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Sixteen gas stations for 60,000 people? That’s enough, Petaluma says

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Petaluma has more gas stations than square miles.

No more, city leaders have decided.

With at least one filling station no more than five minutes’ drive from every residence, and a local climate emergency declared in 2019, the City Council voted unanimously this week to prohibit the construction of any new gas stations in town.

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“The actual motivation for this was — and is — our climate emergency resolution and the fact that we’re really trying to shift the needle in our town,” Mayor Teresa Barrett said.

The city 40 miles north of San Francisco has 16 stations stuffed into just 14.5-square miles, and a new Safeway grocery store with its own gas station is on the way.

Existing filling stations can continue to operate, according to the new resolution. But any expansions are limited to serving zero-emission vehicles — no more pumps or tanks associated with fossil fuels.

“We really felt it was a win-win,” Barrett said. “A lot of these gas stations will start putting in EV chargers … which is something that will be good for their business going forward.”

The council’s decision is the first of its kind in the nation, according to SFGate, which has prompted a flurry of media calls to the city. That surprised the mayor, who said the legislation was completely uncontroversial for residents. When the city Planning Commission considered the matter, it received only one letter from the public, and no one spoke at its meeting Monday when the measure was considered.

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“I’ve got more contact from the press since we adopted it than I have interaction with people in our community,” Barrett said.

Petaluma has been chugging its way toward a greener future for years.

The city declared a climate emergency in 2019, which made tackling issues related to global warming its highest priority. Last month, the council adopted a climate-focused framework that outlines goals to become greener.

One priority is achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 — an aggressive move against the backdrop of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambition for California to limit all sales of new cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles by 2035. The new ordinance is part of that effort, since prohibiting new gas stations will prevent “new sources of pollution.” Officials also are working to outfit city buildings with solar panels and move away from the power grid toward greener alternative energy sources.

While prohibiting new gas stations and limiting retrofits of existing stations to serving electric vehicles amounts to “small changes,” Barrett said, the city is laying the foundation for a greener environment. Petaluma will soon update its general plan, the policy outlining the city’s development goals, and Barrett hopes the climate emergency framework will serve as its guiding principle.

“It’s a big deal,” she said.

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