Irvine recently became the first city in Orange County to ban dangerous gas pipes and appliances in new homes and buildings by passing a building electrification (BE) ordinance! After years of fighting for meaningful climate policy in Irvine, on March 28 the community moved the council to pass one of the strongest BE policies in the region, an all-electric new buildings ordinance with limited exceptions. Irvine is the fastest-growing city in California, so kicking fossil fuels out of new construction is an important win for slashing climate pollution.
This win was only possible because we stood together time and time again to demand change. A huge thank you to all the activists and organizations who joined us in this fight.
How did this happen?
The road to climate victory is never easy. More than a year ago in Dec. 2021, the Irvine council voted unanimously to electrify buildings, but despite strong community support, outreach events were canceled without explanation and more than a year passed with no policy presented. The community was left in the dark with no answers.
Why? We later learned that gas industry lobbyists had intervened and asked council members to stop all plans for building electrification.
The community did not forget this delay when it was time to elect a new council. With climate ranking among the top priorities for Irvine voters, Irvine elected three candidates in November 2022, all of whom ran on climate action. At the first meeting of the new council in January 2023, with a strong show of community support for climate action, newly elected Councilmember and climate scientist Kathleen Treseder brought forward a proposal for staff to draft an all-electric building policy and bring it back to council by March 14.
Fighting for a Strong Policy
When the first draft was released in early March, Climate Action Campaign and many others were disappointed to see it included ten exceptions. But we, our allies, and Councilmember Treseder met with staff and reduced the list to six. We also wrote and organized support for a coalition letter to ask for no exceptions, which was signed by 26 justice, health, youth, environmental, and religious organizations in Irvine.
On March 28, the day of the vote, the community again showed up in force to fight for a strong policy. Over 340 people sent emails to the council, and more than 20 community members and leaders came to the council meeting to voice support for no exceptions. SoCal Edison (SCE) even wrote a letter to explain that the grid is ready for our all-electric future.
After a long night of discussion and debate, the council reached a compromise, and we won an all-electric ordinance with three limited exceptions: 1. an exemption for water heaters in multifamily housing, which will sunset after one year; 2. an exemption for restaurants with a cultural and traditional need for open flames; and 3. a waiver process for developers who can demonstrate that all-electric is infeasible (all-electric buildings are less expensive to build and operate, so we believe very few actual exceptions will be made here).
The policy goes into effect July 1, 2023 – much faster than most ordinances – and will be brought back in June 2024 for council review and discussion, when we hope to remove more exceptions. We did not want any exceptions, but Irvine’s policy is already one of the strongest BE policies in SCE territory, second only to Ojai, which recently removed all exceptions from its all-electric policy after passing an ordinance with a handful of similar exceptions.
The Future is Bright (and All-Electric) in OC
After winning a major climate victory in Irvine, the community is ready for more meaningful climate action. So, what’s next? Stopping gas infrastructure in new construction is an important step toward zero carbon, and now we need to remove gas in existing buildings through retrofits. Equitable retrofits will allow those living in Irvine to experience clean energy's health benefits and savings.
This victory demonstrates once again the community’s power to create change and its hunger for meaningful climate action. Other Orange County cities can now look to Irvine’s policy as a starting point for an all-electric ordinance.
Orange County elected leaders have a huge opportunity to prove themselves as the real climate champions the community wants. In the 2020 Orange County Annual Survey, 73% of people said climate change is a "serious problem.” Demanding action from elected leaders works, and we will continue to arm residents across Orange County to fight for the change they need and want.
As Irvine takes these meaningful steps toward zero carbon, the city will benefit from billions in funding from the state and federal governments for climate action. This is our moment to create the equitable and sustainable Orange County we deserve.
If you are interested in bringing all-electric buildings and climate action to your city, join the OC Climate Coalition to meet every month to learn about local actions and skills for organizing. You can also join our activist list to keep up to date on local actions you can take part in.