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Calif. restaurants sue to preserve gas cooking

The California Restaurant Association has filed a lawsuit to overturn Berkeley’s ban on the construction of kitchens powered by natural gas.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In a landmark battle over how restaurants will be allowed to cook in the future, the California Restaurant Association (CRA) has sued the city of Berkeley to overturn a ban on the construction of gas-powered kitchens after Jan. 1.

The famously progressive city wants to become the first in the nation to exclusively use electricity to power homes and businesses. Its ban on constructing facilities fueled by natural gas is being closely watched by environmentalists and urban officials elsewhere as a test of whether municipalities can force a changeover to what’s viewed as a more environmentally sound form of energy.

At least a dozen towns and cities have reportedly adopted regulations similar to Berkeley’s groundbreaking rule. Last week, for instance, Brookline, Mass., proposed a bylaw change that would require natural-gas supply lines to be removed from facilities being renovated. 

The CRA said the Berkeley prohibition would in effect prohibit chefs from preparing a wide array of popular items, including flame-seared meats, charred vegetables and just about anything cooked in a wok. “Indeed, restaurants specializing in international foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas,” the association said in the suit it filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

“It would be difficult to overstate these impacts, which are numerous,” the association says on its website. “Whether searing steaks, charring vegetables, or stir-frying noodles, chefs and cooks rely on the most important tool in the creation of a dish: fire.”

The suit also alleges that cooking on electricity-powered equipment takes more time and provides less control to a chef, and will likely result in a poorer experience for customers. 

It also notes that Berkeley is pushing for a changeover to electricity at a time when millions of Californians are “sitting in the dark” because of forced blackouts aimed at averting wildfires. 

California’s recent large-scale blackouts bring into sharp focus the need for a workable approach to California’s energy infrastructure and energy needs,” reads the complaint. “Banning natural gas is not the solution.”

It seeks to have the ban overturned and to halt its enforcement in the meantime. 

"Our client is a strong supporter of the state's climate goals,” Courtland Reichman, lead counsel for the CRA and managing partner of Reichman Jorgensen LLP, said in a statement. But the natural gas ban puts our client and its members at risk, for little to no environmental benefit. Californians need to have an open and robust debate on the true costs and benefits of a diverse energy supply.”

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