legislators, including San Anselmo Councilmember Alexis Fineman, whose town passed a temporary gas station ban through 2023 that could become permanent.

“Some have criticized these bans as ineffective,” Fineman told the Marin County Independent. “And yet, a gas station lobbyist reached out to me with concern over the potential ban. If the fossil fuel lobby opposes, I take it on principle that we’re onto something good.”